There's long been a belief of a "Deterioration Theory" of martial arts in the Jin Yong universe. From the Northern Sung Dynasty period of DEMIGODS & SEMIDEVILS, there seemed to be a general downward trend in martial arts that led to the relatively "weak" fighters of the Qing Dynasty stories such as DUKE OF MT. DEER, BOOK AND SWORD GRATITUDE AND REVENGE, and FLYING FOX OF SNOWY MOUNTAIN. There might or might not have been, but within the parameters of the CONDOR HEROES TRILOGY, the development of the Greats seemed to be accelerating, if not actually increasing beyond a certain point.
The Greats as of the end of ROCH were as powerful as any of the Greats from LEGEND OF THE CONDOR HEROES, RETURN OF THE CONDOR HEROES, or HEAVEN SWORD & DRAGON SABRE were going to get. Cheung 3 Fung and Cheung Mo Gei *might* have surpassed this level, but we don't know for sure. Let's call this level Maximum Potential Greats, or MPG for short. This is the level where we saw the Greats of ROCH top out (not that the younger ones such as Gwok Jing, Yeung Gor, and Cheung Mo Gei couldn't have reached a higher level later, but this is the highest known level any Great achieved).
In each generation, it seemed that the Greats reached MPG at a younger age.
1. First Generation Greats (East Heretic Wong Yerk See, West Poison Au Yeung Fung, South Emperor Deun Chi Hing/1 Deng the Monk, North Beggar Hung 7 Gung, Central Mischief Chow Bak Tung): those who lived into their 80s and 90s did not reach MPG until that age.
2. Second Generation Great (North Hero Gwok Jing): reached MPG in 50s/60s.
3. Third Generation Great (West Passionate Yeung Gor): reached MPG in 30s.
4. Fourth Generation Great (Ming Cult Leader Cheung Mo Gei): reached MPG in 20s.
See a trend here?
With each passing generation, the Greats achieved MPG at a younger and younger age.
Some remaining questions:
1. Did Central Divinity Wong Chung Yeung or Ancient Tomb Sect Founder Lam Chiu Ying reach MPG before they died? If so, how old were they when they did so?
2. At what age did the Golden Wheel Monk achieve MPG?
3. At what age did Mo Dong Sect Founder Cheung 3 Fung reach MPG?