08/02/2012 10:10 EDT | Updated 10/02/2012 05:12 EDT

Japanese rider, 71, repeats as oldest athlete at Beijing, London Games

LONDON - Hiroshi Hoketsu of Japan officially became the oldest competitor at the 2012 Olympic Games when his horse Whisper cantered into the ring at the equestrian dressage competition Thursday at Greenwich Park.

The 71-year-old Hoketsu was also the oldest competitor at the 2008 games in China. An even greater feat may be that it has been 48 years since his first Olympic appearance: He competed in equestrian show jumping in 1964 in Tokyo.

"The biggest motivation I have to keep competing is that I feel I am improving," said Hoketsu.

Hoketsu scored 68.72 per cent in his Grand Prix dressage test on his 15-year-old chestnut mare, putting him in the middle of the pack of the day's 25 riders and out of medal contention.

"I made two or three mistakes, which I shouldn't have," he said.

Dressage is a sort of equine ballet where the horse performs elaborate gymnastic movements to subtle cues from its rider.

After the Tokyo Games, Hoketsu stepped back from competition and earned a master's degree in economics from Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. Next came a business career in Japan but he still rose at 5 a.m. every day to ride before heading to the office.

After he retired, he renewed his Olympic equestrian aspirations and began training in earnest in Germany.

Hoketsu is the second-oldest Olympian ever: Oscar Swahn won a silver medal in shooting in 1920 at age 72.

Hoketsu could break Swahn's mark if he continued onto the 2016 games in Brazil but doesn't plan to do so — not because of his own energy level but for a lack of horsepower.

"I want to but I can't," said Hoketsu. "It's difficult to find a horse, and mine is now too old."

The second half of the competition's 50 riders will perform their dressage test on Friday. The scores will carry forward to a Grand Prix Special test on Aug. 7 to determine team medals and a freestyle performance on Aug. 9 to decide individual medals.