Florence Latter walked away from the podium, a pair of gold medals around her neck, a smile beaming on her face.
“I always have fun here,” the 90-year-old Latter said. “I would love it even if I didn’t get a medal.”
Latter was one of more than 2,000 athletes who competed at the 17th annual Washington State Senior Games, placing first in a pair of track and field events Saturday at Tumwater District Stadium.
“We always love making the trip up here for this,” Latter said. “We will be back next year.”
Latter made the 6-hour, 350-mile trek from Grants Pass, Ore., to participate for the fifth time in the Washington Senior Games.
“The reason for our existence is to get more seniors off the couch and become more active,” said Paul Kelly, who organizes
the field events. “I don’t think we are gaining any newer participants in the younger ages, but we are certainly seeing our numbers increase with the older participants and that’s a great thing.”
According to Kelly, the number of track and field athletes was slightly down from previous years. The reason was most likely the fact that the National Senior Games were also being held this weekend in Cleveland, stealing a number of competitors.
Despite lower turnout in track and field, the combined total for the senior games exceeded more than 2,000 participants for the third consecutive year, ranging in age from 50 to 96.
Latter was a dual champion, taking first place in both the 50 meters and the 100.
“They had to create a new category just for me,” said Latter, who finished the 50 in 19.33 seconds and the 100 in 41.41. “No one my age had ever ran the 50 meters before.”
Latter’s family and friends quickly pointed out that she is the track-record holder in the event.
“Yeah, but I was the only one racing,” Latter said with a laugh.
True, Latter was the only one her age competing in the two events, but that didn’t stop a wave of supporters voicing inspiration in her performance.
“That’s the great thing about the Senior Games, the friendships you create here,” said Francia Reynolds, a four-time champion. “Everyone is so supportive, so positive. It makes you want to come back the next year. It also makes you want to get new people involved with it.”
Reynolds, 67, has competed in 14 Senior Games since 1999, missing only the 2006 event to attend her daughter’s wedding.
“It just continues to improve every year,” said Reynolds, a resident of Olympia who captured a silver medal at the National Senior Games in 2009 as a member of a 4x100 relay team. “They’ve added more events. The officiating improves every year. This has really turned into the top senior games in the Northwest.”
Reynolds won the 50 and 100 meters, discus and hammer in the 65-69 age group, while Olympia’s Deborah Dohrmann won the discus (46 feet, 7 inches), javelin (52-0) and shot put (21-11) in the women’s 60-64 division.
Scott Copeland of Olympia, took home six gold medals in the 55-59 age group, winning the 50 (7.32), 100 (13.31), 200 (27.72), 400 (1:04.96), long jump (15-0) and triple jump (29-6).
Auburn’s Juan Teague won four events – 100, 200, long jump and triple jump – in the 50-54 division and also captured a silver in the 50.
Olympia’s George Rowsell, 96, was the oldest competitor, winning the shotput and discus in the 95-99 age group.
The Senior Games continue today with cycling (Evergreen Sportsmen’s Club), cowboy action shooting (Capital City Rifle and Pistol Club), pickleball (Lakewood Community Center), volleyball (Olympia High School), swimming (Briggs Community YMCA), tennis (The Valley Athletic Club), table tennis (Capitol City Tennis and Athletic Club) and bowling (Westside Lanes).