Reiwa characters
Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga unveils the new era name “Reiwa” at a press conference_Reuters

Tomorrow, May 1, 2019, begins the era of Reiwa in Japan.

Today, April 30, 2019, Emperor Akihito, the son of Emperor Hirohito, will abdicate the throne and be succeeded by his son, the Crown Prince Naruhito.

In Japan, every period of an Emperor’s rule is given a name, and the Japanese commonly used the era name to mark time. Hirohito’s was Showa, and I was born in the year of Showa 38 (or 1963). Akihito’s was Heisei, and I was married in the year of Heisei 2 (or 1990).

Akihito (age 85) is the first emperor in 200 years to step down from the throne, and he does so in order for he and his wife, Empress Michiko (age 84), to live out the remainder of their lives in a more leisurely fashion, without the daily duties of the royal house. After all, Akihito and Michiko, showed Japan throughout their courtship and marriage that they too had to grow and change with the times.

Akihito and Michiko playing tennis in their early years_Getty
Akihito and Michiko playing tennis after announcing their engagement in 1958.

They first met on a tennis court in Karuizawa one day in August 1957. According to The Daily News, Michiko was partnered with an American named Bobby Doyle, and the Japan-US duo defeated Akihito in his partner over a two-hour two setter. It is said Akihito took a picture of Michiko and quietly had a friend deliver it to her. He also invited Michiko to join another tennis match, with the Shah of Iran.

Thus began the famous tennis romance, that blossomed not only for the couple, but for the entire nation. Not only did the royal couple spark a tennis boom in Japan, there was a boom in interest in the royal family. For Michiko was not of royal blood – a commoner who won the heart of the future Emperor, and “Mit-chi” as Michiko was affectionately called, was highly popular. Their eventual marriage on April 10, 1959, complete with a 8.8 kilometer procession through Tokyo in horse-drawn carriage, was viewed by half-a-million people who lined the course, and tens or million more on newly purchased televisions.

In another break from tradition, Akihito and Michiko decided that they would raise their own children instead of the practice of leaving the rearing of the children to tutors.

Thanks to the newly-founded powers of television to bring images instantly and up close to the average person, the crown prince and princess became celebrities of sorts. People were happy to catch a glimpse of them on a tennis court in Karuizawa or at a pizza restaurant in Roppongi. The members of a preparatory committee who hoped to bring the Stoke Mandeville Games to Tokyo also hoped to leverage the star power of the royal couple.

As related in a previous post, Yoshiyuki Kasai, who led the preparatory committee to bring what would become the 1964 Tokyo Paralympics, arranged for Akihito and Michiko to meet the first Japanese to compete in the Stoke Mandeville Games in London, and tell the couple of their experience competing in a foreign land. Photos of the popular prince and princess with the disabled athletes ignited the preparatory committee’s ability to gain support more broadly within public and private circles.

031164 - Crown Prince Akihito meets teams Tokyo Games - 3b - Sca
The Crown Prince Akihito and Empress Michiko meet representatives of the Australian Paralympic Team and other teams at the Opening Ceremony of the 1964 Tokyo Paralympic Games.

As a result, not only did Akihito and Michiko help make the 1964 Tokyo Paralympics a reality, they were present during much of the 5-day Tokyo Paralympics, not just sitting in the audience, but interacting with the athletes on camera. They single-handedly brought significant national attention to the disabled, and raised the profile of this new international event despite the fact that Japan had just experienced it’s greatest international event, the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, only weeks before.

The reign of Heisei is ending. But the legacies of Akihito and Michiko, including those in the world of sports, will last forever.

Elderly Akihito and Michiko playing tennis

Orville Rogers and Dixon Hemphill
Orville Rogers, left, races Dixon Hemphill at the 2017 USATF Masters Indoor Track & Field Championships on February 18 in the 60-meter sprint. Dave Albo

It wasn’t quite as slow as watching water boil. But it was certainly more exciting!

