National Senior Games age-group rules debated: Should USATF practice apply?

Flo Meiler set series of W85 vault world records (based on actual age), since she aged up before ABQ. Photo by Rob Jerome

Kathy Bergen doesn’t turn 80 until late December, and Brenda Matthews doesn’t turn 70 until early July. But at last week’s National Senior Games in Albuquerque, Kathy won W80 sprints and Brenda won W70. For those in the parallel USATF masters circuit, this is crazy. In Senior Olympic state, regional and national events, it’s par for the quirky course.

As I’ve explained to newbies for decades, USATF (and World Masters Athletics) assigns your age group based on your actual age on the first day of a given meet. (This leads to some folks aging up in the middle of the meet but still competing in the younger age group.)

In the National Senior Games Association — including its biennial national meets such as ABQ — your age group is based on your age as of Dec. 31 in the year you’re competing. In other words, if you turn 60 on Dec. 30, you’re M60 or W60 for all those meets earlier in the year when you’re actually 59.

The NSGA age rules can lead to confusion when records are set. At ABQ, a slew of National Senior Games records were set. I don’t pay those much attention. But when sprinter Betty Schaefer turned 70 in ABQ, she jumped the gun in announcing an American 4×100 relay record. (See results here, BTW.)

At first she posted on Facebook: “Praise God our women’s 70-74 won the Gold in the 4×100 relay!!! National Sr. Games Albuquerque N.M. 2019. New NSGA (previously 1:16) and also American Record (previously 1:10) in 1:08.”

She ran with Kathy, Brenda and Sandi Rue (73). But under USATF rules, only Kathy and Sandi were eligible for a W70-74 relay record.

That led Betty to post a follow-up: “Correction on our possible USATF 4 x 100M record A little sleuth work found that the USATF age specifications are different than NSGA for 70-74 age groups and we apparently missed the cutoff for 70 by several members of the team (by days) –Even though we had an 80-year-old ,they wouldn’t let us average our ages..LOL”

No harm, no foul. But supershooter Rob Jerome made the emperor-has-no-clothes observation: “Would be great if NSGA used the same age determination rules as USATF and WMA. For example, if you were 79 at the time of the Games but were turning 80 in 2019, your age for the Games was listed as 80. So there were instances where people set NSGA records for a particular age group but couldn’t set USATF or WMA records for the same age group because technically they had not reached that age group yet.”

Makes me think that NSGA, whose major meets are USATF-sanctioned (using USATF officials and following our rules), should change to USATF age assignment policies as well. Maybe in the olden days it was easier for Senior Olympic meet organizers to put everyone in a given age group based on their age at the end of the year. But modern software can calculate anyone’s age group based on Day 1 of the meet, and most athletes are used to this drill.

(Of course, a change to USATF rules would mean NSGA would have to throw out lots of its meet records. But what the hey. They shouldn’t conflict with USATF national records.)

Based on Rob’s storytelling captions, at least one age-group world record was set at ABQ — 1.55 (5-1) in the pole vault by Vermont’s Flo Meiler, who turned 85 in early June — well before the meet started. She raised the listed WR of 1.25 (4-1 1/4) by Los Angeles legend Johnnye Valien several times in the competition. Flo now holds three WRs — in W75, W80 and W85. That matches Nadine O’Connor, listed as the best vaulter in W60, W65 and W70.

Changing USATF rules is time-consuming, but maybe NSGA would consider adopting USATF rules with a proper push. Scroll down for a poll.

After I wrote the above, email arrived from my fellow San Diego sprinter Dave DiMassa. He gave me permission to share his exchange with Rex Harvey, our national masters chair.

David wrote to Rex before the ABQ meet:


I have been a member of USATF Masters runners for over 20 years. I would like to compete in the Outdoor Nationals July 11-14, 2019. My birthday is July 31, 1959. I will be 60 years old July 31.

Unfortunately, I would need to compete in the M55 not the M60, thereby most likely placing 8th of 8 runners in the M55 vs. 3rd of 8 runners in the M60 , 200 and 400m. I have not attended a USATF Masters outdoor since this meet was moved in July from August years ago.

I will be participating in the National Senior Games June 15-20, 2019, competing in the M60 because the Senior Games rules are “older runner” friendly, allowing the athlete to compete in the age they will be on December 31 of each year, not their actual birth date. This will be the third National Senior Games I have attended. This year, over 46 entrants in the M60 400 and over 54 entrants in the M60 200. As of today the USATF outdoor nationals have only 8 entrants in these categories.

