Although the Tokyo Games will mark his seventh time participating in the Olympics, equestrian Phillip Dutton, the oldest athlete on Team USA, says competing in 2021 is no less of a thrill than it was the first time 25 years ago.
"It's very unique and special to have our whole country cheering for us,” the 57-year-old tells AARP.
America's oldest athlete was actually born in Australia and grew up with horses on his family's sheep and wheat farm. He spent most of his upbringing competing at pony rallies and horse trials. Then, in 1991, he moved to the U.S. to train. Five years later, at the age of 32, he participated in his first Olympics.
During his Olympic career, Dutton has won two gold medals and one bronze. He first represented Australia, until switching over to his adopted country's team for the 2008 Summer Games, his fourth Olympics. Dutton became a U.S. citizen in 2006.
"Being the oldest athlete for Team USA is not something I think about too much — although my teammates have been reminding me lately,” he says. “I'm fortunate that with my sport, the horse is the real athlete, and I can use my experience to bring out his best."
Dutton participates in individual and team eventing, which is a three-day contest that consists of dressage (precision movements), jumping and cross-country.
Experience forms success
"I enjoy the whole process — the developing and educating the horses on a daily basis. Then testing that training at competitions,” he says. “The basis of eventing is gaining your horse's trust. This is especially so on the cross-country phase. The horse can't practice over the course and has to trust me about where to go [and] what to jump, at a galloping speed."
Dutton recognizes that many of the equestrian riders are at their best in their 40s and 50s. But it is the horse who “is like a triathlon athlete — the ultimate horse athlete."
"In the equestrian sport, it takes many years to develop the skills needed,” he adds. “Obviously, if I'm in the Olympic Village with a cross-section of other athletes, I'm sure they assume I'm a coach."