LAURIE LEVER started riding when he was 10 years old because it seemed a good idea at the time. Little did he think that half a century on, he would be preparing to compete in equestrian showjumping at his first Olympic Games.
Lever, 60, will be Australia's oldest Olympic team member, and certainly the oldest debutant at the Games.
But Lever places the credit for his selection firmly at the four feet of his horse, Ashleigh Drossel Dan, a nine-year-old grey which was "difficult and nervy when younger, but boy, he was a jumper". Lever, the owner of an equestrian centre on the Mornington Peninsula, said that over the four years in his care, Dan had been trained to be "more sensible and rideable, and we tidied up his legs".
Lever went to Europe with Dan in November last year before equine influenza could affect his travel. They have been staying at the stable of the German-based Australian coach Gilbert Bockman, where one of Lever's sons, Phillip, also works.
"This was the first horse that I thought was of the standard to attempt to get on the Olympic team," Lever said. "I did have some other horses that have come close, but there are not that many who can do it. It is like picking the Melbourne Cup."
Still, the European stint has not been without its woes.
Dan wouldn't eat his feed, then got a gastric bug, then suffered from cholic from the tension, had problems with his shoeing and suffered an infection.
"He keeps me on my toes," said Lever. "But he is intelligent and strong-minded, and this is his first season at this top level it is expecting a lot of him to do the Olympics, but I know that he will be able to handle it."
Lever said he never thought about his own age, except for a few old aches from previous broken bones. He cycles every morning to keep fit. "If anything, I have got a few years of experience up my sleeve," he said. "I would like to be 40 and have the knowledge I do now."
Lever's wife, Annie, and their children will attend the Olympic equestrian events, which will be held in Hong Kong. But Lever won't be the only Olympian whose peers are monitoring their superannuation accounts and pondering life in retirement. Japanese equestrian rider Hiroshi Koketsu first competed in the Olympics at the 1964 Games in Tokyo, finishing 40th. Forty-four years later, at the age of 67, he will compete at the Beijing Olympics and reckons he can improve on that position.
A handful of other veteran Olympians have forged impressive careers. Canadian Susan Nattrass is 58 and a trap shooter competing in her sixth Games. The heralded French cyclist Jeannie Longo is 49 and taking part in her seventh Olympics, while Israeli marathon runner Haile Satayin is also 49.