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Japanese equestrian rider Hoketsu, 77, has sights on 2nd Tokyo Olympic appearance

Hiroshi Hoketsu competes in the equestrian show jumping event at the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games on Oct. 24 that year. (Mainichi)
Hiroshi Hoketsu (Mainichi)

TOKYO -- Japanese equestrian rider Hiroshi Hoketsu, who participated in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, is looking to represent Japan in the same city at the 2020 Games -- when he will be 79.

If Hoketsu, who is now 77, manages to compete at the next Tokyo Olympics, he will be the oldest Olympic competitor ever.

"Having the Olympics return to Tokyo is deeply stirring. I want to attempt taking part as long as I have physical strength," he said.

Hoketsu recalls the final day of the Tokyo Olympic Games on Oct. 24, 1964. He appeared as the 21st rider in the show jumping event as a closing mode enveloped the national stadium. "So this is what it's like performing in a place like this," he thought, surprised to see the huge number of spectators. He remembers jumping over a few obstacles, but can't recall everything clearly. Aged 23 at the time, Hoketsu finished in 40th place.

Hoketsu says he wouldn't have been able to compete at the 1964 Games had they been held in another country. If the games were in Europe or North America, he would have had to deliver his horse by ship, which would take nearly one month.

"I wouldn't have thought of taking part if the games hadn't been held in Tokyo," he said.

When he was in his 30s, Hoketsu felt his dynamic vision declining, and switched from show jumping to dressage, in which athletes compete over the beauty of jumps over obstacles. At the 1984 Games in Los Angeles, however, Hoketsu was merely a substitute. Then at the Seoul Olympics in 1988, Hoketsu's horse got caught up in quarantine, so he gave up on participating.

After retiring from his job at the age of 62, Hoketsu moved to Germany to focus on equestrian riding. In 2008 he returned to the Olympic Games for the first time in 44 years, competing at the Beijing Games. He entered the spotlight at the time as Japan's oldest Olympic competitor, at age 67. He went on to compete at the 2012 London Olympics at the age of 71.

I think the original seeds from which my longing to take part in the games grew are still in my heart somewhere," Hoketsu said. Now, he spends the majority of each year in Germany, breaking in horses that will be paired with riders.

More than half a century has passed since the 1964 Games. Competing at Tokyo would put Hoketsu far ahead of the current oldest Olympic competitor, Oscar Swahn of Sweden, who competed in shooting at the 1920 Summer Olympics in Antwerp, Belgium, at the age of 72. But for Hoketsu, renewing the age record is not his main focus.

"I'll be able to see the Olympics in Tokyo once again, and if that's the case, I want to take part in them again," he said. The rider is quietly painting a picture in his mind of lightly riding into the stadium on his horse at the age of 79, and receiving a huge round of applause.

(Japanese original by Tadashi Murakami, Sports News Department)

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