Top 10 Best Over 40 Athletes Ever

Tags: #TomBrady ,   #Kareem ,   #NBABasketball ,   #Over40

Michael Wendom

Michael Wendom

Last updated:  2023-12-19 12:41:17

It's one thing to become the best at what you do, but another is to stay consistent, even long after your peers have lost their edge. However, in professional sports, it's a rare sight to see athletes not only competing after their 40th birthday but producing remarkable results! We honor them in our Top Ten Best Over 40 Athletes List but let's briefly discuss the rules before we start. First, we are ranking everyone based only on their results after their 40th birthday. Secondly, being involved in physically challenging and highly competitive series is a big plus here. So yeah, there are no chess players, bowlers, or even baseball stars listed here! 

10. Kareem Abdul-Jabaar

Kareem Abdul-Jabaar was still an important member of the Lakers after turning 40

More than a few NBA players were successful past their 40th birthday, but only several were still critical squad members. Among them, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is easily the greatest! Born Ferdinand Lewis Alcindor Jr, at 7'2", he quickly became dominant athlete in the NBA, winning a title in his second season. Grabbing 15 rebounds and scoring 30 points per game with his trademark skyhook, no one knew how to stop him.

In 1975, Abdul-Jabaar became a member of the Los Angeles Lakers, where he won five more titles. However, what's so impressive is that two of them came when he was at least 40! At the time, he was still a starter, which didn't change until his retirement in 1989, at the age of 42. Even in his last season, Abdul-Jabaar played in the NBA finals, though his contribution was much more limited. Still, no one was such an important factor years after his 40th birthday.

9. Jerry Rice

Jerry Rice almost won another Super Bowl aged 40

Born in 1962, Jerry Rice is one of the best wide receivers and among the top NFL players ever. From 1985 to 2000, Rice was in San Francisco 49ers, winning three Super Bowls. What was amazing is that he rarely missed games, not including the 1997 season when he was badly injured after a couple of games. Despite being 35, he decided to come and kept going strong for seven more years!

At the age of 40, Rice was in Oakland Riders, where he was among the top wide receivers. Starting every game of the season, he led the team to another Super Bowl, which they lost to Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Rice stayed for two more seasons, playing every game before retiring in 2004 with the Seattle Seahawks, aged 42. Even in his twilight years, Rice's work ethic remained legendary, as was his performance.

8. Dominik Hašek

Hašek even won William M. Jennings Trophy at 43

It sounds crazy, but Dominik Hašek was only the 199th overall pick in the 1983 NHL Draft. He joined the league in 1990, playing for Chicago Blackhawks before moving to Buffalo Sabres. However, only at 37 he finally won the Stanley Cup, playing for the Detroit Wings. Yet, instead of retiring at the age of 40, he joined the Ottawa Senators.

During the first half of that season, Hašek was incredible and probably the best goalie in the league. Unfortunately, the 2006 Winter Olympics injury made him miss the rest of the season. Yet, next fall, he returned to the Red Wings, helping them win the Western Division. Despite losing the conference finals that season, he decided to keep playing. In 2007/08, he shared the spotlight with Chris Osgood and won the second Stanley Cup before retiring from NHL at 43. Hašek aimed for a comeback two years later, but unfortunately, the lockout changed his mind.

7. Dara Torres

Dara Torres was a sensation at 2008 Olympics

Most of the top swimmers end their careers before their 30th birthday, so what Dara Torres (1967) did sounds almost impossible. At only 17, she competed in the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, winning his first gold. Torres kept going strong before her retirement in 1992. However, seven years later, she came back to race at the 2000 Olympics. Despite 33, she won five medals, including two golds!

What earned her a place on our list is her second comeback in 2007. Aged 40, Torres humiliated her much younger opponents, won the U.S. Nationals, and even set a new national record! Next year she became the oldest U.S. Olympic swimmer, winning three silver medals at the 2008 Beijing Olympics! Torres didn't stop there as she hoped she'll be back in 2012. However, she lost her place in the team by only 0.32 seconds.

6. Gordie Howe

Gordie Howe's longevity is hard to match

Some hockey players force rule changes and have successful careers even after their 40th birthday, but no one comes close to Gordie Howe (1928-2016). The Canadian legend stayed in the NHL for mind-boggling 26 seasons! What's even more incredible was his versatility and consistency, so it's no wonder he was an All-Star 23 times. As you can imagine, he set many records, and some of them are still standing.

On his 40th birthday, Howe was still a key factor for his Detroit Red Wings, playing his 22nd season for the team! His numbers were rather impressive, as, in his last season, he recorded 71 points! After retiring at the age of 43, Howe came back three years later and continued playing in the WHL. However, in 1980 he was once again in the NHL. Even though 52 years old, he played 83 games, including three playoff appearances. What an incredible man!

5. George Foreman

George Foreman shocked the world by destroying Michael Moorer

The story of George Foreman (1948) is a tale about a man who believed in himself, even when no one else did. During the 1970s, Big George was a feared man with devastating punches, making his opponent unconscious. However, in 1977 he shockingly lost to Jimmy Young and decided to quit boxing aged 28! As the years passed, everyone thought that's his final decision, not assuming that the best is yet to come.

