LONDON – The oldest competitor at the 2012 Olympic Games has revealed the extraordinary sacrifices he has made in order to remain a medal contender well past retirement age.
Hiroshi Hoketsu, who will represent Japan in the equestrian discipline of dressage at the age of 71, told Yahoo! Sports how chasing a slice of history and becoming the oldest Olympian in the last 92 years is the result of a fanatical commitment to the sport.
"I have not seen my wife, Motoko, for more than a year," said Hoketsu, who lives and trains in the German town of Aachen in order to team up with his horse, Whisper, and his Dutch coach. "It is difficult to be away from home for this long as an old man and I owe everything to her patience and understanding."
Hoketsu will take part in his third Olympics, 48 years after making his debut and finishing 40th as a show jumper on home soil at the 1964 Tokyo Games. Despite continuing to rise at 5 a.m. every day to ride horses, he quit competing and became a successful international businessman for pharmaceutical companies.
After hanging up his business suit and briefcase, Hoketsu still had the itch to compete and entered the world of competitive dressage at his wife's insistence. At the time, neither predicted his comeback would result in qualification for the Beijing Games four years ago and now the London Games.
Hoketsu credits his performances to dedication and a bond with his mount that he describes as "magical." He has become a star in his homeland and a poster boy for the elderly.
[ Photos: London 2012 Opening Ceremony ]
Although Hoketsu rises early every morning and attacks practice sessions with as much zeal as riders young enough to be his grandchildren, he confesses he does not adhere to the dietary regimen you might expect from an Olympic athlete.
"I eat what I want to eat and drink as much as I want to drink," said Hoketsu through an interpreter. "People might expect that I am able to participate for so long because I have special habits. But my secret is to have a good life, enjoy yourself and do the things that make you happy.
"Having said that, I am out there riding horses every day for several hours. Then I come back in and do many exercises, to help with my strength, coordination, and, most importantly, my balance."
Hoketsu is the oldest Olympian since Swedish shooter Oscar Swahn won bronze at the age of 72 at the 1920 Antwerp Games and would ride into the record books if he was able to qualify for the Rio de Janeiro Games in 2016.
Such an outcome is unlikely, but don't rule it out just yet.
"My wife would like for this to be my last year of competition and that will probably be the case," Hoketsu said. "But I still feel my riding is improving, little by little. That is my motivation. I am a better rider at 70 than I was at 40. Most people can't tell but my body is getting a little weaker. My horse knows it and she helps me."
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