Michael Jung sealed his reputation as the world’s best eventer at London 2012 by becoming the first equestrian to hold the Olympic World and European titles simultaneously.
The German horseman clinched double gold in both the Team and Individual events at Greenwich Park, electrifying fans at the tranquil south-east London park.
His dramatic win in the Individual competition on his 30th birthday was one of the most thrilling moments of the Games, demonstrating to the lay viewers how equestrian sport can deliver its own unique brand of sporting excitement.
Jung had jumped an immaculate clear round in the final phase, piling pressure on Swedish rival Sara Algotsson Ostholt. She looked to be in control and on course for victory – in fact Jung admitted he had jumped off his horse to watch her go round, and had resigned himself to taking silver.
But at the very last fence of the competition Ostholt’s horse, Wega, dislodged a pole. The four-point penalty left her on a combined total of 43.30, behind Jung on 40.60, with Germany’s Sandra Auffarth third on 44.80.
He said after receiving his gold medal: ‘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.’
Equestrianism made its Olympic debut in 1900 and has been a feature of every Games since 1912. In eventing – also known as horse trials – rider and horse compete across the three disciplines of dressage (a highly skilled contest, where horse and rider perform a series of predetermined moves, with penalties for a range of faults), cross-country and show jumping.
The event has its roots in military cavalry training but is the only Olympic sport in which men and women compete against each other on equal terms.
Jung comes from a proud equestrian tradition, with both his grandfather and father noted horsemen. Now a trainer himself, he began riding at the age of six and came to prominence in 2003 when he won the Young Rider European Championships.
Riding on La Biosthetique Sam he became in 2009 the first German winner of the HSBC FEI World Cup Eventing Final, held for the first time in Eastern Europe at Strzegom in Poland. That year he also won the four-star in Luhmühlen and individual bronze in the European Championships in Fontainebleau.
A year later he successfully defended his World Cup title – the first time it had run as a points series with no final.
In 2011 Jung came third in the CIC*** test event for London 2012. Later that year he rode Sam to the individual gold medal at the European Championships in Luhmühlen, Germany, and led the national squad to team gold and a clean sweep of the individual medals.
Jung is known for his modern training methods, focusing intensely on precise technique in jumping to ensure the horse approaches each fence correctly, limiting the chances of it refusing. He has said he doesn’t jump youngsters until they can collect their trot – helping to engage the power of the hind legs – and fully extend their stride.
Unlike other Olympic champions with an eye on Rio on 2016, Jung has to consider not just his own physical fitness in four years’ time but that of Sam. Unfortunately for his rivals, both horse and rider will be a relatively youthful 16 and 34 by then.
What’s more, the Olympic champ horse will not be sold, despite speculation to the contrary. Jung said the day after his double success: ‘He will stay with us until the end of his life.’