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Golden Oldies: 10 Sports Stars Who Improved After 30

Chronicling some of the best sportsman who achieved greatness past their 30th birthdays. Including boxers, soccer players, and golfers; these guys have proven that age really is just a number.

Hunched over and clutching the corner flag for support, ex-Chelsea striker Samuel Eto’o’s impression of an elderly sportsman last year had soccer fans the world over chuckling. The Cameroonian had had his age questioned earlier that week, which had led to doubts over his continued ability at the top level. His goal against Tottenham that day proved otherwise.

Indeed, there have been hugely successful sportsman who achieved superstardom after they had entered their 30’s. Footballers, boxers, cricketers, golfers and cyclists; everyone loves a golden oldie, and those on this list certainly prove that it’s never too late for greatness:

1. Bradley Wiggins, Cycling

The now Sir Bradley’s career hit the heights in 2012 after he won the Tour de France at the age of 32, and was also entered into the Guinness Book of Records for becoming the first cyclist to win both the Tour and Olympic gold in the same year. Having started his career on the track, Wiggins proved to be one of the most accomplished riders on road.

2. Mark Ramprakash, Cricket

Having moved to Surrey in 2001 at the age of 32, Englishman Ramprakash’s cricketing improved markedly. He had for a time been considered a nearly man, capable of brilliance as a right-handed batsman, but all the while struggling for real consistency. But in both 2006 and 2007, he averaged over 100 runs per innings, winning PCA Player of the Year in the process. Known for his fiery temperament, Ramprakash is one of only 25 players to score 100 first class centuries in a career.

3. George Foreman, Boxing

While a World Heavyweight Champion in his early twenties, ‘Big George’ made the record books over twenty years after his first title in 1972, coming out of retirement in 1994 to regain the Heavyweight Championship at the ripe old age of 45. Finally hanging up his gloves (for good) in 1997, Foreman is remembered as one of the greatest heavyweights of all time – as well as championing his eponymously named grill!

4. Gianfranco Zola, Soccer

Arriving at Chelsea in the English Premier League in 1997, aged 30, many presumed the little Italian wouldn’t last too long in arguably the most cutthroat league in the world. To their surprise, Zola lasted seven years, winning four major honours with the Blues. Named Chelsea Player of the Year twice, and the FWA Player of the Year in 1997 (having not even played a full season at Stamford Bridge), Zola is considered to be one of the best ever imports into the English League.

5. Evander Holyfield, Boxing

The famous ‘Bite Fight’ of 1997 remains one of boxing’s all-time clashes, with the 34 year-old Holyfield winning his World Championship rematch after Mike Tyson was disqualified for taking a chunk out of his opponent’s ear. The previous bout the year before was also won by Holyfield, and was named both the fight and the upset of the year. By winning the fight, Holyfield became the first heavyweight boxer since Muhammad Ali to win the world title three times. Not bad for a fighter who had retired the year before due to a supposed heart condition!

6. David Steele, Cricket

A little known English cricketer who made his international debut in 1975, at the age of 33. Named one of the Wisden Cricketers of the Year that same year, as well as BBC Personality of the Year; the prematurely grey Steele bagged over 22,000 runs in his career. He got lost on the way out to the field on that debut day in ‘75, finding himself in the basement toilets after taking too many steps down! Someone should have helped the old timer out!

7. Roger Milla, Soccer

The 1990 FIFA World Cup in Italy introduced the world to the 38-year-old Roger Milla. Coming out of retirement to compete in his second World Cup, the aging Cameroonian smashed in four goals during the tournament, with his celebration for each a dance around the corner flag, which remains one of the most recognisable images in the history of the game. Four years later, aged 42, Milla became the oldest ever World Cup goalscorer after netting against Russia in Stanford Stadium, Palo Alto.

8. Edwin Van Der Sar, Soccer

The Dutch goalkeeper is widely regarded to be behind only Peter Schmeichel as the best ever Manchester United goalkeeper, but his tenure between the sticks at Old Trafford only started when he was 35. Winning the Premier League four years on the spin from 2006 to 2011, and a Champions League trophy in 2008; Van Der Sar was a real force to be reckoned with, and was in his forties when he retired. He also holds the English record for the longest time without conceding a goal, with 1,311 minutes.

9. Mark O’Meara, Golf

It took the American forty-one years to win his first major golfing championship, and they both came in 1998. His first, The Masters, came at his 15th attempt in the competition, still a record today. O’Meara had plenty of luck on PGA Tours, winning 16, and enjoyed an unusually broad career all around the world.

10. Phil Taylor, Darts

Opinion will forever be divided as to the legitimacy of darts as a sport, but Phil ‘The Power’ Taylor, arguably the best player of all time, is still going aged 60. Winning his first world title aged 30 in 1995, he sneaks on the end of this list due to sheer longevity. And he’s pocketed over £6m in prize money over his career. That’s one golden oldie.

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