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Star riders to help boost equestrianism in Asia
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Star riders will help boost the development of equestrian events and popularize the sport in Asian countries, said Nagashima Syuuji, leader of Japanese equestrian team.

In an interview with Xinhua on Monday, Nagashima, who is also the director of Japan Equestrian Federation, shared his insights as how Asian countries, where equestrianism is less developed, could do to catch up with traditional equestrian powerhouses.

He gave the example of 67-year-old rider Hiroshi Hoketsu, the oldest contender of the Beijing Games, saying that his competing in the events had helped boost equestrianism in Japan.

Hiroshi, making a comeback 44 years after his Olympic debut in the Tokyo Games, finished 35th at the dressage discipline of the equestrian events held in Hong Kong.

Hiroshi's comeback sent a strong message to Japanese fans that equestrianism is a sport that suits a large group of participants, regardless of their age, said Nagashima.

Chinese rider Hua Tian, an 18-year-old from Guangdong, also drew considerable media attention and was considered by many as an icon of equestrianism in China, where the sport is quite less known.

But the Eton schoolboy fell from his horse while trying to clear hurdles during the cross-country phase of the Olympic eventing on Aug. 11, dashing all the hopes of his Olympic debut. The Beijing Games is the first Olympiad in which China fields riders for the equestrian events.

Asian countries should have more initiatives to hold more world-class competitions to narrow the gap with equestrian powerhouses, said Nagashima.

"Three-star competitions are held on a weekly basis in Europe but only three times a year in Japan," he said through an interpreter. "This shows the disparities of attention being paid to the sport."

Nagashima suggested raising the threshold of equestrian events in Asia. "Easy admission to these competitions hinders Asian contenders from quality performances," he said.

Japan, a fore-runner among Asian equestrian teams, finished tenth at the Olympic equestrian dressage team competition ending last Thursday. Six out of the top ten teams are from European countries.

"By keenly taking part in more high-level competitions in Europe in recent years, Japanese riders had more exposure of performances of those strong teams and have gained considerable strides forward," Nagashima said.

Sending riders and coaches to European countries, said the team leader, is also a "shortcut" and a practical means to boost equestrian competitiveness in Asian countries.

(Xinhua News Agency August 18, 2008)

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