I am aware that USATF masters has had significantly less entrants vs. the Senior Games in recent years and I do see that trend continuing as, most older athletes want to compete with average to above average runners, not the same 4-8 “elite” names in each 5-year increment that have dominated USATF since the 90s.

I am not alone in these comments.

Thank you for your time


Rex replied to David:


You certainly are entitled to your opinion and you certainly are free and able to enter, or not enter, any track meet. I will point out that it is utterly ridiculous for someone to win a 60 year race or set a 60 record when they are not yet 60.

For one thing the press lost a lot of respect for our Masters programs when they showed up to report on three 100-year-olds completing at the Cleveland Senior Games. They walked away in disgust when they found out that not one of them was 100.

They only were 100 by the illogical Senior Games rules. The origin of the end-of-year rule is way back when computer programs were not sophisticated enough to keep track of people’s ages. And youth sometimes use that rule because it keeps people from using their age to their advantage.

As you know, most youth get better as they get older. So an athlete that is 10 years old on Dec. 31 has to compete with other 10-year-olds all year. That is a one year disadvantage to that individual, but insures that he does not have an age advantage over their peers.

Masters are the exact opposite. They get worse with age. So a Masters athlete that is 60 on 31 Dec, gets to compete as a 60 year old all year giving them a (nearly) year advantage over other 60 year olds under the end-of-year rule. Not logical. And no matter what rule you use, someone is going to miss it by a few days, or even one day. USATF MTF will continue using actual ages on the first day of the meet as required by the World governing body WMA/IAAF.


And David replied:

I appreciate your response to my email. Respectfully, I am disappointed you chose not to address the main points of my message — the fact that the Senior Games is becoming a much more successful organization for the “average” masters track athlete to compete as well as hugely better attended and more fun.

Seeing the same “3-5 “athletes win in each age group for the last 25 years does nothing to encourage better attendance. Perhaps a “Hall of Fame” race and another heat(s) for the other 98%.

Clearly attendance and increasing venue locations and size of facilities in Senior Games within the last 10 years back up my statement. Again, you miss my point that allowing athletes to compete in the age they will be at December 31, not their actual birth date, promotes more participation in the games.

As you must know, most older athletes will suffer a medical or physical setback, some may never have time to compete in a new age group, waiting another full year to comply with the “elite” athlete oriented rules of USATF.

Your support of USATF Masters rules that are oriented to the 22-year-old Olympian, not the 60-year-old athlete, is one of the reasons for declining game attendance. The submaster group does not offer much future promise as their numbers are down since the 90s as well. Your comments ignore these points.

Your comment that three 100-year-old ?athletes were not age verified at Senior Games is irrelevant to my questions to you in my email to you. Who cares?

I have had three spinal fusion surgeries in the last seven years. Typically 50% of people go on permanent disability, after just one of these complex surgeries.

I have been an All-American at M40, 45, 50, 55 in the 100, 200 and 400 meters, despite these physical setbacks. I have also been successful in private enterprise , starting with 0 financial backing, supervising employees and retiring comfortably at 58 years old. The most important fact I have learned in the business world is to LISTEN to your customer, not be be defensive, ignore your competition and hope they go away.

My main concern to you, Mr Harvey, is that I am a member since 1996 of USATF and I represent the larger, silent majority of average athletes that pay our dues to USATF each year and are to be represented my our officers, the USATF Masters management team.

We are your members, not people to be spoken to in a condescending manner. “Utterly ridiculous”? Really? Is this the way a president speaks to a member that helps pays your salary and expenses? Maybe it’s time for a change.

Meanwhile let’s savor the great efforts in ABQ, including those by Julia “Hurricane” Hawkins who at 103 became the oldest female trackster — and rated a New York Times story. The oldster fieldster is the late Ruth Frith of Australia, who died five years ago at the 104 but was actively throwing at age 102.

Here’s how Rob documented the National Senior Games:

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About the Author

Ken Stone
Ken has followed track as an athlete, writer and webmaster since the late 1960s, and saw most sessions of track and field at the 1984 Los Angeles and 1996 Atlanta Olympics. He also attended the 1988, 1992, 2000, 2004, 2008 and 2012 Trials. He worked for 10 newspapers and now reports for Times of San Diego. Write him at or Story tips always welcome!

26 Comments on "National Senior Games age-group rules debated: Should USATF practice apply?"

  1. Michael Walker | June 26, 2019 at 2:23 pm | Reply

    Had I been able to attend the Sr Nationals, I would have competed in the 70 – 74 age group despite being 69 but I have to go with Rex on this.
    David makes some points about attendance and the USATF should look at how to better market & attract masters but not by changing the age rule. By the way, I have been a member of the USATF since I started competing in Masters track at age 40 [1990] & the AAU before that.