Orville Rogers faced off against Dixon Hemphill in the 60-meter dash at the USATF Masters Indoor Track & Field Championships in Albuquerque, New Mexico on February 18, 2017. Rogers trailed Hemphill for most of the race, but Rogers caught Hemphill in the last 10 meters to win by 0.05 seconds in an amazing finish.

The world record in the 60-meter sprint is 6.39 seconds, held by American Maurice Greene. Roger’s winning time was 18 seconds flat. That’s right 18. But there is a good reason for this slow race. Hemphill is 99 years old. And he beat a relative whipper snapper in Hemphill, who is only 92.

Here’s how SB Nation described the above video: “What makes this video so great is the fact it’s so much slower than what we’re used to seeing. You might blink three times when Usain Bolt tears down the track, but watching a sprint unfold over 18 seconds is compelling.”

Any regrets?

“I think had I leaned a little bit, I would have won,” Hemphill, 92, told Runner’s World on February 21

Dan O’Brien

All eyes are on the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games. But for competitive athletes of all ages, all eyeglasses may be on the 2021 Kansai World Masters Games.

The Masters are an international multi-sport event, held every four years much like the Olympics, except for people aged 30 and older. And “older” could mean well past the century mark. Hidekichi Miyazaki, at the age of 105, is the world record holder for the 100-meter sprint in his age group, with a time at 42.22 seconds.

With advances in health sciences, medicine, diet, people are living longer, more active lives than ever before, particularly in the economically mature nations. And if you were a competitive person in your twenties, it’s likely you are a competitive person in your fifties, sixties and seventies. The Masters have provided that outlet for the high-performance athlete who thinks she’s never too old.

On July 18, Dan O’Brien turned 50. The still youngish looking O’Brien from Portland Oregon was crowned World’s Greatest Athlete when he won gold in the decathlon at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. Today, O’Brien still stays in shape, and along with Dr Vonda Wright, think you – the 50-, 60-something – can definitely get in shape. You just need to stop telling yourself you can’t. Go to this Sports Illustrated article to see why these myths are just myths:

MYTH #1: It’s all downhill after 50

MYTH #2: Older athletes should avoid vigorous exercise

MYTH #3: Older athletes just get hurt

MYTH #4: Too late to start

Ready to get off your butt?

Ans Botha, coach for South African sprinter Wayde van Niekerk, talks to reporters during media availability at the Olympic Village in Rio de Janeiro.
Ans Botha, coach for South African sprinter Wayde van Niekerk, talks to reporters during media availability at the Olympic Village in Rio de Janeiro, Aug. 15, 2016. Niekerk won the gold medal in the 400-meter final with a world record of 43.03 (Jeffrey Furticella/The New York Times)

In the world of leadership development, finding the right executive coach is often a matter of chemistry. We often introduce a coachee to two, sometimes three prospective coaches with the hope that one of them will click with the client. So much of a good coaching engagement is the willingness of the coachee to be vulnerable, to allow him or herself to open up and trust the coach. The greater the openness and trust, the greater the commitment of the coachee to change.

The same is likely true in the world of high-performance sports. Not every coach is right for every athlete. While Bobby Valentine‘s cerebral, in-your-face managerial style was perfect for the World Series bound 2000 New Mets, it was awful for the 2012 Boston Red Sox. While Soichi Sakamoto‘s my-way-or-the-highway approach to coaching championship swimmers was perfect for two-time gold medal-winning freestyle swimmer, Bill Smith, in the 1930s and 1940s, it was anathema to fellow Hawaiian swim star Halo Hirose.

When Wayde Van Niekerk of South Africa blew away Michael Johnson’s 19-year-old world record time in the 400-meter sprint at the 2016 Rio Olympics, almost everyone was surprised to learn that his coach was a 74-year-old woman whose white-haired, grandmotherly appearance fooled security at the Olympic Stadium. They would not let the woman see her prodigy, Van Niekerk. After being reassured profusely by fellow South Afrikaner athletes that Anna Sofia Botha was indeed the coach of Rio’s newest star, the coach finally got to see her coachee.

