Triumph and Disaster: The Olympic Roadshow

Editor’s note: The finalists in the 6th annual EN Blogger Contest were asked to write a post-Olympic piece as their final entry in the contest, and now we are publishing each of their articles on the homepage before opening up voting for the winner. Thanks as always for reading, and please leave feedback in the comments section.

One of our favorite Rio eventing subplots: Lauren Billys and Castle Larchfield Purdy, who accomplished their dream of representing Puerto Rico in the Olympic Games. Photo by Jenni Autry. One of our favorite Rio eventing subplots: Lauren Billys and Castle Larchfield Purdy, who accomplished their dream of representing Puerto Rico in the Olympic Games. Photo by Jenni Autry.

As the curtain falls after four magnificent days of eventing at the Rio Olympics, many riders are celebrating whilst some ruefully ponder “what if.” The Olympic Games is a maelstrom of triumph and tragedy, surprise and despair, and Rio proved to be no exception. For some, making it to Rio at all was a truly miraculous achievement and for others, absolutely nothing went their way. As with life, so with the Olympics.

There were so many highs and lows surrounding the listing for and participation at the Rio games that it was almost hard to keep up. Canadian selection was akin to a Punch and Judy puppet show, filled with “oh yes she is, oh no she isn’t,” and ending with a legal appeal. This was just the beginning of the roller coaster ride that was eventing at the Rio Olympics. You have to be tough to survive this sport.

The Australian team looked set to clinch a team gold medal on the final day of competition, with just a few coloured poles standing in their way. Sadly it wasn’t to be — despite a brave attempt, the Aussies dropped two places to take the bronze instead.

Team rider Shane Rose was on the podium to collect his medal despite accruing three refusals and a disappointing subsequent elimination on the cross country; however, his journey to Rio very nearly killed him, so to come home with a medal was a fitting return. In 2015, Shane was riding a young horse at home. The horse was struggling so Shane jumped off, only for the horse to turn and kick him. The result was five broken ribs, a split liver and a punctured lung. A secondary golden staph infection almost sealed the deal, but the teak-tough thyroid cancer survivor wasn’t giving in that easily. He recovered, and he took his place at Rio.

Aussie! Aussie! Aussie! Photo by Jenni Autry.

Aussie! Aussie! Aussie! Photo by Jenni Autry.

Much has been made of William Fox-Pitt’s remarkable return to the British Olympic team after a horrific fall in October 2015, which left him in a coma with head injuries. Like Shane Rose, William’s ticket to Rio looked seriously doubtful — William, however, had other ideas. His recovery saw him journey from a weak, partially sighted man post accident, all the way back to a polished world class Olympic rider. An unfortunate 20 penalties for crossing his tracks on the cross country course at Rio was the only blip in an otherwise flawless performance from both William and his horse, Chilli Morning.

The British team had a nightmare Olympics and the wheels came off the chariot in no uncertain terms. Inexperienced horses and rotten misfortune caused them to crash out of medal contention, and doubtless sees the battered crew heading back to Blighty wondering what on earth just happened.

William Fox-Pitt and Chilli Morning. Photo by Jenni Autry.

William Fox-Pitt and Chilli Morning. Photo by Jenni Autry.

The New Zealand team were favourites going into Rio, and the fairytale got off to a poor start when Jock Paget was forced to withdraw his stalwart Clifton Lush from the competition after the horse suffered a facial injury in his stable at the Olympic venue. New Zealand’s poor fortune continued with the elimination of Tim Price on the cross country after a slip on the flat. Poised to claim team gold on the final day, Sir Mark Todd and the usually consistent Leonidas 11 dropped four rails. With Jonelle Price dropping two rails, New Zealand slid to fourth place in the team competition. Sir Mark had been in the running for a possible individual medal, and he can only be wondering what might have been when Leonidas 11 jumped a beautiful clear in the final individual round. He summed it up in a news interview later that afternoon: “It has been a s**t of a day.”

The Germans have been a dominant superpower in world and European eventing for several years, but they too got off to a nightmare start when losing Andreas Ostholt from the team. FRH Butts Avedon was found to be carrying a problem in his off hind hoof and it was decided to not risk the horse. Julia Krajewski was drafted in to replace him. After their usual strong dressage performance, things unraveled somewhat around Pierre Michelet’s challenging cross country course and going into the showjumping phase, the Germans were not in medal contention.

Problems for New Zealand and Australia and a strong German return over the coloured poles saw the Germans achieve a remarkable team silver medal. Superhero Michael Jung lifted the individual gold in Rio aboard his wonderful horse Sam FBW, but even he wasn’t immune to disaster. His first choice of horse for Rio was fischerTakinou, the current European champion. However, a minor injury to the horse at the eleventh hour saw Sam drafted in to replace him. I suppose it was OK having to take your world,Olympic and European championship gold medal horse as a substitute … even a bad day in the office is a good one if you’re a German eventer.

Michael Jung and La Biosthetique Sam FBW. Photo by Jenni Autry.

Michael Jung and La Biosthetique Sam FBW. Photo by Jenni Autry.

A heartwarming subplot saw the crowd go wild over Chilean rider Carlos Lobos Munoz and his fabulous horse Ranco. They steadily made their way around the toughest championship course in the modern era for a clean cross country jumping sheet with just time to add. A single pole on the last day capped a brilliant performance from this special chestnut horse.

Definitely not quite the usual type you expect to see at 4* level, Ranco proved that heart trumps all, every time. Carlos summed it up: “I’m really happy with my first Olympic Games, just thrilled to be here. It’s an experience I’ll remember my entire life.”

Go Eventing.

Christa Dillon is a 35-year-old young horse producer based in Ireland. Whilst she currently competes predominantly in show jumping, eventing remains her true passion. With her husband Niall and young son Charlie, she farms a suckler cattle herd and runs a haulage business. She write for two websites, organises fundraisers and also runs training clinics with international event riders. Life is busy but it’s great.

[Christa’s Round 2 Submission]

[Christa’s Round 1 Submission]