Japan's Olympic Dressage rider Hoketsu, 71, says horse will be too old for the next Olympics
|Japan's Olympic Dressage rider Hoketsu, 71, says horse will be too old for the next Olympics - 14th Aug 2012|
|Getting your head around a 71-year-old competing at an Olympic Games is one thing. Imagining what he makes of life in the athletes' village, where the young and virile of all nations shave down and party up, is enough to make you want a lie down.|
''It's very nice,'' Hiroshi Hoketsu reported of his London accommodation. But what about all those whippersnappers? ''That's OK, I have a single room.''
Such a respectful concession is the least village dorm managers can do for a man who defies elite sporting belief, yet thinks he is physically no different to his long-ago university days, and looks years younger than his birth certificate betrays. The questions he fields from a fascinated media must seem older than himself; he laughs and answers politely, but clearly can't understand the fuss.
The applause that greeted his entrance to the Greenwich dressage arena on Thursday gave way to a collective dropping of jaws as spectators discovered - or were reminded, in the case of equestrian connoisseurs - that the rider competed at his first Olympics, on home soil in Tokyo, in 1964.
Joe Frazier won boxing gold that year; Larisa Latynina surpassed her medal haul, ruling the balance beam. Paul McCartney was four years shy of recording Hey Jude, and 44 away from turning it into an opening ceremony singalong. And a 23-year-old Japanese finished 40th in showjumping. Only Oscar Swahn tops him on the Olympic veterans' list. The Swede was 72 when he won silver in Antwerp in 1920 in the double shot running deer contest.
Mr Hoketsu, as the Japanese journalists refer to him, would love to turn his mind now to Rio 2016 but knows that would be ridiculous. ''I want to [but] it's very difficult to find a horse to bring me to Brazil. My present horse is too old for that.'' Whisper, the chestnut mare that carried him through yet another series of canters, piaffes and extended trots, is 15. And her 71-year-old rider reckons she's past it.
Hoketsu swapped the saddle for a suit after Tokyo, becoming a successful businessman in the pharmaceutical sphere. He rose early to ride and at wife Mokoto's urging, one of sport's great comebacks was born. He qualified for Seoul and finished ninth in the team dressage in Beijing. His resolve to reach London was such that he hasn't seen Mokoto for more than a year, living and training in Aachen, Germany, with Whisper and his Dutch coach.
On Thursday he set off on a routine he rated as ''not bad, but two or three mistakes''. He bobbed serenely, his back ramrod straight, an ageing man refusing to look at the clock.
His score of 68.739 per cent placed him 17th midway through the competition, with the second group of 25 riders going around on Friday.
''The biggest motivation is as long as I feel I am improving,'' Hoketsu said. ''If I feel OK … if I'm getting worse than before, I will stop.''
Courtesy Fairfax Digital, www.smh.com.au and Peter Hanlon