As she explained in this New York Times article, “we just hugged each other. It wasn’t necessary to say anything. We knew in our hearts and in our minds what we thought and what we had achieved.”


Van Niekerk met Botha in 2012, when he enrolled at the University of the Free State, where Botha was the track coach. Even though she seemed to appear out of nowhere, Botha has actually been coaching track for nearly half a century, after competing in track herself. So when she saw this raw talent come to her, and saw a sprinter prone to leg injuries, she recommended that van Niekerk switch from the 200 meters, to the 400 meters, under the assumption that the longer distance would place less stress on his hamstrings.

“I have such a big responsibility to get this athlete to develop to his full potential, and also the responsibility for myself to try to do my very best not to do something wrong which can make or break him,” Botha told the Sunday Times (cited in this Deadspin article.) “The main thing is we listened to what his body said to us. If the body said stop, we stopped, or went a little softer.”

“She’s an amazing woman,” van Niekerk said in this article in The Guardian. “She has played a huge role in who I am today and kept me very disciplined and very focused on the role and who I need to be.” Clearly Niekerk needed someone who could bring the tough love, and Botha confirmed that in the same article.

“I dearly love all my athletes but it’s about being strict … We can laugh, but when we have to work hard, we work hard.”

World-class athletes who self-coach, like javelin champion Julius Yego, are few and far between. The coach can sometimes have a huge impact. Who is the right coach? Well, if you’re serious, you probably should not settle for the first one to come along. The coach right for you is out there. You’ll know it when you meet her.

Michael Phelps
The incredible Michael Phelps

Gymnast Oksana Chusovitina, representing Uzbekistan, competed in her seventh Olympics in Rio at the age of 41.

American cyclist, Kristin Armstrong, won a gold medal in the individual road time trial in Rio, the third consecutive Olympics she has done so, at the age of 42.

Equestrian Phillip Dutton won a bronze medal in individual eventing for America at the age of 52.

Relative to Chusovitina, Armstrong and Dutton, swimmer Michael Phelps is a spring chicken. But at the age of 31, Phelps’ phenomenal Olympic career, particularly based on his results in Rio, is most definitely an outlier vis-a-vis his rivals and rival-wannabes. According to The Washington Post, “over the past 10 Summer Games, the oldest athlete to swim in the finals for the same events in which Phelps is scheduled to compete has been 29 years old, with the average age just under 22 years old. And, not surprisingly, times get slower as an athlete ages.” (Yes, Anthony Ervin winning gold in the 50-meter freestyle at the age of 35 is an even greater outlier.)

Michael Phelp's Aging Curve Compared_Washington Post

Role models are so important to aspiring athletes. And it’s not just adolescents and teenagers whose passions are ignited by their heroes. It’s Gen X. It’s even the Baby Boomers. They see Chusovitina and Phelps as trailblazers for those of us in our 30s, 40s and 50s, whose daily lives are filled with marketing meetings, children’s soccer matches, evening social gatherings, and attempts to overcome sleep deprivation on the weekends.

More and more commonly, men and women past their “prime” are making the time and taking the challenge to up their game in high performance athletics. The “Olympics” for athletes of age groups from 35 to over the century mark is the World Masters Games. The number of participants since 1985 has grown from over 8,000 to close to 30,000 in 2009, which was more than twice the number of athletes who took part in the Sydney Olympic Games in 2000.

Oksana Chusovitina in Rio

As the nations of the industrialized world see their populace age rapidly, the people with the most money and influence are the aged demographics. Clearly, their interest in staying healthy and happy grows as they collectively age. As the human body’s production of hormones that enhance the benefits of physical exertion diminish from the age or 35, we can feel very clearly our strength diminishing over time. But considerable research and thought is going into how to increase flexibility, strength and staying power the older you get.

And the research tells us that exercise, low intensity or high, done on a consistent basis, will yield positive results for practically everybody. But the fact of the matter is, our busy lives demotivate so many of us from making that daily effort. This personal coach explains that making the effort is just a matter of making a decision.

