TORONTO (Reuters) - There is a good reason why Canadian show jumper Ian Millar is nicknamed “Captain Canada” after having represented his country in every summer Olympic Games in which it has competed since 1972.
If Millar makes his ninth appearance at the Beijing Games in August he will equal the world record held by Austrian sailor Hubert Raudaschl who competed at nine editions of the Games between 1964 and 1996.
Millar, 61, could yet go on to the 2012 London Olympics and claim the record outright.
“To consistently qualify to represent the country is just a great thrill and a great honor. I regard it as an achievement to do that and I get great satisfaction from doing it,” Millar told Reuters.
The Canadian is not sure whether he can hang on long enough to set the record as the oldest Olympic competitor -- an honor held by Swedish shooter Oscar Swahn, who won his sixth Olympic medal at the 1920 Antwerp Games at the age of 72 years and 280 days.
Millar will not even be the oldest competitor this year as Hiroshi Hoketsu has been named to Japan’s dressage team. He will be 67 by the time the Games begin.
Being recognized as the oldest competitor is not something Millar has his eye on anyway.
“That’s probably pushing it for what we do but who knows? If you stay healthy and fit and riding good horses and you’re enjoying it, then who knows how long it can go?” he said.
Although Canada’s equestrian team is not due to be announced until June 30, Millar, and his mounts In Style and Redefin, are almost certainly a shoo-in for one of the four positions along with Eric Lamaze and his mount Hickstead, which is returning from a lengthy stomach ailment.
The team did not qualify in 2004, when only Millar competed in the individual classes.
“It looks very good. We had a little setback with Hickstead and we really need him to come back because Hickstead would be a real linchpin to the Olympic team... To go there thinking you have a shot at it you had better have one, if not two really extraordinary horses and Hickstead falls into that category,” Millar said.
“You have to go with four contenders and if everything works out right, we could go with four contenders. And if that happens, we could become very dangerous to the rest of the world. I like the chances.”
Jill Henselwood, who studied for years under the tutelage of Millar, is hoping for a chance to compete on the team alongside the elder statesman.
“He brings his knowledge. He brings his experience. He knows how to pull a team together. He knows how to give you a little bit of a battle plan. He is always there for advice if something goes wrong -- how many teams have that luxury?” Henselwood said.
Millar, probably best known for his partnership with Big Ben in the 1980s and early 1990s, has an impressive resume, including nine medals in eight Pan American Games, six World Championships and an Order of Canada in 1986. But he has yet to stand atop the podium at the Olympics.
His compatriots are counting on his experience to help the whole team in Hong Kong, which is hosting the Olympic equestrian competition on behalf of Beijing.
“Ian Millar is an athlete first and a competitor first. By virtue of what result he is likely going to put out, does it raise the game of the rest? ... If they want to win I guess it does,” Henselwood said.
There is almost no question that Millar will represent Canada again at the Olympics, barring injury to either the rider or his mounts.
“There is no doubt he will have a good look. You can never guarantee a position because so many things can happen to horses and riders but for sure he would be a front-runner,” said Terrence “Torchy” Millar, manager of the country’s show-jumping team.
The manager, who is not related to the rider, has great hopes that his namesake will win a medal at the Games.
“He is riding as well or better than he has in his life, which is remarkable, and he can be a contender for a medal both individually and hopefully the team,” Torchy Millar said.
Editing by Clare Fallon