Veteran Japanese equestrian rider Hiroshi Hoketsu offers a glimmer of hope to anyone who feels they’re too old to become an Olympian.
Hoketsu, 71, was the oldest competitor in both Beijing in 2008 and London 2012, where he finished 17th in a field of 24 in the men’s dressage competition, almost half a century after making his Games debut in Tokyo in 1964.
After that first taste of Olympic competition, Hoketsu studied for a master's degree in economics at Duke University in the US, but continued to ride. And throughout his business career in Japan he rose daily at 5 a.m. to ride before heading to the office.
When he retired, his wife urged him to make a comeback to competitive sport — and he went on to qualify for Beijing and then London.
But he revealed preparations for his latest Games appearance had taken their toll. Such is his dedication to the sport that he didn’t see his wife for a year prior to competing in Greenwich Park.
He told journalists: ‘It is difficult to be away from home for this long as an old man, and I owe everything to her patience and understanding.’
The Japanese horseman, who trains in Germany, doesn’t see his age as a problem, saying: ‘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 at 7 a.m.
‘I used to get up at 5 a.m., go riding, go home and then leave for the office for 30 years when I was working. Now I can sleep until 7 a.m. Luxury.’
Hoketsu’s Olympic career also saw him quality for the 1988 Games in Seoul, but he was unable to compete because his horse was quarantined.
Sadly, he has ruled himself out of making an appearance in Rio in 206 – not because he feels he will be too old, but because Whisper is getting on in years, and has struggled to recover from a tendonitis injury.
He said: ‘I want to go to Brazil, but I don’t think I can. It will be difficult to find a horse for Rio de Janeiro. My present horse is too old for that. The biggest motivation for me is to keep feeling that I am improving. If I feel I am getting worse than before, then I will stop.’
He added: ‘My wife would like for this to be my last year of competition and that will probably be the case. But I still feel my riding is improving. I’m a better rider now than I was at 40.’