The hard part about this for maturing athletes is that job and family responsibilities may make getting to bed early difficult. You need to make a choice as to the type of life you want to lead. If you’ve made the decision that you want to live a healthy, fit life, then going to bed early is part of it. That will likely mean the end of midweek social events, skipping TV after dinner, and strict adherence to stopping work after 8:00pm.

But to get to competitive levels of athletic performance, no matter your age, you need to dream. Photojournalist, Susana Girón, has followed these silver athletes taking their pictures, and concluded that age is not an issue if you have that burning passion for excellence

Sport in the elderly is not simply an issue of health. It is said that once you become older, you stop dreaming and become less passionate about things. The bodies of these athletes might dwindle with each year, but the passion with which they live and face the events remains stronger than ever, especially as they become aware that every championship might be their last. Living with passion means to remain forever young.

Phillip Dutton in Rio
Phillip Dutton

Don Pellmann, picture by Sandy Huffaker for The New York Times
Don Pellmann, picture by Sandy Huffaker for The New York Times

Last Sunday at the San Diego Senior Games, a man named Don Pellmann set records in the 100-meter dash, the shot put, the discus and the long jump.

Yes, he ran the 100 in 26.99 seconds (which is over 17 seconds slower than Usain Bolt’s world record), but Pellmann set the record for the 100-and-over age group. In fact, Pellmann is exactly 100 years of age.

Successful athletes, scientists, businessmen, students know this. You need to set goals and targets, and sometimes to drive you to incredible heights, you need aspirational targets. According to this wonderful New York Times article, Pellmann targeted the world record for 100 and overs –  29.83 – which had been held by a Japanese man, Hidekichi Miyazaki, since 2010. So he marked off 100 meters at his home and ran it once a week.

Within a week of Pullmann’s record, Miyazaki set the world record for the 100 meter run for the over-105 category with a time of 42.22 seconds. That’s right. Miyazaki is 105 and still flying down the track. His quote in this Japan Times article is priceless: “I’m not happy with the time,” the pint-size Miyazaki said in an interview after catching his wind. “I started shedding tears during the race because I was going so slowly. Perhaps I’m getting old!”

Hidekichi Miyazaki, AFP-JIJI
Hidekichi Miyazaki, 105, imitates the pose of Usain Bolt after the 100-meter-dash in the Kyoto Masters Autumn Competiton in Kyoto on Wednesday. Miyazaki has been recognized as the oldest sprinter who competed in a 100-meter-dash by the Guinness World Records. | AFP-JIJI

But then again, as it was revealed in this NBC Sports blog report, Stanislaw Kowalski has the fastest time in the world for the 0ver-105 year old category, as he ran the 100 meters in 34.50 seconds. Despite the fact that Miyazaki’s time is officially recognized by Guinness World Record, Kowalski of Poland set that record in June.

At any rate, these gentleman can run.

Whether you’re an up-and-coming high schooler dreaming of winning your state conference championship, or a 75-year old with hopes of winning the decathlon at the World Masters’ Athletic Championships, you are often cut from the same cloth – a personality rooted in the need for competition, and a desire

Flo Meiler in the Masters; Angela Jimenez, New York Times
Flo Meiler in the Masters; Angela Jimenez, New York Times

“You see?” Meiler said. “It’s never too late. I’m 81 years old, and look what I did. I didn’t sit in my rocking chair and say, ‘I got a pain here and a pain there, and I can’t do anything.’ I get out there, and I work out the pain.”

Flo Meiler, according to this New York Times photo essay, broke the world record in the heptathlon for women aged 80-84. She was competing in Lyon, France at the World Masters’ Athletic Championships that just ended, a regularly held international competition that brings together people of 35 years and older whose love for competition has not diminished with age.

The world is graying – we all know that. People are living longer, and with fewer babies being born in the industrialized nations, the percentage of people 60 years and older is accelerating.

This post celebrates the idea that no matter your age, if you burn with competition, you burn forever. As these pictures by photographer, Angele Jimenez show, these athletes go all out.

Do you?