SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australian showjumper Laurie Lever will achieve his life's dream when he competes in his debut Olympics next month at the age of 60, hailed as an example for other ageing baby-boomers facing retirement.
The oldest member of the 433-strong Australian team which has an average age of 26, Lever is believed the oldest debutant at the 2008 Games and is the first to admit that starting an Olympic career at 60 is unusual.
Lever, who began riding when he was 10 and has competed at the top levels of international showjumping for Australia for decades, said it was only in recent years he had found a horse that was a real winner and capable of competing in the Olympics.
Lever, who cycles every morning to stay fit and lists his favorite movie as Quentin Tarantino's two-part violent revenge drama 'Kill Bill,' said he had been surprised by the overwhelming support he had received from other sextagenarians.
"It's been amazing the number of people who have come up to me and said 'Good on you Laurie, there's hope for us yet,"' Lever told Reuters by telephone from Germany where he is in training.
"But nowadays as you get older we are not getting as unfit. We are a fitter generation...and you don't have to be as fit as another sort of elite athlete for show jumping. Experience is very important in this sport."
With his nine-year-old grey gelding Ashleigh Drossel Dan, known as Dan, Lever will join seven other equestrian rookies and one veteran dressage rider competing for Australia in Hong Kong where the equestrian events are being held after quarantine concerns stopped plans to host them in China.
He is not the oldest horse rider at the Games. Japan's Hiroshi Hoketsu is returning to the Olympics after a 44-year break at the age of 67.
Lever first realized Dan's raw ability about four years ago but needed to train the gelding, a purpose-bred horse by a German stallion out of an Australian mare.
Lever left Australia with Dan last November before equine influenza could impact on their travel and moved to the stables of German-based Australian coach Gilbert Bockman -- where one of Lever's four sons, Phillip, works. He has not been home since.
Lever feel the personal and financial hardship are worthwhile.
"At my age I don't think I will get to see many more opportunities like this," he said. "My family has stood behind me all the way and said 'have a go.' But the secret is also having the right horse underneath you."
Lever's family lives and breathes horses. While he has been away, another of his sons, David, an equine dentist, has run Lever's equestrian centre in the state of Victoria. His wife, Annie, edits and publishes Australian Equestrian Life magazine.
On the day, Lever said he hoped his experience would pay off.
"It requires fierce concentration from you and the horse," he said. "I try to keep a fairly narrow mind, focused on what I have to do. When you have a course of jumps, every time they build it is different with different challenges."
As for competing in another Olympics, Lever said it was unlikely but impossible to rule out definitively.
"I would be very surprised if I was still going around at that stage. I would think my son (Phillip) would probably disown me by them and say it's time he had the horse," he said.
Editing by Dave Thompson