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Japanese athlete’s bid to become oldest Olympian in history still alive

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Hiroshi Hoketsu, a 78-year-old equestrian, was included on a list published Friday of 17 dressage riders bidding for any of three spots on the Japanese Olympic team in Tokyo.

The Tokyo native Hoketsu is six years older than the oldest Olympian in history, Swedish shooter Oscar Swahn, who earned a team silver medal at 72 at the 1920 Antwerp Games. That age list does not include Olympic art competitions.

Hoketsu’s bid appears a long shot, given his International Equestrian Federation (FEI) profile does not list any results since 2012. Japanese media reported that Hoketsu has not met minimum entry requirements, which he must do by May 24.

The highest-ranked Japanese dressage rider is No. 142 in the world. Japan gets an automatic team place at the Olympics as host nation.

Hoketsu competed at three Olympics — the other time Tokyo hosted in 1964, then 44 years later in Beijing and again in London in 2012. Hoketsu was the oldest athlete across all sports at the Olympics in 2008 and 2012.

In between his first and second Olympics, Hoketsu earned a graduate degree from Duke and completed a career as a pharmaceutical executive.

He was not named to Japan’s team for the Rio Olympics after his horse fell ill, according to Japanese reports in May 2016.

The Japanese Olympic team will be named in mid-June.

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MORE: U.S.’ top dressage rider to miss Olympics

Laura Graves, U.S.’ top dressage rider, to miss Olympics

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Laura Graves, the U.S.’ top dressage rider and an Olympic medal contender, will miss the Tokyo Games after retiring her Rio Olympic bronze-medal horse Verdades.

“With the retirement of my longtime partner, Verdades (Diddy), it will no longer be possible for me to pursue a place on the team that will represent the United States in Tokyo,” Graves said in a statement via U.S. Equestrian. “This decision was not taken lightly, but was made in Verdades’ best interests.”

Graves, 32, announced earlier this week that “it became clear in recent weeks that [Verdades] was not going to be able to return to his usual top form in 2020.”

Verdades, an 18-year-old KWPN gelding, has been with Graves since he was 6 months old. Horses can live well into their 30s, and while there is no maximum age for a horse competing in the Olympics, 18 is generally considered senior, or close to it.

With Verdades, Graves helped the U.S. earn team bronze in Rio. its first dressage medal since 2004 and matching its best finish since the 1948 London Games. Graves also finished fourth individually, just missing the second-ever U.S. individual dressage medal.

Then in 2018, Graves and Verdades earned team and individual silver medals at the World Equestrian Games, essentially the world championships for the sport that take place every four years. Graves became the first U.S. dressage rider to move into the No. 1 spot in the world rankings.

“Diddy helped me reach goals and milestones that at times, I didn’t think were possible,” Graves said. “As I look back on all of our success, I continue to be moved by the support of the community, and the country, who invested in our journey throughout the years. Participating in the 2016 Rio Olympics is one of my fondest memories with Diddy, and I know the team is in good hands with the combinations who will represent our country this summer. We will be supporting and cheering them on every step of the way.”

Graves and Verdades dropped to seventh in the most recent world rankings. The next-highest U.S. rider is No. 11 Kasey Perry-Glass with Goerklintgaards Dublet.

Graves’ absence creates an opening for the three-rider U.S. Olympic team expected to be named in the spring. The current No. 3 American in the world rankings, excluding Graves, is Shelly Francis, a 61-year-old who could become the oldest U.S. Olympic competitor in any sport since 1904, excluding art competitions.

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MORE: Isabell Werth, Olympics’ greatest equestrian, faces Tokyo question: which horse to take?

U.S. Olympic team qualifying, selection races to watch in 2020

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A look at some intriguing races for U.S. Olympic team spots as the final six months of qualifying begin …

Basketball
Men’s Guards

The last four seasons, every guard on every All-NBA team was an American. Thirteen different players combined to take up those spots. All 13 are part of USA Basketball’s national team pool. Maybe five will go to Tokyo. The group to choose from includes those with Olympic experience such as James Harden, Kyrie Irving, Klay Thompson and Russell Westbrook. And those without, like Stephen CurryDamian Lillard and Kemba Walker.

Beach Volleyball
Kerri Walsh Jennings/Brooke Sweat vs. Kelly Claes/Sarah Sponcil

Two U.S. women’s beach teams will qualify for Tokyo. April Ross and Alix Klineman are comfortably in first place in the standings. The triple Olympic champion Walsh Jennings and new partner Sweat are second in Olympic qualifying more than halfway through, but third-place Claes and Sponcil are within striking distance. The race likely will not be decided before the last stretch of four- and five-star tournaments in late May and early June.

Equestrian
Women’s Jumping

Could this be Jessica Springsteen‘s year? The daughter of rocker Bruce Springsteen recently cracked the top four of the U.S. rider rankings for the first time in at least two and a half years, though she is seventh among Americans in the international rankings. The U.S. Olympic team of three riders (plus an alternate) will be chosen in June. The usual suspects — Kent Farrington, Beezie Madden and McLain Ward, all at least 10 years older than the 28-year-old Springsteen — remain at or near the top of the rankings.

