News / Asia

Oldest Olympian Shows No Sign of Stopping

Pia SalmreMatthew Hilburn
At age 71, most athletes have long since retired, but not Japanese equestrian Hiroshi Hoketsu. Instead of watching the London Olympics as a spectator, he’ll be competing as the oldest Olympian in 92 years.

Hoketsu started riding at summer camp when he was 12. He said he once grabbed a tree branch and used it as a riding crop. The horse picked up speed. It was a thrill that would affect the rest of Hoketsu’s life.

“That was the first time I was on a horse when it cantered,” he said. “It was great. I wasn’t afraid at all. That was really the start of my riding life.”

Hoketsu set his sights on qualifying for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. “It was my dream,” he said.

He qualified and placed 40th, but wasn’t deterred by the outcome. When he was in grad school in the United States, he was so dedicated that he even convinced his reluctant mother to send his riding gear from Japan. And throughout his long career in the pharmaceutical industry, Hoketsu said he’d wake up every morning at 5 a.m., go riding, eat breakfast and then head for the office.

London will be his third Olympics, after representing Japan at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. This time, he will only be competing in individual dressage, a sport he likens to figure skating on horseback. Most of his competition will be decades younger.

He’s made some tremendous sacrifices to be able to reach the Olympic pinnacle, telling Yahoo News that he has not seen his wife in over a year.

He said he doesn’t expect to medal, but wants to improve on his performance at Beijing where he placed 34th out of approximately 50 entrants.

Hoketsu, who trains in Germany, said keeping in shape is a combination of pursuing the things that make him happy and, of course, keeping an exercise regimen, which he said is usually about an hour or so of stretching, muscle and balance work after a ride. He’s also a little more cautious while riding.

“I’m getting old, and I don’t want to fall off,” he said, adding that over the course of his riding career he has fallen many times. “I try to be a little more careful than I was before.”

Despite his age, Hoketsu won’t be the oldest Olympian ever. That title goes to  Swedish shooter Oscar Swahn who was 72 years old when he competed at the 1920 Olympics in Antwerp, Belgium.

Hoketsu could go for the record and thinks he’ll still be in shape to make a run for the Rio de Janeiro Olympics in 2016, but says it’s his horse, Whisper, who will likely be too old. Whisper, who Hoketsu rode in Beijing, would be 19 then. The usual retirement age is 16 or 17.

Hoketsu said his immediate plans after the Olympics are uncertain.

“It depends how I feel after I finish,” he said. “If I continue to ride, I can’t take a long vacation. If I don’t ride for two weeks, it will take two to three weeks to really get back in physical condition.”

His advice for future Olympians?

“Continue to do one thing you like to do. I think that is much more important for your life than getting medals.”

Photo Gallery: Asian Athletes at the Olympics

  • Bronze medalist Choi Byungchul of South Korea, waves to the crowd during the medals ceremony after the men's individual foil fencing competition at the 2012 Summer Olympics, July 31, 2012, in London.
  • South Korea's Jo Hyo-bi, center is tackled by Norway's Karoline Dyhre Breivang, left, and Lynn-Kristin Koren, right, during their women's handball preliminary match at the 2012 Summer Olympics, Aug. 1, 2012, in London.
  • South Korea's Ryu Eun-hee, center, shoots the ball, between Norway's Goril Snorroeggen, right, and Lynn-Kristin Koren, left, during their women's handball preliminary match at the 2012 Summer Olympics, Aug. 1, 2012.
  • Kim Kum Sok of North Korea competes during the men's 69-kg weightlifting competition at the 2012 Summer Olympics, July 31, 2012.
  • A North Korea supporter waves a flag before the team's group G women's soccer match against the United States at the London 2012 Summer Olympics, July 31, 2012 at Old Trafford Stadium in Manchester, England.
  • Masashi Nishiyama of Japan, left, and Song Dae-Nam of South Korea, react after their men's 90-kg judo match at the 2012 Summer Olympics, Aug. 1, 2012.
  • South Korea's Oh Jin-hyek shoots during an elimination round of the individual archery competition at the 2012 Summer Olympics, Aug. 1, 2012, in London.
  • South Korea's Chung Jae-sung, right, and Lee Yong-dae play against Malaysia's Koo Kien Keat, unseen, and Tan Boon Heong, at a men's doubles badminton match of the 2012 Summer Olympics, July 31, 2012.

You May Like

Obama: Action on Climate Change 'Economic, Security Imperative'

President spoke to reporters on sidelines of UN Climate Summit outside Paris, where leaders are working to agree on binding measures

IMF Bets on China’s Resolve to Reform

IMF announcement already raising questions about just how much Beijing is committed to such reforms

UNICEF: Hidden Epidemic of HIV Among Adolescents

Researchers warn that Asia Pacific nations facing sharp rise in incidence of HIV among adolescents

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: zatouichi from: japan
August 03, 2012 7:39 AM
As a Japanese,I resupect Mr.Hoketsu very much.
By the way," Hoketsu" means substitute player in Japanese.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
With HIV, Can We Get to Zero?i
Carol Pearson
November 29, 2015 1:23 PM
The theme of this year's World AIDS Day is "Getting to Zero." The U.N. says new HIV infections have been reduced by 35 percent since 2000 and AIDS-related deaths are down by 42 percent since the peak in 2004. VOA's Carol Pearson takes a look at what it might take to actually have an AIDS-free generation.

Video With HIV, Can We Get to Zero?

The theme of this year's World AIDS Day is "Getting to Zero." The U.N. says new HIV infections have been reduced by 35 percent since 2000 and AIDS-related deaths are down by 42 percent since the peak in 2004. VOA's Carol Pearson takes a look at what it might take to actually have an AIDS-free generation.

Video Political Motives Seen Behind Cancelled Cambodian Water Festival

For the fourth time in the five years since more than 350 people were killed in a stampede at Cambodia’s annual water festival, authorities canceled the event this year. Officials blamed environmental reasons as the cause, but many see it as fallout from rising political tensions with a fresh wave of ruling party intimidation against the opposition. David Boyle and Kimlong Meng report from Phnom Penh.

Video African Circus Gives At-Risk Youth a 2nd Chance

Ethiopia hosted the first African Circus Arts Festival this past weekend with performers from seven different African countries. Most of the performers are youngsters coming form challenging backgrounds who say the circus gave them a second chance.

Video US Lawmakers Brace for End-of-Year Battles

U.S. lawmakers are returning to Washington for Congress’ final working weeks of the year. And, as VOA's Michael Bowman reports, a full slate of legislative business awaits them, from keeping the federal government open to resolving a battle with the White House over the admittance of Syrian refugees.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video After Terrorist Attacks, Support for Refugees Fades

The terrorists who killed and injured almost 500 people around Paris this month are mostly French or Belgian nationals. But at least two apparently took advantage of Europe’s migrant crisis to sneak into the region. The discovery has hardened views about legitimate refugees, including those fleeing the same extremist violence that hit the French capital. Lisa Bryant has this report for VOA from the Paris suburb of Cergy-Pontoise

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video Thais Send Security Concerns Down the River

As Thailand takes in the annual Loy Krathong festival, many ponder the country’s future and security. Steve Sandford reports from Chiang Mai.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continues

One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

VOA Blogs