When the 12th annual Maryland Senior Olympics open today in Towson, 85-year-old Noel Cook of Annapolis will be there, wielding a mean stick.
Cook, the county's oldest participant this year, won't be playing hockey, lacrosse or pole vaulting. The stick he'll be using is a pool cue and his game of choice, billiards.
The active octogenarian, who also swims four times a week, said he's participating in the Olympics for the first time this year "for the fun of it" and because a fellow pool player "talked me into it."
But his wife, Ann, tells a different story.
"He's very competitive," she said. "If he's going to go, he'll want to win."
Many people may not think of billiards as a sport, but Dan Collins, spokesman for the event, said the Senior Olympics offers a variety of events soas many seniors as possible can participate. The games were created more than a decade ago to promote better physical fitness among senior citizens.
"There's quite a mix of people who participate. There are a few that are actual former Olympic athletes, but many are retired people who were looking for something to do," Collins said.
One64-year-old participant in the pole vaulting competition took up thesport only a year ago, he said. Another participant, who hails from the Eastern Shore, took up running in his 70s.
"You don't have to be Arnold Schwarzenegger to participate," Collins said.
Ruth Bennett, 94, of Sandy Spring in Montgomery County is the oldest participant ever to compete. She has entered the one-mile recreational walk.
In addition to such standards as track and field, swimming and archery, seniors also will compete in badminton and horseshoes. They compete for gold, silver and bronze medals.
The Senior Olympics, which will attract more than 1,400 participants to Towson State University from all over the state, includes 15 different sports and more than 60 events. Competition is broken down into eight different age groups,ranging from age 55 to 94. Collins said events have been added in recent years -- last year team sports were added, and this year three-man basketball will be offered for the first time.
The event, the largest senior athletic event in the state, is sponsored by Blue Crossand Blue Shield of Maryland, the Maryland Office on Aging and the Maryland Senior Olympics Commission. It will run through Saturday.
The Olympics start at 9:30 this morning with a torch run from the Annapolis Statehouse. Thirteen runners from several counties are carryingthe torch the 36 miles to Towson.
Collins said the number of participants has been growing steadily each year since the Olympics started. More than 200 seniors from the county will participate this year.
"Anne Arundel County always has a good contingency," he said.
Every other year, winners in the Maryland Olympics go on to compete in the U.S. National Senior Sports Classic Games, held last year in Syracuse, N.Y. The next qualifying year for the Sports Classics Games will be 1992, Collins said.