Evergreen John eyeing Rio route at ripe old age

Yorkshire's John Whitaker & Argento Finish 2nd in Hard Fought CSI4* 1.60m Liege Grand Prix
Yorkshire's John Whitaker & Argento Finish 2nd in Hard Fought CSI4* 1.60m Liege Grand Prix
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Huddersfield show jumping star John Whitaker has a chance of competing in his seventh Olympic Games next year – a rather remarkable feat in its own right.

Throw in the fact Rio 2016 comes in the same month as his 61st birthday and it’s little wonder the Yorkshireman is hailing the “unbelievable” prospect of being in seventh heaven in South America.

Whitaker turned 60 this August but has enjoyed his best ever year from a prize-money perspective and the biggest pay day could be still to come.

The Yorkshireman took Lord Of Arabia and Ornellaia to the final of the Longines Global Champions Tour in Doha this weekend and will then hotfoot it to Stuttgart the following weekend for the World Cup event with Argento. A potential 250,000 euro bonus at the final leg of the Longines Masters Series in Hong Kong is next.

Yet there’s no denying which upcoming event features at the top of Whitaker’s mind and it’s an event he’s familiar with having represented Great Britain six times before.

The Yorkshireman graced his first Games at Los Angeles in 1984 when helping Team GB to a team jumping silver with subsequent appearances following at Barcelona 1992, Atlanta 1996, Sydney 2000 and – after another eight year gap – Beijing 2008.

After failing to make the gold medal winning team of London 2012 – it would have been easy to think Whitaker’s Olympics experiences were done and dusted. Yet three months after his 60th birthday the rider is ranked second in Britain and 26th in the world with a sign of the reaming ambition highlighted by Whitaker’s very real desire to break back into the global top ten.

It naturally follows that the rider hopes an amazing seventh Olympics is next. Speaking to The Yorkshire Post after landing in Dubai on Wednesday, Whitaker admitted: “Obviously the Olympics is the thing that everybody aims for and I’ve done six now. To do a seventh would be unbelievable.

“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. That’s life but to do another Olympics would be fantastic. It really would be great.

“I’m not sure if Argento is an Olympic horse, if he is Olympic material and I think with Argento I would just prefer to keep him to the classes that I know he can win. I think he will win a lot more doing that. But this mare Ornellaia, she might have a chance as she is improving all the time.”

As too, it seems, is Whitaker who shone on Argento when producing one of just three double clears on Sunday to finish runner up in the CSI4* 1.60m Grand Prix in Leige.

Forty-eight combinations came forward to try and scoop the lion’s share of the €100,000 prize pot and while Whitaker had to settle for second there is no hiding his satisfaction with his year as a whole.

“I’m really, really pleased and financially it’s been the best year ever, prize money wise,” he said.

“Argento has had a great year and even at my age I have got a better string of horses then I have had for a few years. I’ve got a good string which means I can be in Doha this week for the final of the Longines Global Champions Tour with Ornellaia and Lord Of Arabia and save Argento for next week.”

With firepower like that, the Yorkshireman has every right to target a place back in the world’s top 10, and is nowhere near considering retirement.

Whitaker added: “It’s pretty good but it would be nice to get back in the top ten.

“But I can’t complain and it’s going really well, I’m climbing the ranking list and I will just keep pressing on. I’m in a good position and I just have to keep it up.”

Asked if he’s anywhere near even considering hanging up his boots, the 60-year-old laughed: “I’ve just bought a new pair of boots! I’m still going strong.”