BERLIN (Reuters) - It has been almost 30 years since German rider Isabell Werth won her first title but the most decorated Olympic equestrian athlete of all time is showing no signs of slowing down and is eyeing more gold at this weekend’s World Cup dressage final.
Werth won the first of her six Olympic gold medals at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, when U.S. basketball great Michael Jordan won gold as well. She earned her most recent gold at Usain Bolt’s last Olympics, in Rio de Janeiro two years ago.
While sporting greats Jordan and Bolt have both retired, Werth is still going strong.
“I won my first title back in 1989 and now I don’t feel like I am missing titles,” Werth told Reuters in an interview.
“It is just a lot of fun to be competing and in our sport age does not play such a crucial role because we are completely dependent on the horse.
“It is not such a strain on our own body, not as tiring,” said the 48-year-old. “In other sports it is more difficult.”
Werth, who has won 10 Olympic medals as well as seven world and 13 European championship medals, knows she must be at the top of her game in her title defence at the weekend in Paris.
The world number one has set the standard, racing away from the competition and winning four of nine events going into the World Cup dressage final. The event is taking place as part of a joint final with the World Cup jumping final.
But Werth, who will be riding Weihegold OLD, with whom she won Olympic gold in Rio and last year’s World Cup final in Omaha, knows winning is not just up to her.
“It is clear that I am the favourite and the defending champion but I am also old enough to know that this has not yet been won. There are a lot of competitors such as (American) Laura Graves who will make it hard.”
“We need to ride first in order to win it.”
Looking beyond Paris, Werth makes no secret of her desire to compete at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
“Tokyo is my aim, no question about it. But it is still too far because in my sport with such a relationship with horses and their fitness everything can change quickly,” she said.
“I think only in short steps. I think of the horses in the coming years and how I can build them up correctly.”
Werth also thinks about the future of her sport, with the International Olympic Committee determined to refresh the sports programme to keep it relevant to a younger generation.
Some traditional Olympic sports, including equestrian, have been put under the microscope as new sports — skateboarding, surfing and sports climbing — prepare for their Olympic debuts in Tokyo.
“It is always this discussion about the Olympic programme,” Werth said. “But basically equestrian has a right to be there because of its strong tradition.”
Equestrian made its debut at the Games in 1900 and after a brief absence returned to the programme in 1912 and has been there ever since.
“I hope we awake from this social media crisis ... and things get back to reality a bit and not only see what is a trend or what is a populist approach,” added Werth.
“I am not saying we should turn back time and close the door to new, exciting sports and social media and the broad mass of communication possibilities, but it is important to strike the right balance.”
Editing by Peter Rutherford