Sport

GRAN CHAMPION

Age is no barrier for Italy’s 90-year-old sprint queen as she sets world record

Age is no barrier for Italy’s 90-year-old sprint queen as she sets world record
Italian Masters runner Emma Maria Mazzenga (90) in action during the women's 100m W90 category race in San Biagio di Callalta, Treviso, Italy, on 4 May 2024. (Reuters / Remo Casilli)

Italy’s 90-year-old sprint champion Emma Maria Mazzenga has no intention of stopping, although she doesn’t make long-term plans.

With the oldest population in the European Union, where one in four are over 65, it’s little surprise that Italy is home to the world’s fastest 90-year-old woman sprinter.

Emma Maria Mazzenga claimed another world record in the 90 and over age group this month when she ran the 200m outdoors in 51.47 seconds.

Born on 1 August 1933, Mazzenga is one of the unsung stars of Italian athletics. She holds five world records, nine European records and 28 best Italian performances in various categories of Masters sprinting – competitive races for older runners organised by age group.

“I am very happy and satisfied, and also a bit surprised because I didn’t think I went that fast,” Mazzenga said modestly after her record-breaking run on 5 May, beating the previous record of 53.35 seconds set by Japan’s Emiko Saito in 2022.

She also likes to enjoy a beer with fellow runners to celebrate her successes.

The women’s 200m world record, one of the oldest athletics records on the books, was set by the late American athlete Florence Griffith Joyner with a time of 21.34 seconds in 1988. She was 28 at the time.

The World Masters Athletics record for the women’s 50 and over category is 24.33 seconds, held by Jamaican-Slovenian athlete Merlene Ottey, while the record for women 70 and over is 31.30 seconds, held by Ingrid Meier of Germany.

There is even a record for women aged 100 and over of one minute, 29.79 seconds, held by Diane Friedman of the US.

Italian Masters runner Emma Maria Mazzenga (90) talks to fellow athletes before the women’s 200m W90 category race in San Biagio di Callalta, Treviso, Italy, on 5 May 2024. (Photo: Reuters / Remo Casilli)

sprint Mazzenga

Emma Mazzenga polishes some of her trophies at home in Padua, Italy, on 5 May 2024. (Photo: Reuters / Remo Casilli)

Like many athletes, Mazzenga follows precise rituals for her races: she runs strictly without socks and never wears the same shoes as for training.

She also likes to enjoy a beer with fellow runners to celebrate her successes, even though she usually has no direct rivals in her W90 category.

[Running] got me through some difficult times, which of course haven’t been lacking in a life as long as mine.

“If I have no competitors, I know that I’ll win from the start, so my aim is to do a good time,” she said the day after her latest world record, proudly polishing the trophies on display in her living room.

She ran as a young woman, but then stopped for many years after getting married and having children.

sprint Mazzenga

Emma Mazzenga (90) competes in the 100m in San Biagio di Callalta, Treviso, Italy, on 4 May 2024. (Reuters / Remo Casilli)

Italian Master runner Emma Mazzenga (90) and fellow athlete Emanuela De Rossi enjoy a beer after Mazzenga set a new world record for the women’s 200m W90 category race in San Biagio di Callalta, Treviso, Italy, on 5 May 2024. (Photo: Reuters / Remo Casilli)

Emma Mazzenga stretches before running at a park in Padua, Italy, on 6 May 2024. (Photo: Reuters / Remo Casilli)

Her running career as a Masters athlete, which she kicked off at the age of 53, has been an important comfort for Mazzenga’s later years.

“It got me through some difficult times, which of course haven’t been lacking in a life as long as mine,” she said.

Running “also allowed me always to be surrounded by a lot of people, so that I was never alone,” she added.

Her next commitments include the Italian championships starting in June and she has an eye on the world championships in Sweden next year, but Mazzenga joked that she prefers “not to make long-term plans”. Reuters/DM

Emma Mazzenga trains at a park in Padua, Italy, on 6 May 2024. (Photo: Reuters / Remo Casilli)

Emma Mazzenga  checks her watch as she warms up for the 100m in San Biagio di Callalta, Treviso, Italy, on 4 May 2024. (Photo: Reuters / Remo Casilli)

Gallery

Comments - Please in order to comment.

Please peer review 3 community comments before your comment can be posted

A South African Hero: You

There’s a 99.7% chance that this isn’t for you. Only 0.3% of our readers have responded to this call for action.

Those 0.3% of our readers are our hidden heroes, who are fuelling our work and impacting the lives of every South African in doing so. They’re the people who contribute to keep Daily Maverick free for all, including you.

The equation is quite simple: the more members we have, the more reporting and investigations we can do, and the greater the impact on the country.

Be part of that 0.3%. Be a Maverick. Be a Maverick Insider.

Support Daily Maverick→
Payment options

MavericKids vol 3

How can a child learn to read if they don't have a book?

81% of South African children aged 10 can't read for meaning. You can help by pre-ordering a copy of MavericKids.

For every copy sold we will donate a copy to Gift of The Givers for children in need of reading support.