  2. David DiMassa | June 26, 2019 at 2:48 pm | Reply

    Thank for the acknowledgment. I just want to run with more athletes in more heats because it is fun for me. NSGA gives me that and more, regardless of which age group I or anyone else is placed. I want to see USATF flourish years from now and I genuinely believe attendance is a long term concern not a locale or time of year vs other meet problem. As my many fellow tracksters will verify, I usually “stay in my lane” and do not create any management issues. I also do not appreciate a condescending message from the Chairman to a member.
    BTW_ I have been a USATF member since 1996, not 2006, my error.
    Run fast and stay healthy.
    David DiMassa

  3. Michael Walker | June 26, 2019 at 4:35 pm | Reply


    Like you, I want to see greater participation at the USATF nationals and more meets for us to compete in and getting an open discussion of how to accomplish that is a great start. I think that the USATF needs to look at their total marketing and event program to see why the Sr Games are drawing so well. Personally, I have a hard time believing that the only different factor is how your age is calculated as it only benefits an athlete when entering a new age group but would love to hear from other masters athletes and meet organizers for their thoughts.

  4. Mickey Miller | June 26, 2019 at 9:45 pm | Reply

    In Minnesota in 2015 I competed in the M70-74 age group and placed 2nd in the Javelin. The winner was 69 years old, but was allowed into the 70-74 group because of the NSGA rules.
    That would have been the 2nd time I won the National Senior Games javelin. Oh well, I won again this year in Albuquerque in the 75-79 group.
    I’m for the NSGA to be in line with USATF.

  5. There’s a whole bunch of words in those two letters but what looks like the engine behind your letter, despite the other stuff you throw in there, is …You DON’T want to run against the fastest runners and you DO want to be the youngest competitor in your age group ( this year) (of course in 2023 at 63, when you have to compete against another new crop of 59 year olds you might realize the shortsightedness of your argument ie. you’re right back where you started from). I honestly don’t see what the problem is…keep running in the Senior Games. BTW, I think this year, besides being Albuquerque vs Iowa, many top level athletes may have chosen the Senior Games because of the Toronto’s NCCWMA games falling so closely behind USATF’s nationals.

  6. Weia Reinboud | June 27, 2019 at 12:03 am | Reply

    That ‘“older runner” friendly’ isn’t correct. In the birthday system (WMA, USATF etcetera) the biggest age difference in an age group you’ll ever encounter is five years, in the birth year system (masters games and Germany) it is six years. That isn’t friendly to the older ones.

  7. The birthyear system is how the USATF, IAAF, and other sports determine Youth, Junior, U23, U20, etc. eligibility, so the NSGA isn’t in bad company.

    As for attendance, it was interesting that the residents of New Mexico won the most medals. In other words, the NSGA actually promotes its games.

  8. Jerry Bookin-Weiner | June 27, 2019 at 4:32 am | Reply

    While many state senior games use the birth year method, there are some (Arizona for sure) that follow USATF/WMA practice and use age on the first day of the meet. For a period of time, NSGA also followed USATF/WMA practice – I know this because a fellow competitor in the discus discovered at the 2003 NSG in Norfolk that he would be in the M50 group despite turning 55 on the second day of the Games. Why they changed is a mystery to me.

    There were other American records set in ABQ on what I called the “Desert Island” where the hammer throw (and one age group in the discus) was contested – about a mile away from the stadium on a rock strewn field with no grass whatsoever (for more on this see my Throwers Circle column in the next National Masters News).

    The three ARs set in the hammer were by Wally Dashiell (W95) of Maryland whose picture and back story Rob includes above; Mary Hartzler (W70) of Ohio; and Elsbeth Padia (W80) of California.

  9. Wade J Sorenson | June 27, 2019 at 6:18 am | Reply

    Your age should be on the day you compete regardless if it changes during the meet. This isn’t that difficult. Once you verify your age it will automatically update. Start of meet and end of year should not be factors.

  10. Can’t use Wade J Sorensen’s suggestion as you could end up competing in the same event in two age groups at the same meeting.

  11. Kathy Bergen | June 27, 2019 at 11:48 am | Reply

    I, too, would like the NSGA to use the USATF birthday system. It would clear up the confusion about records that we are now seeing play out after the Senior Nationals.

  12. WOW! Different rules, different organizations, different records. I wonder what the rules and records will be when Masters become apart of the Olympic Games with qualification in each age- group to compete. According to their standards.

