Olympic Dressage Hopefuls Prove Age is Just a Number
Of all the hopefuls riders bidding for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, there are two that stand out. What do Michael Poulin from Maine, in the United States, and Hiroshi Hoketsu from Japan have in common? They are both over the age of 70. And they both want Olympic Gold.
There comes a time in every athlete’s life, from long jumper to dressage rider, when one must ask oneself “How old is too old?” For Michael Poulin, age 70, and Hiroshi Hoketsu, age 74, the answer doesn’t look like it’s going to be answered any time soon.
Michael Poulin is a trainer and athlete, and earned a bronze medal at the Barcelona Olympics 1992. He is still very active in the sport, and in his words, “has the bug.” He recently won a national championship at the U.S. Dressage Finals in Kentucky. Now he aims for the gold.
Hiroshi Hoketsu was the oldest athlete to take part of the 2012 London Games at age 71, and if he makes it to Rio de Janeiro, will be the fourth Olympic Games he participates in. He first represented Japan at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. He also qualified for the 1988 Summer Olympics, but was unable to compete when his horse was quarantined. There are four spots available for Japan with trials in May and June. 11 riders will be competing for the same spot.
Dressage is a sport with a military background. While it almost appears as if the horses are dancing, many of the moves in dressage are the same that a well-trained horse would be expected to perform in battle. It gets it’s name from the French verb “dresser” which means “to train.”
Obviously, in dressage the horse is a large part of the equation. An incredible amount of time and dedication must be devoted to training the horse and performing a smooth, beautiful routine where rider and horse are in sync. Not all older athletes have the stamina or drive to put in the amount of effort required into the training, particularly at an Olympic level. Age does not necessarily have to be a hinderance in the sport, however. In addition to Hiroshi’s record, there’s also Arthur von Pongracz of Austria, who competed in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin at the age of 72.
I wish all of the competitors the best of luck in qualifying, and would love to see the two compete against each other this year in Rio!