There is no official age limit to compete for the U.S. Olympic Team. If you’re among the country’s top athletes and make it through your sport’s qualification process, you could become an Olympian at age 100. Things get tricky, though, depending on your sport.
Each sport’s international federation imposes its own age regulations, and while most governing bodies typically enforce minimum age requirements to protect young athletes from exploitation and injury, soccer’s governing body imposes a different sort of age restriction.
FIFA ruled in 1992 that male Olympic soccer players must be younger than 23 years old, and that only three players per team may be older than 23. Doing so allows FIFA to showcase up-and-coming talent at the Olympics, as well as preserve the popularity of the federation’s own quadrennial tournament, the FIFA World Cup, by saving its most famous players for FIFA competition only. There are, however, no age restrictions for the women’s teams, presumably because FIFA doesn’t yet feel the same need to keep its brightest female athletes over 23 to itself.
Just the other week, NBA commissioner David Stern also made the case that the U.S. should restrict the age of its Olympic basketball players to under 23. The likely reason? The NBA doesn’t want to send its stars overseas to play for free or risk injury. An injury at the summer games could hurt an athlete’s upcoming season and have a negative financial impact on his home team, writes Bleacher Report’s Josh Martin. Currently, Olympic basketball teams have no age limit.
Of course, most Olympians are in their 20s. USA Today reported that the average age of the U.S. Olympic team in Beijing was 26.8 years old. But don’t let that number discourage you; equestrian Hiroshi Hoketsu of Japan recently qualified for the London games at the sporting age of 70.