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Thousands of Older Americans Gather in Palo Alto for National Sports Competition

Events range from triathalons and tennis to shuffleboard and horseshoes

And there are, in fact, some outstanding older athletes coming to Palo Alto. Godfrey says he expects about a half dozen world age-group records to be set in the next two weeks, particularly in sports such as archery, swimming, and track and field.

Some avoid the games, others head to California

Today, there is an uneasy truce at the games between recreational and competitive sports. This mix of events leaves some athletes questioning the seriousness of the games, prompting them to skip the national event altogether. Organizers hope the addition of some new and more vigorous sports, including water polo and soccer, which are being contested here for the first time, may help change some of the negative perceptions.

To participate in the games, men and women must first qualify at state or regional meets, also known as the Senior Olympics, by taking one of the top three spots in their event or by meeting minimum performance standards.

But that doesn’t convince Rick Hansen, a 61-year-old, nationally ranked sprinter from Dix Hills, N.Y., who has run times that would easily qualify him for the National Senior Games. He opted not to enter the games after watching the local Senior Olympics.

“You’ve got really fit people whacking tennis balls and overweight people doing ring toss,” Hansen says. “It doesn’t seem to sync.” For Hansen, events such as USA Track & Field’s National Masters Championships, held last month, are far more prestigious.

But other accomplished athletes aren’t deterred by the unorthodox mix of events and competitors. Patricia Cericola of Austin, Texas, a 52-year-old triathlete who regularly competes in open triathlons, is looking forward to the games: “Basically I’m going to have fun,” she says.

A program director with IBM, she’s competing at the request of her parents, Fred and Sara Cericola of Albuquerque, N.M., who are entered in tennis and table tennis events.

“When I was having my 50th birthday party in Texas, they came down and joked, ‘Now you can do Senior Olympics with us,’ ” says Cericola. At the Senior Games, 141 athletes will be competing against her in the triathlon; and whether or not they can all swim, bike and run as well as Cericola isn’t what’s really important.

“It’s all about participation,” says Walter Bortz, M.D., a retired professor at the Stanford University School of Medicine and a senior health expert, who is a consultant to the games. “It’s not how fast you go, it’s about staying the course.”

Health and fitness writer John Hanc teaches journalism at the New York Institute of Technology in Old Westbury.

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