67-Year-Old Equestrian Bound for 2008 Olympics

Most people tailor their activity level to their age, with each decade inviting a reassessment of energy levels, ability, and ambition. But not 67-year-old equestrian Hiroshi Hoketsu. Forty-four years after he finished in 40th place at the Tokyo Olympic Games, the Japanese horseman is going to give it another shot.

There is a difference this time around however. Instead of show jumping, Hoketsu will be competing as a member of his country's dressage team.

The story of Hoketsu's equestrian endeavors is a combination of determination and good fortune. Born in Tokyo, he learned to ride at the elite Tokyo Riding Club and earned a spot on the 1964 Olympic show jumping team. After his 40th-place finish he decided to seek another line of employment and, following a graduate degree in economics at Duke University in the United States, he worked with the pharmaceutical company Hoffmann La Roche before becoming manager of the Tokyo subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson.

Olympic equestrian Hiroshi Hoketsu

Hiroshi Hoketsu and Whisper 115 secure a slot at the 2008 Olympic Games for the Japanese Dressage team at the qualifier held in France last February.

It was his wife, Motoko, who introduced Hoketsu to the charms of the dressage arena, having enjoyed watching the sport herself in Europe. Fascinated by the detail and precision of the sport, the man who is a self-professed perfectionist began to ride again in the mornings before going to work. His efforts earned him a spot at the Seoul Olympic Games in 1988 when he was 47 years of age, but his dream fell apart when his horse unexpectedly failed quarantine tests due to a respiratory problem. So he decided he would just concentrate on competing at home in Japan, where he won five national championships in a row between 1988 and 1992.

The dream of returning to the Olympic spotlight never faded and, following his retirement from Johnson & Johnson in 2003, Hoketsu flew to Aachen in Germany to meet dressage trainer Ton de Ridder. Under de Ridder's tutelage he qualified for the FEI World Equestrian Games in 2006 only to be disappointed again when his horse, Calando, came up lame. But then Whisper, a chestnut horse with an unusual taste for bananas, came into his life. The horse and rider gelled into a great partnership.

"Hoketsu has been fighting for this dream for the last five years and his perseverance and attitude are admirable," de Ridder said. "While experiencing successes and disasters, like having his horse Calando not sound at the 2006 World Equestrian Games, he stuck to his dream. He found a new horse, kept on believing in our training and discipline, and now he has succeeded. I am very happy for him. It also proves that new things are possible in dressage, at any age--even at 67!"

Although early records are a little sketchy it seems that Swedish shooter Oscar Swahn holds the record as the oldest competitor ever to win an Olympic gold medal. Swahn won at the London Games in 1908, at age 60. He was still sharp enough to take bronze again at the age of 72 in Antwerp 12 years later.

The oldest equestrian competitor is believed to have been British dressage rider Lorna Johnstone. She competed in three Olympic Games, including Munich in 1972 at age 70.

It was George Bernard Shaw who said "we don't stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing!"

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