Forget pensioning off Whitaker as yet another tilt at Olympics beckons

Show-jumper John Whitaker with one of his famous Olympic mounts, Milton (Picture: James Hardisty).
Show-jumper John Whitaker with one of his famous Olympic mounts, Milton (Picture: James Hardisty).
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HUDDERSFIELD’S John Whitaker will get his free bus pass in five years’ time – the show jumping legend getting ever nearer to drawing his pension.

He might want to check if that pass will get him to Tokyo with the 60-year-old showing no signs of stopping as he approaches what could be his sixth Olympic Games in Rio.

To suggest Whitaker could board the plane to the Tokyo 2020 Games might be over-egging the pudding but the show-jumper has already proven his longevity by amazingly featuring in five of the last eight Olympics.

That figure becomes six of the last nine if including the alternative Olympics of Rotterdam 1980 where the Yorkshireman took a team and individual silver aged 24 on Ryans Son.

Ryans Son would then take Whitaker to his first proper Olympics four years later in Los Angeles when Scott Brash, the current British No 1, had not even been born. Brash was born the following year with Whitaker 28 when strutting his stuff in LA and helping Team GB scoop a team silver alongside younger brother Michael Whitaker, who was just 23 at the time.

Michael partnered Overton Amanda with the Whitakers joined by Steven Smith and Timothy Grubb in helping their nation secure silver.

Michael has since competed in another three Olympics and like his older brother returned to Games action at Barcelona 1992 with John partnering Milton alongside Tim Grubb and Nick Skelton. Britain were seventh in the team event with Whitaker and Milton 14th individually.

The Whitaker brothers were also partners at Atlanta 1996 and Sydney 2000 with John joint ninth individually on Welham at Atlanta with the team joint 11th. The Whitaker brothers failed to make the individual final at Sydney as the team finished eighth. John partnered Calvaro Z with Michael on Prince Of Wales.

Sydney remains Michael’s last Olympic outing though he, too, is very much in the reckoning for Rio as the British No 5. Four Whitakers feature in the current British top 11 – John’s nephew William ranked 11th and another brother, Robert, ranked ninth. Brash, Ben Maher, Laura Renwick, Joe Clee, Jessica Mendoza, Guy Williams and William Funnell complete the top 11.

Following his Sydney 2000 outing, John missed the 2004 Games in Greece like his younger brother but returned to the Olympic stage for his fifth attempt at Beijing in 2008 on Peppermill for an individual attempt.

After not making the victorious team for London 2012, a then 57-year-old Whitaker’s Olympic run looked to finally be over.

“It was great that they won the gold in London 2012 but that was quite a big regret that I wasn’t on the scene,” admits Whitaker.

Yet one year short of Rio, only Brash sits higher of the Team GB riders in the Longines show-jumping world rankings with Whitaker believing star mare Ornellaia has the capabilities to make the grade in Rio. Ditto her rider, five times over.