Ten years after his retirement, Forman stunned the world by announcing a comeback, despite 38. Starting from scratch, he crushed tens of club fighters, journeymen, and even world title contenders like Dwight Muhammad Qawi, Bert Cooper, or Gerry Cooney. At 42, Foreman again fought for the title, putting up a spirited performance against Evander Holyfield. Despite losing, he continued his journey, suffering a defeat in another title fight against young Tommy Morrison. However, the third time was the charm, since 46-year-old devastated Michael Moorer with a single punch in 1994, becoming the oldest heavyweight champion ever. Big George kept winning for three more years before being robbed in his final appearance, losing against Shannon Briggs on a majority decision. As he later revealed, the only thing he didn't want was to face Mike Tyson!

4. Tom Brady

Even at 43, Tom Brady continued to shine

The NFL had many great quarterbacks playing over the age of 40, but there's no doubt that Tom Brady is the best among them. That sounds incredible for a guy who was never considered a top talent and was the 199th pick at the 2000 NFL draft. Despite being the 7th quarterback for the New England Patriots, his progression was lightning fast! In his second season, he was already a starter and won his first Super Bowl. Thanks to his incredible consistency, the Patriots were a tremendous force, winning at least 10 games every season but once!

Since turning 40 in 2017, Brady isn't slowing down. He has played in the Super Bowl three more times since then, winning the title in 2018 and in 2020. The second one is impressive not only because he was 43 but as this was his first season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers! Plus, they entered the playoffs seeded fifth, meaning they needed to win three away matchups to reach the Super Bowl. Despite his wife's begging him to retire, his current plans are to play at least until his 45th birthday. Since he's still at the top of the game and enjoys it, we're all for it! 

3. Dale Earnhardt

Relive Dale Earnhardt's legendary Daytona 500 triumph

NASCAR is one of the premier racing series, but outside of America, not many people know how physically demanding it is. This is not only because the seasons and races are so long, but as there's not much room for error. Due to a high number of competitors, you are rarely racing alone, and short ovals are in the league of their own. Still, even after his 40th birthday, Dale Earnhardt (1951-2001) could easily handle it all.

Winning his first NASCAR title just before he turned 30, Earnhardt only kept getting better. He finally stopped at seven championships, which is still a record that he shares with Richard Petty and Jimmie Johnson. However, compared to them, he was much better in his forties, winning titles at 40, 41, and 43! Moreover, he was still highly competitive and kept winning, so in 2000, aged 49, he finished the season in second place! We can only assume what could have been if the incident in 2001 never happened.

2. Bernard Hopkins

The Executioner Bernard Hopkins outclassed much younger Kelly Pavlik

Bernard Hopkins (1965) commenced his professional boxing career only in 1988 when he was close to his 24th birthday. It looked like his first appearance in the ring might be his last, as he lost against a journeyman opponent. This was such a disaster that Hopkins took his sweet time and came back only 16 months later! In the next three years, he won 20 fights in a row, which finally positioned him as the title contender. However, he obtained his first world championship aged 30, keeping it for ten more years!

However, when 40-years-old B-Hop lost twice to then-undefeated Jermain Taylor, everyone thought it's all over. Despite this, he kept going, and in 2011, aged 46, he was once the best light heavyweight in the world. He had his last match as a champion in 2014, only two months before turning 50! Two years later, he lost by a knockout for the first time ever and decided to retire! We have no doubt that Hopkins is the best ever boxer older than 40!

1. Juan Manuel Fangio

Juan Manuel Fangio kept himself in top condition, so he could easily outrun his younger rivals

Juan Manuel Fangio (1911-1995) remains an oddity, as his Grand Prix career began only in his late thirties. As he decided to switch to Formula One racing in 1950, no one expected much from him. During these early days of the championship, races were extremely long, and cars demanded lots of power to handle. However, Fangio kept himself in perfect shape, pushing hard during the training.

The results were simply incredible, as he won five titles in only eight seasons! All five came after his 40th birthday, the last one when he was 46. With 24 triumphs in 51 starts on some of the world's best tracks, his winning average is the biggest in the series' history. Considering his car's quality, racing record, and already mentioned toughness of the early Formula One seasons, you can argue that Fangio is the best ever! Even Michael Schumacher, who won seven world titles, once said that he can't ever reach his level!

Thanks to improved fitness, medicine, eating habits, and other factors, it becomes easier for athletes and everyone else to stay in shape even after turning 40. Still, even today, you really have to be something special to keep on the highest level or improve your younger days' performance. So, let this top ten list motivate you to become your best and stay that way for the rest of your life!

Who is your favorite athlete that was still phenomenal near the end of his career? What is the most challenging sport to stay competitive after the age of 40? Tell us in the comments!

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Pathip Says:

I recently watched all fights during Foreman's comeback. No one believed he can even challenge for a title, let alone win it. I think he did the right thing, fighting often but against limited opponents as ultimately, he performed very well against Holyfield, who was the best heavyweight at the time.

September 20 at 08:58:56 AM

Jordan Brews Says:

What Fangio did in his time was incredible.

August 17 at 09:02:57 AM

DannyAZ Says:

Tom Brady deserves to be even higher on the list.

July 29 at 09:45:04 AM

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