Rising star Kawai looks to jump in Tokyo in 2020


RIYADH — Most jockeys start riding horses at a single digit age, but for Mike Kawai, that is not the case. The Osaka raised star started riding at 15 years of age, which is normally considered ‘too old’ to reach a competitive level — let alone at international stages. With his eyes set on a 2020 Olympics in his home country, Mike’s journey took him from Japan to the Netherlands, and now he is hoping to make a return to compete in the summer games in Tokyo.

“I started to ride when I was 15 because my father pushed me to do so,” Kawai said. “I used to ride when I was little, but I did not like it, so I stopped,” he added.

But after turning 15, he grew a liking to horses and what he could do with them, and so he rode and trained every single day for three years and started taking part in junior jumping competitions across Japan. Then he started winning.

“I took part in national junior jumping competitions in Japan, and I managed to win in a first-class competition.”

Mike said this changed everything for him. Seeing that he can compete and win, Mike’s father instilled in him the belief that not only to become a world-class equestrian, but an Olympic athlete. He urged his son to start preparing for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

“My father said to me ‘you should go to the Tokyo Olympics’, when I was 17. I was jumping the 1.20m at the time, so it seemed impossible to me to be able to make it to the Olympics,” Kawai reflected.

At age 18, with his father’s blessings, Kawai quit high school and moved from Osaka to the Netherlands to train in some of the finest stables in the world. “My father said go to the best stable in the world so you can prepare for the Olympics, so I quit school decided to move to Europe.”

Kawai’s risky decision paid off. He won his first international classes in 2018 in Opglabbeek in Belgium and won his first ranking class in 2018 during Global Champions Prague Playoffs.

Now in Saudi Arabia for the FEI-sanctioned Diriyah Equestrian Festival and with points counting towards qualifying for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, Kawai achieved his best-ever career result in the 1.60m World Cup competition, producing a double clear round in 38.73 seconds. “It was the best result of my career, so it is important that I’m competing here,” Kawai said about his time in Saudi Arabia.

“It is only one time in your life that you will have the opportunity to compete in the Olympics in your home country. I trust my horses and I trust myself.”

The Diriyah Equestrian Festival has returned for its second and final weekend as equestrians gear up to compete for what is a crucial stage in determining the qualification fate of several equestrians looking to take their horses and skills to Tokyo in 2020. — AFP