Manitoba

At 96, Winnipeg's Lightning Lou sprinting to world-best times

A 96-year-old grandfather who strives to be faster than anyone his age never doubted he would beat a world's best time on Saturday.

'I thought, "My God, I could easily beat that,'" nonagenarian sprinter says after smashing 50-metre dash time

Lou Billinkoff, 96, catches his breath after running the 50-metre dash in 15.67 seconds. His goal was to beat the best 2018 time for that sprint in the 95-99 category, which he did by more than a full second. (Ian Froese/CBC)

A 96-year-old grandfather who strives to be faster than anyone his age never doubted he would beat a world's-best run time on Saturday.

"It's a cinch for me to beat that," Lou Billinkoff pronounced confidently, moments before he sprinted the 50-metre dash in front of around 200 people at the University of Manitoba's outdoor track on Saturday.

And true to his word, the Winnipegger who made a name for himself last year by becoming the fastest 95-year-old in the country proved he's just as speedy at 96.

Billinkoff ran the 50 in 15.61 seconds on Saturday — beating the 16.81 time of American runner Ervin Szewczuga, who had the fastest 2018 run in the 95-99 year old men's category, according to the World Masters Rankings.

The year before, Szewczuga ran the 50-metre in 15.74 seconds — just a hair slower than Billinkoff's Saturday run.

Billinkoff was focused on beating the 2018 best time — which he did by more than a full second.

"I thought, 'My God, I could easily beat that,'" said Billinkoff, who hugged his family after his triumph Saturday.

Lou Billinkoff, centre, poses for a picture with his sons, Errol, left, and Lorne after running the 50-metre sprint. (Ian Froese/CBC)

He was cheered on by a crowd who showed up for a high school track and field meet, but may have cheered loudest for a man almost eight decades older than the other athletes. 

"It's something that I've been looking forward to for about two months when I set my heart on it, and I finally did it, so I accomplished what I had in mind."

He might have been even faster on Saturday, he said, if it wasn't for wind bearing down on him.

A late running start

Billinkoff came to running late in life. He started at age 89, after surviving a heart attack. He began by walking around the track, then running and now he's breaking records.

"He was non-athletic his whole life, he never played any sports or anything, so for this to happen is quite shocking," said Errol Billinkoff of his father's accomplishment.

"I've often said that he's sending the wrong message to people — do nothing your whole life and then your joints will be like new," he said, laughing. "You'll be 89 and you'll accomplish great things."

"He didn't wear out his parts," Errol's brother, Lorne, added. "He's in great shape."

Lou Billinkoff — or "Lightning Lou," as he's known — has garnered some notority, particularly around his Winnipeg gym, the Reh-Fit Centre.

He's been the subject of numerous media interviews and last year was christened the fastest 95-year-old in Canada after beating the 100-metre record. 

The sport has given Lou a new lease on life, his sons say.

More records to break

"That's all he thinks about. He's on the computer constantly, checking out the videos, studying techniques," said Errol.

"He was thinking about using the starting blocks — he thought maybe that would help. His coach told him that his technique looks a lot like [Canadian sprinter] Ben Johnson's, and he thought, 'That must be good.'"

Billinkoff has lately given up the 100-metre dash because it's become too difficult. Shorter distances, around 50 and 60 metres, are more his speed these days.

But if he has his way, he'll keep chasing records.

"I've been looking around," he said.

About the Author

Ian Froese

Reporter

Ian Froese is a reporter with CBC Manitoba. He has previously worked for newspapers in Brandon and Steinbach. Story idea? Email: ian.froese@cbc.ca.

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