In five editions of the Games, Anky van Grunsven has won nine individual Olympic equestrian medals, more than anyone else in history. She is also the only rider to have won an individual Olympic gold at three Games in a row.
The great Bonfire Anky van Grunsven began riding ponies when she was six, before trying her hand at showjumping, and going on to win her first dressage title at the age of 12. In the mid-1980s she bought a bay gelding called Bonfire, and together they would win the World Cup, World Equestrian Games and European Championships several times over. They also competed together at three Olympic Games. Bonfire now spends his days in peaceful retirement at the stables that van Grunsven owns with her husband - dressage coach Sjef Janssen - in Erp, Holland, where there is also a bronze statue of the horse. To this day, he remains the rider’s favourite mount. Indeed, when he was retired in 2000, van Grunsven admitted she had never dreamed that she would ever ride such a fine horse.
A special rivalryIn the 1990s and 2000s van Grunsven enjoyed a gripping rivalry with Germany’s Isabel Werth and her mount Gigolo; and they always saved their most intense duels for the Games. At Barcelona 1992 the Dutch rider finished one place behind her German rival in fourth, and four years later in Atlanta, Werth beat van Grunsven again, this time to take gold. At Sydney 2000, it was a case of third time lucky for the Dutchwoman, as she and Bonfire got the better of Werth and Gigolo to take the Olympic dressage title. In the meantime, however, the German helped her country to three consecutive team dressage titles, with van Grunsven and her compatriots taking silver on each occasion.
A new partnerAfter putting Bonfire into retirement following their Olympic title, van Grunsven teamed up with another champion horse, a beautiful black gelding by the name of Salinero, a hard worker with no little talent. She went on to reach new heights on her new mount, setting a new Grand Prix points record of 87,925 in 2007. Numerous victories followed at national, European and world level, and the pair also won two Olympic golds together. The first came at the Markopoulo Equestrian Centre at Athens 2004, and then at the Hong Kong Sports Institute, venue for the equestrian events at Beijing 2008, van Grunsven beat her old rival Werth into second.
On cloud nine Van Grunsven is the only rider in history to have won three individual Olympic titles in a row. And when she claimed team bronze along with Edward Gal and Adelinde Cornelissen at London 2012, she took her overall medal tally at the Games to a record nine. With Salinero having followed Bonfire into retirement, the Dutch rider is now pondering her future. “If you’ve ridden two great Olympic horses as I have, then you really are very fortunate,” she said. “I don’t expect to find a third.”