Weekly column in the Washington Times Communities by Laurie Edwards-Tate
The oldest Olympic athlete competing in London this summer will work with a partner who also defies stereotypes about age.
Hidecki Hoketsu, age 71, will compete in equestrian dressage with his mare Whisper, who is 19 years old, the equivalent of 63 or so in human years. He qualified by winning a competition in France in April. This will be Hoketsu’s third Olympic Games, and the second with Whisper. The team placed tenth in group dressage in Beijing in 2008. Before that, Hoketsu competed in Tokyo in 1964 and placed 40th in show jumping.
Hoketsu said in a news conference that he is strict about his performance and training, and would not compete in London unless he felt his performance was steadily improving. In Japan, fans call Hoketsu “the Hope of Old Men.”
Hoketsu is not the oldest Olympian ever. Sweden’s Oscar Swahn won his sixth medal, a silver, in shooting at the 1920 Antwerp Games at age 72. He won his first individual Olympic gold medal in 1908 at age 60.
Japan has a steadily aging population of its own baby boomers just like the United States, which we discussed in an earlier LifeCycles column. Just like Americans who cheer on our older athletes, Japan hopes Hoketsu will turn back time along with Whisper and bring home a medal.
One of America’s oldest Olympian in the modern era competed in Beijing in 2008, but he won’t be back in London. John Dane III competed in sailing at age 58. He finished eleventh and didn’t medal, but said making the team and having the honor of representing the U.S. was his real goal. Dane also said he got in the best shape of his life.
Several American athletes hope to break through age barriers in London.
Army Sergeant First Class Eric Uptagrafft last competed in the Olympics in 1996, but he’ll be back as a member of the shooting team at age 46. He has been a member of the U.S. National Shooting team for two decades as one of the most consistent competitor, but failed to make the Olympic team his last three tries. Uptagrafft is an Army rifle instructor and has spent years teaching soldiers how to shoot. In addition to shooting with the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit, Uptagrafft also has been deployed twice, once to Kuwait in 2007 and to Afghanistan last summer.
His trip this summer to compete in the 50-meter prone shooting event should be more pleasant, especially since his wife Sandra, in her 40s as well, also qualified for the Olympics this week in her fourth attempt, winning the women’s 25 meter pistol trials. They the first husband and wife couple to make the 2012 Olympic team.
Swimmer Dara Torres made a comeback at age 41 to win a medal in Beijing, and she is now training to qualify for her sixth Olympic games in London at age 45. Swimming Janet Evans would like to join Torres at age 40, 16 years after her last Olympics.
Meb Keflezighi is the oldest ever winner of the U.S. Olympic marathon trials, and will compete in his third Olympics at age 37. He won the trials in Houston with a personal-best time of 2 hours, 9 minutes, and 8 seconds. Keflezighi says he is getting faster with age, and hopes to be a good example for all runners, whether their goal is to break four hours, or just to finish.
Gao Jun, age 43, has earned her spot on the American table tennis team and is a four-time Olympian. She began playing at age five and competed for China before coming to the U.S. Karen O’Connor hopes to make her fifth Olympic team at age 54. She is a member of the U.S. equestrian team. She won a silver medal in 1996 and a bronze medal in 2000.
Olympic gold medallist Rulon Gardner hoped to return to the Games in Greco-Roman wrestling at age 40. But he missed making the weight by five pounds in the heavyweight division. Despite his disappointment, he said the health benefits he has gained since losing 205 pounds from a high of 474 pounds to 269 pounds have saved his life, and he hopes to try again for a spot in four years at age 44. Winning the spot was 37-year-old Dremiel Byers, an Army staff sergeant.
VIDEO: Hidecki Hoketsu and Whisper compete in 2010
Until next time, enjoy the ride in good health!