Showjumper Ian Millar aims for record 11th Olympics, aged 69

Ian Millar at the Barcelona 1992 Games on Big Ben, whom he also rode at the 1988 and 1984 Olympics.
Ian Millar at the Barcelona 1992 Games on Big Ben, whom he also rode at the 1988 and 1984 Olympics. © IOC

Canadian showjumping legend Ian Millar is aiming to make it to his 11th Olympic Games at Rio later this year, at the age of 69. 

He etched his name into sporting history at London 2012, setting a new record for the most appearances in Olympic Games when he surpassed Austrian sailor Hubert Raudaschl’s nine.

Millar is known as “Captain Canada”. There is a statue of him and his horse Big Ben in a park in his home town of Perth, Ontario.

Ian Millar and Dixson on their way to winning the 1.5 Million CP International at Spruce Meadows.
Ian Millar and his Rio Olympic hopeful Dixson on their way to winning the $1.5 Million CP International at Spruce Meadows in 2014 © Cealy Tetley

While the Canadian equestrian team has yet to be selected, Millar pushed his case by helping Canada win team gold at last year’s Pan-American Games in Toronto, earning them a place in Rio. There is a Facebook page calling for him to be flag bearer at the Maracanã Stadium, and the man himself has clearly lost none of determination.

“My motivation stems from my love of horses and passion for sport. My commitment to both is as strong today as it was when I first started,” he said.

Millar, however, was very much focused on practical preparations rather than emotional appeals over the prospect of competing in Brazil.

“The focus of my preparation for the 2016 Games centres around my horses,” he said. “Dixson is my most experienced partner and at major championships such experience is a great asset. We have a conditioning and competition schedule outlined for Dixson leading up to the Games.”

His son Jonathon and daughter Amy have also represented Canada in show jumping, and Millar senior admitted it would be special to experience another Olympic Games alongside them. “There is nothing more rewarding for me than being in the sport and the business of horses with my daughter and my son,” he said. “It would be a dream come true to ride with them in Rio.”

Millar’s first Olympic Games were Munich 1972 and his total would already be 11, had Canada not joined the boycott of the Moscow 1980 Games. He won his first, and so far only, Olympic medal at the Beijing 2008 Games, a silver in the team event, becoming the oldest showjumper to stand on the podium, at the age of 61.

But 2008 was also the saddest year of Millar’s life. Months earlier, he lost his wife of 39 years, Lynn, to cancer. He dedicated the medal to her, saying: “I had an angel riding with me.”

In London he competed on Star Power, finishing ninth in the individual event and fifth in the team competition. At the time, he said: “I am better now than I was when I started. The age of the top riders tends to be older because it takes a lot of time to be consistent.”

Millar would not become the oldest Olympian in Rio: that honour goes to Swedish shooter Oscar Swahn, who was 72 at the Antwerp 1920 Games. Millar would have to compete at the Tokyo 2020 Games to surpass Swahn. And it would be unwise to write him off.

“I am in showjumping because I love it and I am having fun. As long as I have competitive horses I anticipate that I will continue to enjoy the sport.”

Ian Millar, second from left, helped Canada win team silver at Beijing 2008.
Ian Millar, second from left, helped Canada win team silver at Beijing 2008. © Getty Images/Julian Herbert

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