The king of 21st-century eventing
Michael Jung is the leading eventing athlete of his generation. Riding his faithful mount La Biosthetique Sam, he successfully defended his Olympic individual eventing title at Rio 2016, where he also pocketed team silver with Germany, having helped them win gold in London four years earlier. Jung is also a three-time world champion and the winner of six European titles.
A family of champions
Jung was destined to make his name in equestrianism: both his father and grandfather were well-known riders. Under his father’s watchful eye, Jung climbed into the saddle for the first time when he was six, and went on to win the Young Rider European Championship in 2003.
Partnered by his faithful companion Sam – a German-bred bay gelding born in 2000 – Jung became the first German rider to win the FEI World Cup Eventing final, in Strzegom (POL) in 2009, the first time the competition had been held in eastern Europe. He went on that year to win the Luhmühlen CCI4* on home turf and an individual eventing bronze at the European Championships in Fontainebleau.
A world and European champion
Jung and Sam then took individual gold at the 2010 World Equestrian Games in Lexington (USA). Third at the CIC3* event that doubled up as a selection trial for London 2012 the following year, the pair then combined to lead a German clean sweep of the individual medals at the European Championships in Luhmühlen (GER), where the home nation also took the team title.
Jung would cement his reputation as the world’s leading eventer at London 2012, where he celebrated his 30th birthday in style by becoming the first rider to hold the individual Olympic, world and European titles at the same time, and where he also partnered Dirk Schrade, Ingrid Klimke and Sandra Auffarth to team gold. His thrilling win in the individual competition was undoubtedly one of the high points of the Games in London.
Lying fourth after the dressage and cross-country, the German produced a spectacular comeback in the jumping in London, going clear in both rounds to heap the pressure on competition leader Sweden’s Sara Algotsson Ostholt, who had to jump clear in her second round to claim the gold.
On dismounting to watch Ostholt, Jung had resigned himself to silver. Heading to the final fence, the Swede seemed to have the gold in her grasp only for her horse, Wega, to knock down the very last fence. The four faults gave Ostholt a total score of 43.30 points, with Jung taking the gold on 40.60 and third place going to Germany’s Sandra Auffarth.
An elated Jung said: “You always dream that when everything goes perfectly you can win gold, but I never dreamed I’d have two. Now I’m going to have dinner with my family, and then party.”
Grand slam glory
Known for his cutting-edge training methods, Jung has developed a finely honed jumping technique that ensures he and his mount approach each fence correctly, while limiting the risk of a refusal. He also refuses to make young horses jump before they can trot, giving them every opportunity to harness the power of their hind legs and make the most of their stride. “You have to control yourself and make the horse not feel any pressure,” he explains. “And then you just do your thing.”
Buoyed by his two Olympic titles, Jung completed a team and individual double at the 2013 Europeans in Malmö (SWE), a feat he repeated at Blair Castle (GBR) two years later. In between he added a team gold and individual silver at the 2014 World Equestrian Games in Normandy. The German then completed an outstanding four-star Grand Slam by winning at Burghley in 2015 and the Badminton Horse Trials in May 2016.
A second individual Olympic title
Jung and Sam made their return to the Olympic stage at Rio 2016, helping their team climb from fourth to second (behind France and ahead of Australia) with a clear first in the jumping. After going clear for a second time over the fences, he retained his individual crown ahead of France’s Astier Nicolas and Australia’s Chris Burton. In doing so he became only the third rider to complete an Olympic double in the event, after Charles Pahud de Mortanges of the Netherlands (Amsterdam 1928 and Los Angeles 1932) and New Zealand’s Sir Mark Todd (Los Angeles 1984 and Seoul 1988).“To do this twice with the same horse is very special,” said Jung afterwards. “It’s unbelievable. It’s an amazing feeling when you come in and your horse jumps so powerfully. In London it felt the same. Sam is just amazing. A brilliant horse.”