Zlatan Ibrahimovic is also 40 years old: how does this go on …


Top athletes Alejandro Valverde (41), Tom Brady (44) and Roger Federer (40) have added members to their exclusive club: Zlatan Ibrahimovic celebrates his 40th birthday on Sunday. Even 36-year-old Cristiano Ronaldo and LeBron James still make a difference at the highest level in their advanced age. How do top great athletes keep making such performances? “Much more than in the past, for example, football players, tennis players and basketball players are also becoming real athletes,” says Peter Hespel, an exercise physiologist at KU Leuven.

Jonas Withock

Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored sixteen goals for Milan last season and is still at the top of European football. Although, things are not going smoothly for the 40-year-old Swede this season. Upon returning from a serious knee injury he sustained in May, he was sidelined again in mid-September due to an Achilles tendinitis. But in that match against Lazio, he was instantly accurate again when he came on as a substitute. Not the hardest goal of his career, but you have to do it at the age of 40 and barely three months after serious knee surgery.

“As long as I can make a difference, I will continue,” Ibrahimovic told Dutch Football International more than two years ago after suffering a knee injury at Manchester United. Two years earlier, at the age of 36, Ibrahimovic ruptured the anterior cruciate ligaments in his knee and his career seemed to be over. Last week, Sport/Voetbalmagazine reported how surprised the doctor who operated on him was about the excellent condition of Ibrahimovic’s body. His joints, muscles and other parts of his knee were in perfect condition. “He looked like a 15-year-old boy,” Dr. Freddy Fu Ho Kyung said after the operation.

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Dr. Freddy Fu passed away last week at the age of 70 due to a chronic illness. Zlatan thanked him on social media for everything he had done for him: “Freddy Fu gave me a second chance. Thanks to him I am still at the top.”

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mentally harder

Zlatan is by no means the best single athlete over 40. It is also a trend that continues in various sports. American football star Tom Brady (44), former world cycling champion Alejandro Valverde (41) and tennis player Roger Federer (40) among others are still performing at the highest levels. According to exercise physiologist Peter Hespel, we shouldn’t underestimate how hard it is mentally. “In principle, all cyclists can continue until they reach the age of 40,” Peter Hespel says. “But for most people, it just isn’t mentally feasible to live a disciplined life up to this age. The older you get, the more you have to train to get to the same level. I know a lot of cyclists of a certain age and very much look forward to riding their bike for training every time.”

However, with endurance sports, it is “easier” to last longer. For example, nearly all Ironman triathletes winners are on average between 35 and 40 years old. “Certainly in cycling, the chance of injury is much lower. This is a sport with less impact on tendons, bones and joints. In purely endurance sports, athletes can go longer, because endurance does not necessarily decrease with age. The condition, of course, is that You stay motivated to train.”

Alejandro Valverde took the world title at the age of 38.

Alejandro Valverde took the world title at the age of 38. © BELGA

Many perfect athletes

Nowadays, an increasing number of football players, tennis players and basketball players can extend their careers. “People are becoming more and more aware – in any sport – that global sporting development is very important. In the past, tennis players only played tennis, only football players only football and basketball. That time is completely over. Strength exercises, stability exercises and prevention have become Injuries are very important now.”

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According to Hespel, only athletes who put together an entire career can survive at the top level into their forties. “The best athletes who last that long are always the ones who have taken care of themselves to the best of their ability throughout their careers. In Ibrahimovic’s case, this means that in addition to being a footballer, he has also developed himself as an athlete with a lot of strength and endurance training. In most cases This results in fewer injuries, so that the athlete can extend his career for a longer time. When you see Ibrahimovic or Cristiano Ronaldo topless or, for example, Rafael Nadal, you know enough. These are real athletes who distinguish themselves from footballers “ordinary” foot or tennis players.



Amber Webster

 "Freelance zombie fanatic. Devoted web advocate. Analyst. Writer. Coffee fanatic. Travelaholic. Proud food aficionado."

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