Gymnastics. Sport of the young. The youngest athletes in the Olympic games, with an average age of female athletes being just 19. But it isn’t a hard and fast rule that gymnasts retire young. Turning that rule - and herself - upside down is Johanna Quaas, still competing in her nineties!
Born in Saxony, Germany, in 1925, Johanna is a few months older than the Queen. She took part in her first gymnastics competition in 1934, and although her career was interrupted by World War II and a subsequent ban on gymnastics by the Allied Control Council until 1947, she never lost her love of the sport. Following her marriage and the birth of three children, Johanna became a PE teacher and coach to young gymnasts, but did not resume competing.
According to website sixty+me.com, “people take one of two paths in their sixties. Either they become a more extreme version of the person that they have always been. Or, they broaden their perspective and become the person that they always wanted to be. Johanna is a shining example of someone who focused on her potential, not her past.”
And so it was that in 1982, inspired by meeting up with some former gymnast friends, she started training and competing again, going on to win 11 medals from the German Championships. In 2012, she was certified as the World’s Oldest Gymnast by the Guinness World Records. Here she is in a heartwarming interview, discussing her career:
In 2016, she decided to “finish what the monarch had started” - referring to the Queen’s apparent parachute jump at the London Olympic Games opening ceremony. She claimed that parachuting is much easier than gymnastics, but I’ll take her word for it.
The only age-related problem that Johanna appears to suffer from is a scarcity of competitors in her own age category - she often has to compete against gymnasts up to 25 years her junior!
In a 2017 interview with the Straits Times of Singapore, she said, “If you are fit, it is easier to master life … When there is movement, there is life."
Fitness and Pilates instructor with a passion for science.