Japanese dressage rider Hiroshi Hoketsu could be oldest athlete at 2012 Olympics

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Hiroshi Hoketsu and Whisper at WEG
Hiroshi Hoketsu and Whisper represented Japan at the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games. Photo: Lesley Ward

In 1964, Hiroshi Hoketsu had his first taste of Olympic competition, competing on home soil for Japan’s show jumping team. It wouldn’t be his last Olympic experience, but 44 years passed between that first appearance and the next, when he competed in dressage at the Beijing Olympics in 2008.

Hoketsu had the distinction of being the oldest athlete at the Beijing games, and he will likely hold that title again this summer in London. Hoketsu, who recently qualified as an individual dressage competitor for Japan, will turn 71 later this month. He will narrowly miss the all-time record as the oldest Olympian. That title belongs to Oscar Swahn of Sweden, who took home the silver medal in shooting from the 1920 Antwerp games at age 72.

Dressage is as much a cerebral endeavor as it is a physical activity, which allows skilled riders to continue to be successful at an advanced age. In fact, before Hoketsu’s 2008 appearance, Japan’s oldest Olympian on record was dressage rider Kikuko Inoue, a 63-year-old grandmother at the time of the 1988 Seoul games. Hoketsu had qualified for that Olympics as well, but was unable to compete due to quarantine issues with his horse.

Hoketsu currently lives and trains in Aachen, Germany, where he continues to cross-train to keep in shape. “You keep on doing what you do. That’s the key,” he told Agence France-Presse in an interview. “And you must regularly do a small amount of muscle training. But at my age, I try not to get too serious about it.”

In 2008, Hoketsu had some trouble when his mount, Whisper, spooked at the jumbotron in the dressage arena, leading to a disappointing finish. Whisper has had some lameness issues over the past year, casting some doubt on whether she’d be an Olympic contender. Hoketsu reports that a veterinarian was able to help the 15-year-old mare recover enough to begin training in December.

Will Hoketsu take a shot at Swahn’s record in 2016 and compete as a 75-year-old? In an interview with the BBC, he says that he is “quite sure” that London will be his last Olympics. He will undoubtedly have plenty of fans cheering him on this summer as he makes his final attempt at winning gold.

9 COMMENTS

  1. If his horse, Whisper, can not make it, he could use mine.He He He. What ever he is doing keep going, he sounds like a great man.

  2. I think that it’s more than coincidence that this man, as well as Kikuko Inoue, were both Japanese. The Japanese tend to live much healthier in general than people in the U.S and other countries, especially in regards to diet, therefore keeping them healthier into old age.
    I hope Hoketsu is more fortunate with his mount this time around and will have a fair shot. Whisper looks great in that photo, actually COLLECTED and on the bit, instead of pulled into a frame like many horses that are given high marks in dressage.

  3. It said that he was trying to take it easy, I wish taking it easy for me meant going to the olympics! I hope that he competes next time!

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