  13. I think that the second sentence of Rex’s email ends any debate: ” . . . it is utterly ridiculous for someone to win a 60 year race or set a 60 record when they are not yet 60.”

  14. I have to agree with Rex about the age calculation issue. However I also have to agree with David about the tone of Rex’s email. WTH Rex? David’s right, our dues pay your salary. A little more courtesy and respect for someone’s point of view is in order.

    David’s point is well taken – NSG kicks Masters USATF’s butt in terms of attendance. I don’t think it’s because of the age calculations but maybe I’m wrong. Perhaps USATF could undertake a survey of NSG participants and ask what specifically drew them to NSG as opposed to USATF championship meets. The answer could be very interesting.

  15. Joseph Patridge II | June 28, 2019 at 3:00 pm | Reply

    The National Senior Games is a biannual event that includes multiple sports including track and field. If track and field athletes are interested in setting age group records they have many opportunities to run at meets and attempt to break age group records. The Senior Games are more than breaking records, the Games are a celebration of athletes aged 50 and older coming together and competing in sports they love. It’s about friendship, teamwork, and re-uniting with competitors seen only at the national meet.
    The National Senior Games are a distinct entity with it’s own rules. I’ve participated in track and field every senior games since 2009. I also run on the USATF circuit, both have advantages and disadvantages. The addition of USATF has negatively impacted track and field. At the 2019 games the USATF forced sprinters to warm up on a grass field (no opportunity to warm up in spikes). In previous games warming up on the opposite side of the track was not an issue. We also had to report 25 minutes before our race to get lane assignments and then wait until our race. I’ve run at Mt SAC and other venues where this is the normal protocol, unfortunately the number of athletes and heats further prolonged the wait before race time. USATF should partner with NSGA to adopt systems that are efficient and consider the needs of older athletes (long stretches of time between warm ups and race time are counter-productive and lead to more injuries). Procedures utilized for youth and sub-master competitors may not be best suited for masters athletes.

  16. It is fairly recent that the National Senior Games adopted USATF rules for competition and has used USATF officials for state competitions. As far as I am concerned they can stick to their silly use of 31 December to set age group rules. It will be a long cold day somewhere beforeUSATF and WMA adopts the end of year as establishing age groups. National Senior Games needs to get real and adopt theUSATF/ WMA rule. I participate in some state senior games – the ones that are fairly close to where I live. And twice I have taken part in the National Senior Games. The first time (will not mention the state) there were some USATF officials there but the selection of events was a bit strange – nothing longer than a 1500m on the track and no apparent thought given to scheduling longer races (1500 meters was followed almost immediately by a 5k road race). The “race walk”was a joke – with no race walk officials. I am aware that some of this has improved – actual race walk officials for example and USATF officials. National Senior Games is about “health” which is its purpose – but it is not really about the sort of athletic competition that one finds at USATF masters track and certainly not at the WMA level. And then how about the “power walk” addition – I think it is fine but power walking is not a USATF event and certainly not a WMA event (yet or ever perhaps). The National Senior Games spends its time and effort making sure that many sports can compete at a multi-day event to promote health and friendship. It is not a USATF nor a WMA level track meet.

  17. Michael Walker | June 29, 2019 at 2:58 pm | Reply

    I think in her last sentence, Mary summed up the difference between the USATF Masters championship and the National Sr Games. To David’s point [which got this discussion going], I would hope that the USATF looks at how to better promote masters track and to get more people involved. If most of the participants in the Sr Games also joined USATF, it surely would be beneficial to everyone.

  18. I just spent a long time preparing a comment, but unfortunately it went into the ether rather than onto this page. I am too irritated to post the full comment again, but the gist of it was that the Senior Games do better than our nationals. Several years ago I prepared a similar analysis, using three popular events (shot put, high jump, and 100) and looked at 1st, 3rd, and 6th for 50-54, 60-64, 70-74, and 80-84. It was no contest, as the Senior Games came out far ahead of our nationals.

    Still, if we want to look only at superstars, our nationals should prevail. A look at the photos posted here by the redoubtable Rob Jerome, however, tells us that the Senior Games include a strong set of women. Looking only at the women who actually made it into photos I saw all-time greats Kathy Bergen, Joy Upshaw, and Christel Donley.

    I also saw Linda Cohn (not identified in a photo), Brenda Matthews, Neringa Jakstiene, the wonderful (and talented) Jennifer Hedges, and many, many others.

    My conclusion in my original comment is that the Senior Games beat the outdoor nationals rather handily. For example, in the W50 high jump, just two women at 2018 outdoor nationals exceeded 0.80 meters, while five jumped 1.05 meters or better at ABQ. In the 100, Spokane did better than ABQ, but the shot put was no contest, as only two women at Spokane threw more than 5.48 meters. At ABQ, eight W50 women threw 8.16 meters or farther.

