Frankfurt: When Hiroshi Hoketsu first went to the Olympics in 1964, he was 23 and the games were in his native Tokyo. Now nearly 71, Hoketsu will be going to the Olympics again this summer — to compete, not to watch.
Hoketsu last week qualified for the individual dressage competition on Japan's Olympic team for London and will be Japan's oldest Olympian — again. He already competed at 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 on Monday.
"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 to be 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.
"We didn't try for the team event," he said from his home in Aachen, 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 rider Kikuko Inoue, who took part in the dressage in Seoul aged 63 years and nine months. Hoketsu also went to Seoul but did not ride because he could not get his horse there.
Hoketsu become Japan's oldest Olympian when he took part in the 2008 Beijing Olympics at the age of 67 and 44 years on from his debut in Tokyo.
The oldest Olympian was Swedish shooter Oscar Swahn, who won a silver medal at the 1920 Olympics in Antwerp, Belgium, at 72. It was his sixth medal in three games. Hoketsu plans a few more competitions as he prepares for London.
After working for Johnson and 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 in the German city.
In Beijing four years ago, Hoketsu 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 do 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 of the tendinitis that affected Whisper.
The problems began in February of last year and three different vets were unable to find the right cure.
"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."