There is an old adage that you should never ask a woman her age.
An exception to this otherwise chivalrous rule may be made when her age is needed in order to correctly calculate the number of world track and field gold medals she has won in the past year.
For La Cañada Flintridge’s Kathy Bergen, the answers are 81 and six.
Bergen recently competed at the USA Track & Field [USATF] Masters Outdoor National Championships at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa.
Competing in the 80-year-old division, Bergen won four individual gold medals in the discus, 100-meter dash, 200-meter dash and high jump. She also ran the first leg for the team that not only won the women’s 4×100-meter relay for 65-year-olds, but set a new outdoor American record in the event with a clocking of 1:05.16 — smashing the former mark by seven seconds. Her team — the SC Striders Track Club — placed second in the women’s team competition and fifth in the overall team division, despite fielding only nine athletes.
Bergen’s approach is simple and direct.
“I try to break world records,” she said with a laugh.
Last year she broke five and added her sixth this June when she eclipsed her own previous mark in the 100-meter dash for 80-year-olds with a time of 16.26 seconds. She also owns the record in the 200-meter dash, finishing the half-lap in 35.34 seconds.
Bergen has been participating in track and field events since reading an article about the Pasadena Senior Games more than a quarter century ago. She attended her first track meet at Occidental College in 1994 and was quickly enamored with the sport.
“It’s a matter of maintaining my condition,” she said. “Maintaining and trying to stay healthy.”
Bergen worked with a trainer for 11 years. Eric Dixon had her on the track three days a week, focusing mostly on flexibility and strength training until Dixon was recruited to help India’s national team prepare for the 2028 Summer Olympics.
“I still follow all of his guidelines,” Bergen said.
Those guidelines have led to 28 world records and 42 American records over her 27 years of competition. In Bergen’s case, the records are, literally, “made to be broken.”
“Every time I age up, there are records to be broken,” she said. Competitors enter a new age group at, roughly, five-year intervals. When an athlete turns 70 years of age, for example, they enter the 70-75-year-old age group and become the youngest members of the classification. Therefore, many of the records Bergen has broken are records she once held.
There’s no end in sight for Bergen and her husband, Bert, who competes in the long jump and the triple jump and has collected his own stash of gold medals. When they’re not competing, they help the St. Francis High School track and field program as high jump coaches.
“Our two youngest sons, Steve and Scott, went to St. Francis,” Bergen said. “We love working with the high school boys. They are very receptive and respectful.”
The association developed by pure happenstance.
“We had just dropped by to watch a couple track meets at St. Francis,” she said. “At the time, there was a volunteer coach and he told us they needed officials. Later, they asked us if we wanted to coach the high jumpers. I figured we were better than nothing.”
Much better than nothing. At the time they were asked to coach, the Bergens had previously volunteered at the prestigious Arcadia Invitational track meet, where they had officiated the high jump for decades.
The Bergens are off and running again at this weekend’s Mid-America Masters championship at Colorado State University in Fort Collins. Next month they will be back in California on the starting line at the San Diego Senior Games.
No matter where or when, it’s all good.
“It’s fun being with people like me because they are as crazy as I am,” she said with a guffaw.