Over 35? You’re irrelevant in most sports.
If your name’s not Tom Brady, Serena Williams, or Tiger Woods, you can pretty much count on framing your jersey above the mantle after the last candle’s blown out.
Unless your sport is CrossFit.
This year, 140 athletes between the ages of 35 and 72 competed in eight events across three days at the CrossFit Games in Madison, Wisconsin. They climbed ropes and pegboards. They walked on their hands and traversed the parallel bars. They swam and pushed heavy sleds.
And just like the elite individuals decades their junior, the best of them got paid.
The masters divisions made their CrossFit Games debut back in 2010 with a singular 50+ category for both men and women. And from Day 1, the fittest in those divisions have been rewarded.
It began with a gift card: $1,000 for first place, $500 for second, and $250 for third.
Since then, the prize purse has expanded with the divisions themselves. This year, $280,000 of NOBULL’s total $2,845,000 purse went to the the winners of the masters divisions, the highest awards ($25,000) going to the first-place finishers of the Men’s and Women’s 35-39 divisions (no podium finisher of any age took home less than $2,000).
It might seem small compared with the individual bounty, but we’re talking about an increase of almost 8,000%. And — as with most things fitness — CrossFit’s still ahead of the curve.
In the few athletic endeavors that do offer cash prizes for masters-level athletes, the incentives are slight. At the 2019 World Masters Athletics Indoor Championships in Toruń, Poland, USA Track and Field scraped together enough funds for Americans to pocket $400 for gold, $200 for silver, and $100 for bronze medals won at the event.
The 2022 San Diego Half Marathon masters podium finishers will earn $500, $250, and $100 for first, second, and third place, which is still more than the winners of the Chicago Marathon masters will take home (a personalized, engraved medal). Similarly, the International Masters Games Association offers masters a multitude of sports to enjoy, but no prizes beyond hardware.
That’s not to diminish the accomplishments of the athletes who compete in those events or to bash the organizers behind them. Funding is hard to come by.
But it’s worth noting that of the countless ways CrossFit has revolutionized health and sport, legitimizing the professionalism of masters athletics is — and has always been — one.