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Rio Games: Our oldest Olympian wants to do it again, with daughter

Picture: David Geraghty

At 61, equestrian rider Mary Hanna will become the oldest Australian to compete at the Rio Olympic Games next month, but she’s already planning for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.

The grandmother of three is determined to continue another four years in the hope of fulfilling her last great ambition, to compete at the Olympics with her daughter Gitte Donvig in the Australian dressage team.

In Rio, Hanna will surpass in age — by 125 days — legendary horseman Bill Roycroft as an Olympic competitor; then she plans to emulate him by competing alongside one of her children, before she is done.

Rio will be her fifth Olympics and yet Hanna believes she is just entering her competitive prime.

“It’s one of the smoothest preparations I have had,’’ she said from Germany. “Some of the others have been like walking over broken glass but the horses have been extremely well and things are going well with my trainer Patrick Kittel (husband of her teammate Lyndal Oatley).

“I think these are probably the best horses I have ever had. Because it takes so long to train the horses you have to really make long-term plans and I have two great horses for Tokyo. My dream would be to be in the Olympic team with my daughter. We have been close before but I think she has a good chance for Tokyo.’’

Back in Victoria’s Hidden Valley, Donvig and her children — Miet­ta, 9, Kitty, 4, and Edward, 2 — await the Rio competition with mounting excitement. “I feel like we have been doing this for a while now, because I was 16 when Mum went to the Olympics the first time,’’ said Donvig. “Mietta is in Grade Four so they have studied the Olympics and she gets to tell her classmates: ‘My Granny is going to the Olympics.’ I don’t know if they believe her.’’

Donvig shares her mother’s dream of competing at the Olympics together and agrees Tokyo is their window, when her children are a little older and her best horse Brioni would be at his peak.

“The great thing about this sport is that you can do it until you are ancient,’’ she said. “It’s such a significant achievement for Mum to have two rides qualified at the same time. She’s my coach as well as my mother and she’s an absolute inspiration to me and so many other riders in Victoria.’’

Hanna’s main horse for Rio is 10-year-old Boogie Woogie, while her mount in the wings for Tokyo is nine-year-old Calanta. The horses are getting younger but Hanna doesn’t feel that she’s getting any older. “I don’t actually think about how old I am because I feel fit and healthy and I don’t think I have ever felt better.

“One of the reasons I love this sport so much is that you get better the more you do it. You have to be fit and supple but it’s the only sport where men and women compete equally and no one thinks about how old you are.’’

Hanna still has a decade to go to emulate Japan’s oldest equest­rian rider Hiroshi Hoketsu, who competed in London 2012 at 71, and only missed his chance to become the oldest Olympian ever in Rio, when his horse fell ill before Japan’s Olympic trials


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