71-year-old equestrian Hiroshi Hoketsu prepares for Olympic glory

 

Amid the parade of gilded youth that is the Olympic Games, it is easy to forget that experience also counts for something when it comes to sporting endeavour.

None are more experienced than Hiroshi Hoketsu, who at 71 will be the oldest competitor at London 2012 when he and his horse, Whisper, take part in the individual dressage competition this week.

Hoketsu, who competed in his first Olympics at Tokyo in 1964, leads a group of senior - if not entirely pensionable - competitors that includes follow equestrian Ian Millar, 65, who will break the record for most Olympic appearances when he takes part in his 10th Games in London. There are also Britons Mary King, who at 51 won a silver medal yesterday in her sixth Games, and Greg Searle, the 40-year-old rower who secured gold in at Barcelona 20 years ago and came out of retirement three years ago to compete in the men's eight for London 2012.

The Japanese horseman, who looks 20 years younger than his age and has not seen his wife for more than a year because he trains in Germany, swats aside questions about his advancing years.

Speaking earlier this year, he said: "I don't know how you're supposed to feel at 71. I'm the same physique as I was at university. There's no special secret. I get up about 7. I used to get up at 5, go riding, go home and then leave for the office for 30 years when I was working. Now I can sleep until 7. Luxury."

Saving the best till last is also something of a sporting tradition. King revealed that her medal-winning final round in yesterday's equestrian team event was her first clear round in the Olympics.

By the standards of Hoketsu, she will have at least four more Games in which to improve that tally. In the meantime, the 71-year-old is of the opinion that he will not overtake the world's oldest-ever Olympian, Sweden's Oscar Swahn, who was 72 when he competed in the shooting in 1920.

Hokestu has ruled himself out competing in Rio 2016 not because he does not feel up to it but due to his horse being too old. He said: "Realistically I think it's very difficult because the horse is going to be 19."

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