SPORTS

Ian Millar ready to make Olympic history with 10th appearance at a Summer Games

07/05/2012 07:05 EDT | Updated 09/04/2012 05:12 EDT
CALGARY - When Ian Millar enters the show-jumping ring aboard Star Power at the 2012 Olympic Games in London, Millar will have appeared in more Olympics than any athlete in history.

The 65-year-old Millar from Perth, Ont., is about to surpass Austrian sailor Hubert Raudaschl, who was an Olympian nine times from 1964 to 1996.

"It's a great thrill to be doing this for the 10th time," Millar said Thursday at Spruce Meadows. "I never had a grand plan.

"It was all about the journey because the destination is, at best, very uncertain as it is in life."

Millar's Olympic career now spans 40 years — 44 if you count the team he was named to in 1980, but didn't get to compete in Moscow because of a boycott.

He is one of the candidates to carry Canada's flag in the opening ceremonies July 27 and would welcome the opportunity to do so.

"It would be a fantastic honour to carry the flag and a great celebration for equestrian," Millar said.

Millar and Star Power are among Canada's 19 Olympic horse and rider combinations in the equestrian disciplines of show jumping, dressage and eventing.

Only the show jumpers were physically at Spruce Meadows for introductions Thursday.

The dressage team is already in England and the eventing team will soon depart from its training base in the United States.

Millar, Eric Lamaze and Tiffany Foster of Schomberg, Ont., Jill Henselwood of Oxford Mills, Ont., and Yann Candele of Caledon, Ont., were members of the jumping team on hand at Spruce Meadows.

Lamaze won individual gold at the 2008 Olympic Games. He also earned silver in the team event with Millar, Henselwood and Mac Cone.

The sudden and tragic death of Lamaze's horse Hickstead last November was a blow to Canada's medal hopes in the jumping ring.

Team leader Terrance "Torchy" Millar, who is no relation to Ian, says having Hickstead on the team was akin to "having a nuclear weapon in your arsenal."

Ian Millar is undaunted, however. Multiple Olympic appearances haven't dulled his competitive edge.

"We always think we're going to win and we're really surprised when we don't," the veteran says. "I think any athlete feels that way. If you don't think you're going to win, you shouldn't go."

Another medal in individual show jumping is a longshot, but the team event is possibility if the planets align for Canada.

"Equestrian, because of the horse element, is maybe a more random sport than some such as the 100-metre dash," Terrance Millar said. "We have strong riders and some very good horses. A medal is a strong possibility."

If Canada's medal chances in show jumping dropped, they have improved in eventing and dressage thanks to the jumping medals won in 2008.

Own The Podium upped its funding to all equestrian disciplines after Beijing to the tune of $1.8 million over the last four years.

The eventing team won silver at the world championship in 2010. Toronto's Ashley Holzer is ranked in the world's top 10 in dressage.

"The Own The Podium funding was absolutely based on the gold and silver medal from jumping, but Own The Podium and the Canadian Olympic Committee look at us as one sport," explained Equine Canada president Michael Gallagher.

"That was a tremendous shot in the arm for eventing and dressage. Eventing which hasn't been above 10th place in 20 years all of a sudden are silver medallists."

Eventing is the triathlon of equestrian. The horses and riders compete in dressage, cross-country and show jumping. Olympic medals will be awarded July 31.

The team show jumping final is Aug. 6 and the individual competition will be decided Aug. 8.

Team dressage medals will be handed out Aug. 7 followed by individual dressage Aug. 9.

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