Japanese equestrian makes Olympics at 70
FRANKFURT, Germany -- He is not riding off into the sunset. Hiroshi Hoketsu is simply riding, and that's just how he likes it.
Hoketsu first went to the Olympics in 1964 when he was 23 and the games were in his native Tokyo. Now nearly 71, Hoketsu will be going to the Olympics again -- not to watch, but to compete.
He qualified last week for the individual dressage competition on Japan's Olympic team for London this summer. He will be Japan's oldest Olympian again, reprising his role from the Beijing Games four years ago.
"This time, I am very pleased to have qualified, particularly because my horse had a little accident last year," Hoketsu said. "She was not in very good condition."
The horse is Whisper, a 15-year-old mare.
"A little bit old, but still a good age," Hoketsu said.
The same seems true for the rider as well. Although the team selection hasn't been announced officially, Hoketsu has no doubt he will be competing in the individual event. He plans to ride in a few competitions as he prepares for London.
"We didn't try for the team event," he said from his home in Aachen in western Germany. But he qualified for the individual at an international dressage competition in France last week.
Before Hoketsu, the oldest Japanese Olympic athlete was equestrian Kikuko Inoue, who rode dressage in Seoul at 63. Hoketsu also went to Seoul but did not ride because he could not get his horse there.
The oldest Olympian is Swedish shooter Oscar Swahn, who won a silver medal at the 1920 Antwerp Games at 72. It was his sixth medal in three games.
After working for Johnson & Johnson, Hoketsu retired eight years ago. He moved to Aachen because the owner and trainer of the horse he was riding at the time was also based there.
In 2008, Hoketsu competed at age 67 -- 44 years after his debut in Tokyo. He finished ninth in the dressage team event and 35th in the individual competition.
"In London, I hope to do a little bit better," he said. "I didn't that well in Beijing because they had that big screen in the hall and my horse just hates to see that moving screen."
Hoketsu has been riding Whisper for five years, but the horse's health was a major cause of concern.
"It started with the front legs and no one was able to determine the cause of the horse's health problems. It was very complicated," he said.
The problems began in February of last year and three different vets were unable to find the right cure. Finally, there was a diagnosis of tendinitis.
"I had totally given up on trying to go to London," Hoketsu said. "But then in mid-November a friend introduced me to a good vet and one month later I was training again and in January I started competing again. The horse's recovery was a miracle. I was very lucky."