The United States had a freaking fantastic 1984 Olympics. We won more gold medals than anybody …
… which was especially fitting since the Games were hosted on our home turf in L.A. The U.S. Equestrian Team was in line with that trend, dominating the medal table thanks to a team gold and individual silver in eventing and team gold and individual gold and silver in show jumping.
The 1980s international eventing, er, combined training scene was a special place in time, dominated by some of the best “get ‘er done” cross-country riders — Ginny Leng, Lucinda Green, Ian Stark — the world has seen before or since. Plus it was the ’80s, which was just a sort of crazy time for sports in general.
I recently stumbled across this amazing 1984 Olympic cross-country photo album (CC) by Virginia Hill on Flickr, which perfectly demonstrates why ’80s-era eventing embodied insanity in the middle: #1. Jumps like this. Giant, upright, airy oxers that may or may not have a landing side? It’s the ’80s. No problem!
#2. Baby eventing legends. Even top riders were rookies once upon a time. A tale of two Andrews: In 1984, Andrew Hoy was a 25-year-old competing in his first Olympics. You can even see a little bit of hair sticking out from his helmet — that’s how long ago this was. He finished 15th individually and his team finished fifth. Hoy would go on to compete in six more Olympic games, winning one silver and three gold medals, and marry another Class of ’84 Olympic newbie, Bettina Overesch (née Hoy).
Likewise, Andrew Nicholson was no silver fox when he completed his first Olympic Games in 1984. A fresh-faced 23-year-old, Nicholson finished 28th individually and was on the sixth place New Zealand team anchored by Mark Todd, who clinched the individual gold. Nicholson, too, had his glory days and another five Olympic Games still ahead of him. #3. Eventing legends in their prime. The 1984 field was teeming with riders that were already eventing household names by the time they got there. Bruce Davidson Sr.’s resume, for instance, included one team gold from the 1976 Montreal Olympics and another three golds — two individual and one team — from the World Championships in ’74 and ’78.
#5. Fall off, get back on. Mandatory retirement didn’t exist in the ’80s. Pretty scary looking fall of horse and rider, right?
It’s cool — here, let us give you a leg up.
#6. Questionable headgear. The first year that a helmet requirement was even mentioned in the USEF’s combined training rules was 1978. In 1982, they stiffened things up, mandating “a permanent or removable chinstrap,” and in 1986, they further specified that if your helmet fell off during cross-country, you must retrieve it and put it back on your head before continuing under penalty of elimination. But they never did make a rule against wearing your high-school band hat.
Speaking of chinstraps … remember these? The model below is Torrance Fleischmann (née Watkins), a trailblazer for women who would become the first lady eventer to be inducted into the U.S. Eventing Hall of Fame in 2003. But even she couldn’t pull off “the cup.”
#7. Safety vests still lived in the future. Any modern-day eventer would feel naked leaving the startbox without one, but in 1984, body protectors were still over a decade away from being required gear.
#8. Tall, lanky riders. Is it just me or were all event riders in the ’80s shaped like string beans? I don’t know what the USET and other team programs were feeding (or rather not feeding) team riders, but my best guess is a diet of rice cakes and Diet Coke.
#9. Celebrity spectators and princely FEI presidents. 1984 Olympic diplomatic security officer Joe Payne, whose job it was to look after and chauffeur around important people, notes in this memoir that cross-country day was teeming with rich and famous rubberneckers. He recalls seeing Cary Grant and Bob Hope palling around together on course and driving officials to lavish, star-studded parties at Hope’s home. He also mentions the FEI President: “Prince Philip of course brought his own security and had his silver Jaguar flown from England and made it clear he wanted none of our drivers in his processions. A local Los Angeles man was given the task of trying to ‘chase’ Prince Philip’s procession all around the area.” FEI presidents will be FEI presidents! #10. And last but not least, it was the ’80s. O.J. Simpson was among the runners who helped carry the torch to the Olympic stadium. The closing ceremony featured a nine-minute version of Lionel Richie’s hit single “All Night Long” and the landing of an alien spacecraft complete with giant alien. And, of course, there was that whole Soviet boycott thing. But I think this photo of cross-country spectators says it all. Before you head back to the future (ba-dum ching!), check out this video of excellent cross-country footage from the 1984 Games. If you still can’t get enough, FEI photographer Kit Houghton has some more amazing 1984 Olympic Eventing photos posted here and Horse Nation has a collection of 1984 Olympic equestrian videos here. Time to bring back the gold, kids. Go Eventing!