    In the M50 100, eight men at ABQ did 12.82 or better, while only three men broke 13.00 at Spokane. In the high jump, there were only four men competing in M50 at Spokane, with just three breaking 1.45, while ABQ had four men jump 1.50 or higher.

    In the M50 shot put, only four men in Spokane threw farther than 9.13 meters, while in ABQ all eight M50 men threw 9.64 or farther.

    I am too worried about losing another posting to go any farther, but my conclusion is that if you want to see a big number of superstars you go to outdoor nationals, but if you want to see a nice combination of superstars and great depth you go to Senior Games. I will now try to post this.

  19. Peter Taylor did your “lost” original post have anything about the age group question or was it just more out of context stats and anecdotal picture labeling. BTW, how’d that drug testing go at the Seniors?

  20. Shame on you, Mr. X, for your nasty and inappropriate posting. Ken Stone, consider barring this guy for at least 6 years.

  21. I’ve competed in middle-distance track in both NSG and USATF Nationals since 2008. I’ve also competed in occasional State Games of America and USA Masters Games T&F events. Rather than try to find something to complain about, I’m just grateful that there are enough people who are capable and willing to put on these events. It makes my head spin to think of the organization and skills required to pull off all the T&F events with 25-30 different age/gender divisions within a few short days. Yes, it would be nice if the NSG used the age at event rule for consistency, but it’s not a big deal for me. NSG has the advantage when it comes to numbers, as it has the 50 State Senior Games feeding into it. The state games include many more events than track and field, so the local organizers can pull in staff and volunteers who have a broader range of interests. It appears to me that more people have their interest in competing in T&F kindled (or rekindled) by the State Senior Games organizations than by USATF Masters, due to their grass-roots efforts. Once that interest leads to development and refinement of skills, they attend and excel at the National Games. USATF should take advantage of this success by marketing at the NSG T&F competitions. This year USATF included a tri-fold flyer in the NSG packet that was exactly what was needed to make sure those competing in T&F are aware of the opportunities in USATF. In future years perhaps USATF could have an informational table at the NSG exhibition hall with volunteers there to provide even more visibility. In the long run, I think recruitment efforts like this could be as much a factor in making the USA Masters R&F team No. 1 in the world as our present efforts to help the best athletes travel to the Worlds.

  22. I take offense at the tone of Mr. Harvey’s email. However I agree that NGSA age group rule could be fixed. In regards to attendance at USATF Masters Events marketing, marketing, marketing. I have competed in both state seniors games and USATF Association and Regional meets. The level of competition at the USATF events were better. I raced against some the elites at USATF meets and lowered my times. I didn’t have that same level of competition at the local or state senior games. I like competition and competing against the best brings out the best in you. I would be competing in my first USATF Nationals this year but my son is stationed in North Carolina so I decided to compete at the State Games of America in Lynchburg Va.

  23. Peter Taylor, instead of asking Ken to bar me which seems to be the 2019 solution to having to engage in debate, you could address my somewhat snarky but certainly not “nasty and inappropriate” post. Here’s some fun with stat’s. The winner of the Albuquerque meet in the 50-54 javelin threw 3 meters farther than the winner at Spokane obviously supporting your thesis……oh wait,….it was the SAME athlete. Did you ask, or research as to why any of those excellent female athletes you picked out of the photos why they were in ALBQ? was geography a factor? How about the timing of Toronto’s NCCWMA games starting 4 days after Ames, Iowa? I would certainly have preferred ALBQ to Ames this year but the timing wasn’t right, sounds like it was right for many others.
    BTW, there’s a good post directly above mine that makes a number of relevant observations ref. Senior Games and USATF that’s better than yours or mine. Again, attempting(?) to deplatform me because I dared to make a non positive comment ref. your post is far more inappropriate than anything I did.

  24. Do what you want, Mr. X. I will not respond in a substantive manner to anything you have said to date or will say in the future.

  25. Quick Silver | July 2, 2019 at 5:34 pm | Reply

    There are national championships run on the year-of-birth basis. Thailand’s for example. It’s also useful for postal competitions where otherwise people could compete in two age groups in the same competition.

    Quick Silver
    Hong Kong

  26. Michael Walker | July 2, 2019 at 7:42 pm | Reply

    Does anyone still do postal competitions?
    The possibility competing in two age groups in the same competition is interesting.
    I like USATF age rule but would be happy if everyone adopted the same system no matter which one.

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