Thu, July 26, 2012

Ian Millar riding high heading into record 10th Olympics

Star Power lifts legendary show jumper's hopes of winning elusive gold

By MIKE KOREEN, QMI Agency


Ian Millar jumps on his horse Star Power during the Spruce Meadows Nations' Cup horse jumping event in Calgary, Alberta, September 10, 2011. (REUTERS)


Age, Ian Millar says, is just a number.

Baloney, says one of his longtime show jumping teammates.

"I think Ian Millar, as an athlete in our sport, he's an anomaly," Jill Henselwood said when asked about the 65-year-old Millar.

"Who gets to be as experienced as he is, as good as he is, and can maintain it like he has, or even have the desire to maintain it."

The one-of-a-kind description probably gets used more than it should, but it certainly fits the bill for Millar. The Perth rider will make a record-setting 10th Olympic appearance in London, topping Austrian sailor Hubert Raudaschl's nine Games trips from 1964 to 1996.

Riding Star Power, Millar hopes to return to the podium after finishing second in the team event in 2008. Henselwood, of Oxford Mills, was one of the riders to earn that medal, continuing a longtime partnership that started with her training under Millar for 15 years at Millar Brooke Farm.

"He's a great example of the work ethic and the tenacity and the drive for excellence that's never ending," Henselwood said. "I was his most long-term (protege). It took me a while to learn it all."

A first-time Olympian in 1972, Millar has done just about everything in show jumping except win Olympic gold. There are his nine Pan Am Games medals, best in his sport, back-to-back World Cup titles in 1988 and 1989 with Big Ben, a first for horse-rider duo, and Order of Canada and Canada Sports Hall of Fame nods.

No wonder he has trouble picking a career highlight.

"The problem with picking one highlight is you're taking away from so many others," Millar said in a recent interview on the Fan 590. "The highlight for me is when you're riding a horse and that horse and I make magic happen. Everyone can see it and especially the other riders who know subtleties of whole job. It's just such a rush to make magic happen with a horse."

Millar calls Star Power a fantastic horse, so the tandem seems to have a chance to pull off a few Olympic tricks. However, as badly as Millar wants that, he knows the same can't be said for Star Power — or any horse for that matter.

"He's very, very intelligent for a horse," Millar said.

"I always think if I went down to his stall and looked at him and said, 'we're going to go to London and we're going to try to win a medal ... and do you realize how important that is,' he'd say 'when is lunch coming,'" Millar chuckled. "You can't motivate him at the same level as you could a human athlete."

But you can train a horse and there's little doubt Star Power is in good shape in that regard, considering his rider.

"I have so much more experience (than when he started), so much more knowledge and my capabilities are so much higher," Millar said. "Therefore, my chances of success are way greater. Star Power is a fantastic horse and the chances are there. Absolutely, the chances are there for great success."

THE MILLAR FILE

  • Age: 65
  • Hometown: Perth
  • Sport: Show jumping
  • Canadian championships: 10
  • Individual gold medals: Two at Pan Am games, two at World Cup
  • Competition dates: Aug. 4-6, Aug. 8