Bristol

In pictures: Photographer 'in awe' of older athletes

Angela Copson, 70, runs to a new world record in the women's 10,000m race. Her time of 44.25mins was a whole 3 minutes faster than the existing European record for this distance in her age group (70-74 year old) and 18 seconds faster than the existing world record. Image copyright Alex Rotas
Image caption GB's Angela Copson, 70, runs to a new world record in the women's 10,000m race (70-74 age group) with a time of 44'25"

As the world's finest athletes are celebrated in London, few people know their older counterparts are returning from competition in Denmark. But while the two sets are totally opposed in age, they are matched every step of the way in passion, joy and determination. Photographer Alex Rotas, 68, is determined to prove it.

"I'm half in tears and half in awe watching these amazing athletes and what they achieve in their 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s and just marvelling at their athleticism," said the Bristol-based photographer.

She has just returned from the European Masters Athletics Championships in Aarhus, Denmark - a trip described as "incredibly intense, incredibly wonderful and jaw-dropping".

Photo Image copyright Alex Rotas
Image caption The 87-year-old long jumper Ake Lund, from Finland, leaps into bronze medal position in his age group, clearing 2.77m
Photo Image copyright Alex Rotas
Image caption Denmark's Rosa Pederson, 87, wins the women's long jump event in her age group, clearing 2.72m

She took up photography several years ago and has spent much of her time since then looking through the lens at older sportsmen and women.

"Retirement is a word I skirt around and try not to use," she said.

"I started when I was 60, which is when I realised there weren't any images of older sporty people and being an older sporty person I knew they were out there. I did an internet search and once you put the word 'old' in you just get those pictures of older people slumped in chairs. So I thought 'wow, there's a gap worth filling'."

Photo Image copyright Alex Rotas
Image caption Hilja Bakhoff, 91, from Estonia, creates a new world record in the women's weights throw event (90-94 age group) with a throw of 8.08m
Photo Image copyright Alex Rotas
Image caption GB's Barry Ferguson, 71, and Germany's Hartmann Knorr, 72, battle it out in the men's 300m hurdles

Education has formed much of her career. In Greece she worked with with pre-school deaf children, through to studying a PhD for herself and now she says she is spreading the word, in picture, that the ageing human body is capable of greatness.

"I was watching these people aged in their 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s just achieve the most incredible athletic feats that I never imagined were possible.

"I found it very moving and it made me recalibrate my own sense of what the ageing body can do.

"It's not only their athleticism that comes through, it's their joy. These people are so full of life that it's inspiration on every single level."

Photo Image copyright Alex Rotas
Image caption Latvia's Leontine Vitola, 79, "always breaks into a radiant smile as she crosses the finishing line, wherever she's placed". She won a bronze medal in the 400m race
Photo Image copyright Alex Rotas
Image caption Drama in the final - GB's Dalbir Singh Deol, 91, takes the win over Norway's Harald Alfred Aanarud, 90, and Ernst Zuber, 86, from Germany who tripped and fell

She spent much of her youth playing tennis but the track and field has now captivated her, travelling throughout the UK with her camera and to championships in France, Finland, Turkey, Germany, Italy, Hungary and most recently Denmark.

"There's something really naked about track and field athletics. In tennis you have a racket and you can hide your fitness, or lack of it, if you can do a really good drop shot as you get older.

"But in athletics you've just got your body. You take your body to the starting line, the gun goes bang and you're off. "

Photo Image copyright Alex Rotas
Image caption Austria's Marianne Maier, 74, prepares to take the women's shot put championship (70-74 age group) with a throw of 9.80m

"Some have carried on, meaning they have been athletes all their life, and some have come to it very late in life.

"Some were good in school but gave up when they had jobs and family and they take 50 years out and then come back. It's quite remarkable."

Alex Rotas Image copyright Alex Rotas
Image caption "This [photographing older sportspeople, primarily] is what I've been doing through my 60s," says Alex Rotas

"Everyone has a story and everyone's story is different," said Alex, who hopes to inspire others with the pictures she displays and talks she gives around the world.

And although she's nearing 70 herself she's committed to maintaining her love for starting things - "I love being a beginner," she says with delight.

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Coverage of the World Athletics Championships continues live across BBC One and Two, BBC Radio 5 live, BBC Radio 5 live sports extra, the BBC Sport website and app until Sunday.

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