Aged 98, Sawang Janpram cruised to victory in the 100-metre sprint, came first in the discus and set a record in the javelin — the undisputed star of Thailand’s first national Elderly Games held this week.
Competitors who gathered in northern Nan province defied age stereotypes and the searing sun in the government-backed sporting event, organised to promote an active lifestyle among seniors as Thailand tries to stave off an ageing crisis.
“I saw many people my age ailing in bed and I didn’t want to be like that. So I began to exercise,” said the spry Mr. Sawang, after setting a record of 15.3 metres in the javelin throw — albeit as the sole competitor in his 95-99 age category.
Thailand’s population is getting older, and fast, posing risks to the middle-income country’s social and medical services.
By 2031, the percentage of the population over 60 is expected to nearly double to 28%, according to the National Economic and Social Development Board.
The event, which concludes Friday, aims to boost healthcare among seniors, with the added social draw of competitors enjoying the opportunity to meet friends.
Held in an outdoor sports complex, the atmosphere was festive, with cheering crowds and athletes helping each other after they crossed the finish line. “It doesn’t matter if I get a medal or not, I feel happy to see friends competing together,” said Duangpee Sansing, the 81-year-old winner of a 400-metre race.
The seven-day event drew more than 1,000 athletes from across the country. They battled it out in sports as far apart as football, body building and ballroom dancing to sepak takraw, a traditional game.