The Last Word: Growing old with grace

With all the focus on the youngsters, it's easy to overlook the many sportsmen well into their 30s.

jeremy last better pic (photo credit: Courtesy)
jeremy last better pic
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The sports world is constantly obsessed with the next generation, feverishly comparing up-and-coming youngsters with stars of the past. "Is Messi the new Maradona?" they ask. (perhaps) "Buzaglo the new Benayoun?" (no way) "Pe'er the queen of Israel's sporting future?" (unfortunately not). While it is healthy to plan for the years to come and look to improve on the talents of the old school, sometimes it is appropriate to take the time and celebrate the achievements of the more mature athletes who are still out there strutting their stuff on the playing fields. With all the focus on the young men and women, it is easy to overlook the many sportsmen who are not only performing, but doing so at a high level, well into their 30s. This past weekend, three of Israel's veterans went about their work as they always have done, and it was precisely their typical lunch-bucket attitude which served as an inspiration. Alon Harazi, Tzipi Obziler and David Amsalem all appear to have no intention of hanging up their boots (or rackets) and proved through their play last week that you don't have to be a youngster to compete with the best. Harazi, 38, reached a personal milestone on Saturday, playing his 520th Israeli Premier League game while, at the same time, breaking the national record for top-flight appearances. The Maccabi Haifa defender may be going grey at the temples, but he's fighting fit and showed it on Saturday during the game against Iron Kiryat Shmona. A few hours later Amsalem, known as "King David" by his fans, played his second consecutive game for Betar Jerusalem at the age of 37. Over the past few seasons the former Crystal Palace left back has lost his regular place to up-and-coming players, including Roni Gafni, Yoav Ziv and now Eliran Danin. But with Danin out injured, Amsalem had taken his opportunity to show off his skills, and on Saturday commanded the left side of the field for Betar during 84 minutes on the pitch in Jerusalem's 2-1 win over Ashdod SC. Perhaps the most noteworthy of all the performances was that of Tzipi Obziler. The 36-year-old tennis star also tied a world record, which she now shares with fellow Israeli Anna Smashnova playing in her 61st Fed Cup tie in the Estonian capital Tallinn, but it was her grit and resolve which told the real story. On Saturday, she proved no match for world number 19 Kaia Kanepi, losing 6-1, 6-0. But rather than let the disappointment get to her and allow Fed Cup captain Lior Mor replace her for the second day's rubbers, Obziler dug deep and came out with a super showing in the reverse singles and doubles matches. In Sunday's singles match, the 229th ranked Israeli punched well above her weight, coming back from a set down to defeat Maret Ani (110 in the world) 4-6, 7-6 (5), 6-3. The result, which came immediately after teammate Pe'er lost to Kanepi, sent the tie into a decisive doubles match which began less than an hour after the singles had finished. Although Pe'er and Obziler were beaten 1-6, 6-4, 8-6 in the doubles, they put up a good fight and Obziler was a crucial element in the games the Israeli pair won, especially in the first set. In this age of modernity, and with the increasingly perceived need to emphasize the new, it can be refreshing to see just how successful some can be as they surpass what is generally considered to be the time to give up and move on. If they can continue to impress when many before them have already given up, then we too can strive to reach our own personal heights at whatever age we may be.