At an age when many people are thinking about retirement, John Whitaker is thinking about another Olympic medal.
He was part of the British show jumping team that won a silver medal at the 1984 Los Angeles Games with younger brother Michael. Both are now competing in Rio de Janeiro.
John Whitaker is 61 and was the last member of the British team to ride Sunday. He knew he needed a clear round after Michael and compatriots Nick Skelton and Ben Maher each had a fence down.
And that’s precisely what he did on Ornellaia.
“I was very happy with the round. From start to finish she was good,” John said. “Everything went to plan. She felt fresh, she was listening, she was jumping. Nice to get the first day behind us especially with a bit of confidence for the rest of the week. I wanted to jump clear but just have a nice confidence keeping round, for her as much as me because it’s going to get tougher that’s for sure.”
This is John’s sixth Olympics, one behind Skelton, who along with Maher was part of Britain’s gold medal-winning team in London four years ago.
Michael is competing in his fifth Olympics after Los Angeles, Barcelona, Atlanta and Sydney. He acknowledges that some things are harder to deal with as he gets older.
“The facilities here are as good as any I’ve been to if not better to be honest,” he said. “It’s very, very well organized, the buses are running on time to the village, the village is good enough.
“The first time I was 24, now I’m 56, I haven’t got quite that enthusiasm. When my shower doesn’t really work properly I sort of get a bit peed off now, then I wouldn’t have bothered. I’m looking at it through different eyes a little bit. The village is actually pretty good, I think.”
Michael was aboard Cassionato and they knocked down planks on fence 10 to finish with four faults. Still, he is confident going into Tuesday’s second qualifying round.
“He jumped unbelievable,” Michael said. “When you watch it on video he actually gives it plenty of room, he just catches it on his way down. It was just unlucky. He touched it and it came down and everything else went exactly as it should have done. I’m very, very happy with the way he jumped.
“It was tough. I haven’t been to a few for a while so I wasn’t expecting it to be as tough as that to be honest. But there’s nothing he can’t jump. That’s probably his worst day now gone, hopefully. Hopefully we should be all right. I don’t want to speak too soon.”
Three of the four riders for host Brazil went clear much to the delight of fans at the packed Olympic Equestrian Center. Germany was the only other nation to achieve that result.
The individual gold medalists from the previous two games, Steve Guerdat and Eric Lamaze, also had clear rounds.
The opening one-round event was a prelude to three further days of jumping this week that will incorporate team and individual events.