BERLIN (Reuters) - Japan’s Hiroshi Hoketsu will miss out on a chance to become the oldest ever Olympian at Rio due to his horse’s ill health but the 75-year-old remains hopeful of establishing the record at Tokyo 2020, some 56 years after his first Games.
Hoketsu, who made his Olympic debut in show jumping at the 1964 Tokyo Games before turning to dressage and riding in the 2008 Beijing Olympics and 2012 London Games, said a spot in Tokyo would see his career come full circle.
“If I can do it and be in Tokyo, that would be marvellous,” Hoketsu told Reuters in an interview, days after he conceded defeat in his bid to reach Rio. “Four years from now I will be 79 and I have to see if it will still be physically possible.”
Hoketsu’s 2012 appearance made him the third oldest Olympian, with Swedish shooter Oscar Swahn currently the oldest when he competed at the 1920 Antwerp Games aged 72.
Instead of being in Rio this August, the soft-spoken Hoketsu, who has lived in Europe for 13 years, will be treating his horse Brioni W for a nagging cough and watching from afar with his hopes of a fourth Games appearance dashed for now.
“That’s life, you can’t do anything about it,” Hoketsu, who rode Whisper in 2008 and 2012, said. “I am sorry for myself, ok, but that is the situation.”
Brioni W, a 15-year-old gelding acquired a few months ago as Hoketsu focused on finding a competitive partner for Rio, developed a cough recently that would make combining proper treatment and attempting to qualify impossible.
“When a horse coughs they stretch their neck and put the head down,” the Germany-based horseman said.
“When he starts coughing you cannot ride. When they start coughing during the competition you have to give up,” he added, opting to treat his horse without the burden of competing in Olympic qualifiers.
This, however, is not the first Olympic setback for the retired former pharmaceutical company executive, nicknamed the “Hope of Old Men” in the Asian media
After swapping show-jumping for dressage in his mid-thirties, Hoketsu made the cut for the 1988 Seoul Olympics but after making the trip to the South Korean capital with his horse, was ruled out of the Games due to quarantine problems.
In 2003, he moved to Europe and started competing internationally, improving his chances of a dressage spot on Japan’s Olympic team and earning two more Games appearances in 2008 and 2012.
“I left my business at 63 and I decided to move to Germany to compete internationally,” he added.
Despite the Rio Games disappointment, Hoketsu is not prepared to bury his Olympics dreams just yet and has cast an eye on Tokyo.
“My strongest motivation is the feeling I get from riding every day and that I can say, ‘ok, it looks like I am making some progress in riding’. That’s my biggest motivation,” he said.
The Tokyo native is already fairly certain which horse could be ready by then.
“It won’t be Brioni W, he is going to be too old,” he said. “But another horse I have, that one could be it.”
With 44 years separating Hoketsu’s first and second Games, few will be betting against him making his fourth Olympics in four years time.
Editing by John O'Brien