Age no barrier for Italy's 90-year-old sprint queen

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

By Reuters

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Italian master runner Emma Maria Mazzenga, 90, in action during the women's 100m W90 category race in San Biagio di Callalta, Treviso, Italy, on May 4, 2024. — Reuers
Italian master runner Emma Maria Mazzenga, 90, in action during the women's 100m W90 category race in San Biagio di Callalta, Treviso, Italy, on May 4, 2024. — Reuers

Published: Thu 16 May 2024, 2:23 PM

Last updated: Thu 16 May 2024, 2:24 PM

With the oldest population in the European Union, where one in four are aged 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 200 metres outdoors in 51.47 seconds.


Italian master runner Emma Maria Mazzenga, 90, trains at a park in Padua, Italy, on May 6, 2024. — Reuters
Italian master runner Emma Maria Mazzenga, 90, trains at a park in Padua, Italy, on May 6, 2024. — Reuters

Born on Aug. 1, 1933, Mazzenga is one of the unsung stars of Italian athletics, currently holding 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 May 5, beating the previous record of 53.35 seconds set by Japan's Emiko Saito in 2022.


Italian master runner Emma Maria Mazzenga, 90, waits for the women's 100m W90 category race to start in San Biagio di Callalta, Treviso, Italy, on May 4, 2024. — Reuters
Italian master runner Emma Maria Mazzenga, 90, waits for the women's 100m W90 category race to start in San Biagio di Callalta, Treviso, Italy, on May 4, 2024. — Reuters

The women's 200 metres 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 1 minute, 29.79 seconds, held by Diane Friedman of the United States.

Italian master runner Emma Maria Mazzenga, 90, stretches before running, at a park in Padua, Italy, on May 6, 2024. — Reuters
Italian master runner Emma Maria Mazzenga, 90, stretches before running, at a park in Padua, Italy, on May 6, 2024. — Reuters

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.

Italian master runner Emma Maria Mazzenga, 90, poses for a picture with some of her trophies, at home in Padua, Italy, on May 5, 2024. — Reuters
Italian master runner Emma Maria Mazzenga, 90, poses for a picture with some of her trophies, at home in Padua, Italy, on May 5, 2024. — Reuters

"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.

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."


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