When Should You Give Up The (Olympic) Dream? We Tell You – The Oldest American First-Time Olympians Revealed

We Provide Hope For Chris Solinsky And All Older Women

By Eric Schmidt. Research done by Adam Roth.
January 10, 2014

When should you give up the dream?

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All runners know that the commitment required to be successful is extreme. Admittedly, the old adage of success being born from commitment is applicable to most endeavors – athletic or otherwise – but the efforts of the driven distance runner can be noticeably single-minded and consuming. It’s a simple but demanding lifestyle that can be lauded when an athlete is young but looked upon curiously or even with contemptible pity as a runner begins to enter the twilight of his or her youth.

At what age is it still acceptable to still be devoting most of one’s physical and mental energy to being a better runner? At what age has the ship of the dream of running glory sailed beyond the point of no return? In short, at what point does it just start getting sad?

This question was recently proposed by a message board poster who stated: “When should a 3:38 guy give up the dream?”

Clearly, that question has no “right” answer. Dreams are unique to the individual. For some, the un-sponsored but demanding existence of a 3:50 1,500-meter runner is justifiable for its own sake, despite the toll such a life may take on one’s finances or mental health, while others would see no purpose in training at a high level without some tangible return that is seemingly imminent.

The mainstream public – Mr. John Doe – relates to one thing and one thing only – the Olympics. A near-undeniable mark of excellence in a runner’s career is admittance to an Olympic team. That is a “return” that all people – both runners and non-runners – can relate to and objectively admire.

As a result, an obvious answer for some about the proper time to give up the dream is, “When the Olympic spot is no longer a possibility.” Along those lines, in the “When should a 3:38 guy give up the dream?” thread, LetsRun.com co-founder Robert Johnson wrote, “Someone should do the research and figure out who the oldest Americans are to make their first Olympic team in the events 800 through the marathon men and women.”

Well, we’ve done the research and now provide some hard data on the dreams still tenderly harbored by some of the older but still talented runners out there.

The following is a listing of the oldest American Olympic debuts from the 800 meters to the marathon. Hopefully this compilation will serve as a small token of inspiration for those who still dream big despite the inevitable passage of years. If they can do it, who’s to say you can’t?



Average 1st
Olympic Age

Oldest 1st Time Olympian

Age /Year



Albert Sprott*

32 / 1920



*In the professional era, Rich Kenah was 30 when he debuted in 2000.



Steve Scott*
*didn’t go at 24 due to boycott

28 / 1984



Jason Pyrah

27 /1996

3k Steeple


Mike Manley

30 / 1972



Sydney Maree*
*World record holder in 1983, switched to USA.

32 / 1988*



Matt Guisto

29 / 1996



Steve Plasencia

31 / 1988



William Churchill*

38 / 1924



*In the professional era, Keith Brantley was 34 when he competed in 1996 (33 at Trials).




Jearl Miles-Clark*
*400m Olympian previously

34 / 1992



Nicole Teter

30/ 2004



Marly Runyan

31 / 2000

3k Steeple


Bridget Franek

24 / 2012

3000 Fat


Cindy Bremser

31 / 1984



Julie Culley

30 / 2012



Libbie Hickman

35 / 20000



Chris Clark

37 / 2000

In looking at the data above, or the incredible full list of the age of first time US mid-d and distance Olympians that Adam came up with: List of all US Olympians Debut Ages 1896-2012, the following truisms can be gleaned from the above information.

1) This isn’t too surprising but it does become easier to debut at an older age in longer events. People do seem to get better at longer events as they age.

2) Women age better than men. We all know that women live longer than men but they apparently also run better as they get older as well. The average debut age for women is higher than men in every single event except for the brand new steeplechase.

Quick Takes Added By LetsRun.com

Quick Take #1: Great work guys. Incredible really. Everyone please look at the full spreadsheet as well: List Of All US Olympians Debut Ages 1896-2012

Quick Take #2: Here are the 1,500 runners that the stats say should hang them up.

So who should hang them up? Clearly, every 3:38 guy who is going to be over 28 27 in 2016 should hang ’em up We’re joking of course. They can always defy history or move up and give themselves another Olympic cycle. Update: A LetsRun.com visitor from California has written in after reading this article and pointed out that Steve Scott made the Olympics in 1980 at age 24 but didn’t go due to the boycott so Jason Pyrah at age 27 in 1996 really is the oldest first-time 1500 Olympian in the pro era (a 28 year old debuted in 1936).

Along those lines, inspired by your research, we did our own. Below is a list of all of the Americans who ran 3:38 or faster in 2013 who have never made the Olympics and their age at the 2016 Olympics. The guys in bold are going to have to defy history as the stats are saying, “Hang ’em up or move up,” as they’ll be older than 28 27 in 2016, which is the oldest age a men’s US 1,500-meter runner has debuted in the Olympics.

The US Sub-3:38 Guys From 2013 Who’ve Never Made The Olympics (And Their Age In 2016)

If he makes it in 2016, Will Leer will be the oldest first-time US Olympian at 1,500 in history.

David Torrence – 3:33.23 – 30
Jordan McNamara – 3:34.00 – 29
Garret Heath – 3:34.12 – 30
Andy Bayer – 3:34.47 – 26
Cory Leslie – 3:34.47 – 26
Will Leer – 3:35.27 – 31
Craig Miller – 3:35.48 – 29
Jack Bolas – 3:35.54 – 28
Matt Elliott – 3:36.61 – 30

Russell Brown – 3:36.79 – 31
Ben Blankenship – 3:37.03 – 27
Liam Boylan-Pett – 3:37.31 – 30
Jeff See – 3:37.54 – 30
Rob Finnerty – 3:38.34 – 26
Mac Fleet – 3:38.35 – 25
Trevor Dunbar – 3:38.38 – 25
Ryan Hill – 3:38.57 – 26
Riley Masters – 3:38.79 – 26
Tony Jordanek – 3:38.85 – 29
Brett Johnson – 3:38.91 – 25

Bold = In 2016, they’ll be older than any other American first-time Olympian in the 1,500 in the pro era.

Quick Take #3: Phew, Chris Solinsky’s in the clear.

When seeing that list, our first thought was, “Uh oh, Chris Solinsky’s gotta defy history.”

It just seems wrong if the 29-year-old Solinsky, the first non-African under 27:00 in history, never makes an Olympic team. But he’s 29 now and will be 31 when Rio rolls around. And we’ve just done the math, he’s in the clear. He’ll be 31 and 8 months at the Rio Olympics, younger than Steve Plasencia was in the 10,000 in 1988 as Plasencia was just 5 days short of being 31 years old and 11 months old.

More: *Message Board Discussion: “When should a 3:38 guy give up the dream?”
*At What Point Did You Give Up On Your Dream Of Being A Great Runner?
*List Of All US Olympians Debut Ages 1896-2012

Eric Schmidt is a long-time reader of LetsRun and currently a resident of Brooklyn, where he runs endless circles around Prospect Park.

Adam Roth has been a runner since joining the track and cross country teams in high school. Though never officially on a college or club team he has continued the running lifestyle ever since, participating in everything from local road races to open-invite track meets to random foreign competitions in places such as Chile, England, and Uganda.

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