Fencing
Men’s Foil

The U.S. boasts four of the world’s top 10 — Race Imboden (2), Gerek Meinhardt (6), Alexander Massialas (7) and Nick Itkin (10) — plus 2012 and 2016 Olympian Miles Chamley-Watson. But only three per nation can compete individually at the Olympics. The top three in national team point standings come April go to Tokyo. The U.S. is looking for its first men’s Olympic fencing title since 1904.

Golf
Tiger Woods vs. Dustin Johnson vs. Justin Thomas vs. Gary Woodland vs. Brooks Koepka vs. Others

The U.S. will qualify the maximum four men’s golfers for Tokyo, but the names are unknown to start 2020. The Official World Golf Ranking after the U.S. Open in June determines the Olympic field. The current OWGR (which includes results that aren’t part of Olympic qualification) has the top four as Koepka, Thomas, Johnson and Woods. But golf rankings guru @VC606’s projection, which excludes results before the Olympic qualifying window, has Woods in fifth place and Johnson in sixth, replaced by Xander Schauffele and Patrick Cantlay. Every result could be critical this winter and spring, making Woods’ decision to skip this week’s Sentry Tournament of Champions (with its limited field and guaranteed ranking points with no cut) even more noteworthy.

Gymnastics
Laurie Hernandez vs. Newcomers

Assuming Simone Biles leads the four-woman U.S. team (plus two women in individual events), there is one other returning Olympian hoping to join her. Hernandez hasn’t competed since taking balance beam silver in Rio but plans to make a late Tokyo run. Four years ago, Aly Raisman and Gabby Douglas became the first women to make back-to-back Olympic teams since 2000, but each of them came back a year earlier than Hernandez. Gymnasts in Hernandez’s way include members of the last two world championships teams (like Morgan Hurd and Sunisa Lee) and first-year seniors like Kayla DiCello, looking to repeat Hernandez’s feat in 2016 of making an Olympic team at age 16.

Shooting
Women’s Skeet

Four different U.S. women won the four world titles in this event between 2014-18, including a medals sweep in 2018. Five Americans make up the top 14 in the world right now, and a sixth, 18-year-old Austen Smith, won the first stage of the Olympic trials in September. Two women will qualify for Tokyo by the end of the trials process this spring. The biggest name is 40-year-old Kim Rhode, looking to become the first person to earn a medal at seven straight Olympics in any sport.

Soccer
Women’s Forwards

World Cup rosters are 23 players. Olympic rosters are 18. The U.S. must cut from its world champion team of last summer, putting stalwart goal-scorers at risk. Chief among them is Alex Morgan, who hopes to return from an April due date for a third Olympics. Then there’s Carli Lloyd, who at 37 is trying to become the oldest U.S. Olympic soccer player in history. Other thirtysomethings in the mix: Megan Rapinoe, Tobin Heath and Christen Press, plus Mallory Pugh, who made the Rio Olympics at age 18. The last two Olympic teams each had four forwards.

Swimming
Chase Kalisz vs. Ryan Lochte vs. Carson Foster

Lochte wants to make a fifth Olympic team, at age 35, in his patented 200m individual medley. To do that, he must take down either the 2017 World champion Kalisz or the 18-year-old Foster, who has been breaking Michael Phelps‘ national age-group records since he was 10. Two swimmers per individual event make the Olympic team at June’s trials. There are other potential spoilers in the 200m IM, including 2018 breakout star Michael Andrew and Abrahm Devine, who made the last two world teams. One thing’s for certain: There will be a new Olympic champion with the retirement of Michael Phelps, who won this event in 2004, 2008, 2012 and 2016.

Tennis
Madison Keys vs. Coco Gauff vs. Venus Williams vs. Sloane Stephens vs. Others

The U.S. gets four singles spots per gender at the Olympics. Qualifying is via ATP and WTA rankings with the cutoff after the French Open. More than halfway through, Serena Williams comfortably leads via Wimbledon and U.S. Open runners-up (3,185 points). She’s followed by Sofia Kenin (1,941), Alison Riske (1,713) and Madison Keys (1,537). Then comes another drop-off to the current alternates, led by Coco Gauff (709). Venus Williams, eyeing a fifth Olympics when she will be 40, is in ninth place (and just withdrew from her 2020 season opener). Sloane Stephens, the 2017 U.S. Open champion, is 11th. Any player who doesn’t make singles could still be chosen for doubles, where Venus is an intriguing option.

Track and Field
Women’s Marathon

One of the hardest U.S. Olympic track and field event teams to make will be one of the first to be decided. Six of the nine fastest Americans in history are expected to start the marathon trials on Feb. 29 in Atlanta. Headliners include 2018 Boston Marathon winner Des Linden and American 10,000m record holder Molly Huddle. Only three get to go to Tokyo, while the rest likely crowd the 10,000m field at the track trials four months later in Oregon.

Wrestling
Jordan Burroughs vs. Kyle Dake

Burroughs, the 2012 Olympic 74kg champion, and Dake, the 2018 and 2019 World champion at the non-Olympic 79kg weight class, are expected to make up the most intense final of the Olympic wrestling trials from April 4-5 at Penn State. Only one wrestler per weight class qualifies for Tokyo. Burroughs has made every Olympic and world team at 74kg since 2011. But Dake, who avoided Burroughs by moving up in weight in 2016, represents his toughest challenger yet.

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