Posts Tagged practice makes perfect

Hiroshi Hoketsu Is A Better Olympic Horseback Rider At 70 than At 40

Hiroshi Hoketsu, age 71, is this Olympics' oldest competitor


The female gymnasts are often children, just 15 or 16 years old. But here is a story by Martin Rogers about the oldest competitor in this year’s Olympics, a Japanese equestrian who is 71. Most impressive is that he says “I am a better rider at 70 than I was at 40.”

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.

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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Practicing With Better Players Is Supposed To Improve Your Game

Ira (in blue) with three top squash players—Ryan Thompson (left), Zack Wilkinson and Gustav Detter (far right)

Here is a true, amusing story that proves practice doesn’t always make you perfect right away…at least not for me.

I went to a squash clinic this morning and hit with four players. First was a warm up on the only court with a single—it was 10-year-old Zack Wilkinson. I held my own. Then the coach of the Millbrook School in upstate New York, Greg Reiss, who had arranged the clinic, took me on for points. I did ok, won a few, returned a lot. Then I hit with my friend, Gustav Detter, one of two top squash players there for an exhibition who was 4th best in college squash his senior year at Trinity. (You can read about him below.) It’s a joy to hit with an athlete of his caliber. Just returning a shot and making a point is exquisitely satisfying.

After taking a breather, while Greg stepped onto the court with Gustav, I asked Zack if he wanted to play a game. I was finally ready for him, and watching three days of Trinity winning the nationals last weekend assured me that I could play better in competition. I had the wisdom that comes from watching the national champions and their opponents. I had new strategies. And I had just rehearsed with two superior athletes.

I lost 5-11. Blonde smiling Zack is three fourths my size, and one seventh my age, but he could place the ball too far away. Thank goodness I have no pride in these matters.

Then we watched Gustav play professional Ryan Thompson from Namibia, South Africa, who coaches at St. George’s School in Newport, RI and has ranked as high as #136 in the world. Gustav recently won the Swedish Nationals for the first time and was in really good shape. The match was sensational. Though less than 50 people were in attendance, the level of play was breathtaking. The athletes were holding nothing back. It came down to a fifth game, and Gustav was in danger of losing. Twice he faced match points, but held on and won 13-11. He told me later, when I asked, that the pressure does not bother him, because he has been in that position so often.

After everyone left, I practiced until a Millbrook School sophomore arrived. We hit for half an hour and then we played one game. I lost 7-11. A real improvement. Felipe Pantle is there as a result of the City Squash program. He is a very strong player. He is 15 years old. I have a long way to go…

Now here is some exciting background about Gustav:

A four-time All-American, Detter left Trinity with a 65-11 career record. Detter played most of the 2009 season at the number 2 position, compiling a 17-2 record and finishing the season ranked number four in the country. Read the rest of this entry »

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