WINNIPEG – Lou Billinkoff is a latecomer to competitive athletics. It was just five years ago – while recovering from a heart attack – that the long-retired former electrical engineer for Manitoba Hydro began running competitively. Today, at 95, he is the undisputed world record holder for men 95 and older in the 100-metre sprint.
“I was never much of an athlete,” he says. “But as part of my rehab from the heart attack, I started walking around a track for exercise. Then, after a year of that, my son, Errol, encouraged me to try running and I found that I enjoyed it.”
It was also Errol Billinkoff who encouraged his father to compete. “Four years ago, I entered a track meet at the University of Manitoba and posted the best time in Canada in the Masters category for men over 90,” he says.
Billinkoff remains modest about that feat, noting that there is not a lot of competition in his age group. Nevertheless, each year, he has only gotten better. In 2016, he finished with a time of 28.28 seconds, ranking him first in Canada, seventh in North America and 18th in the world in the over 90 category. Last year, he ran the 100 metres in under 27 seconds.
This year, on June 23, at the age of 95, he ran the 100-metre sprint with a time of 29.73 seconds, finishing first overall in the over 95 category, not just in Canada, but in the world.
There is one caveat, though, he points out: there is still one competitor in his age group who has yet to run and could beat his time.
Last year, there were just nine people around the world competing in the 95-and-older category, according to Billinkoff. And he says that the previous Canadian record for the 100-metre sprint for 95 and over of one minute and 18 seconds was fairly easy to beat.
Billinkoff works out for an hour a day, three times a week, combining running with weights, leg exercise and stretches. He also has a trainer by the name of Sheldon Reynolds.
“Sheldon’s a wonderful guy,” Billinkoff says. “He has helped me psychologically even more than with technique. He reinforces the things I am doing that I might question.
“For example, when you run, you build up speed as you go. I start with a jump, then go as fast as I can. Sheldon pointed out that while that may not be the conventional approach, the Canadian Olympic runner Ben Johnson also used that technique,” says Billinkoff.
In getting ready for a race, Billinkoff notes that the most important thing is to get into the zone. “I do some warm-up exercises beforehand,” he says, “but the main thing is to be relaxed and at ease before the run.”
Billinkoff says that he is having a ball with his late-in-life celebrity status. In recognition of his achievements, he was recently invited to Winnipeg city hall, where Mayor Brian Bowman presented him with a special certificate and citation. (He and the mayor also ran a friendly race.)
He was also presented with a plaque by the Insurance Brokers Association of Manitoba and a Winnipeg Blue Bombers jersey at the Bomber’s first home game.
“The best part of this all,” he says, “is that my family and friends are proud of what I have accomplished – and that makes me happy.”
“Lou is an inspiration to many,” says Ruth Billinkoff, his wife of 67 years.