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Hailing from Sevelen in Germany, Isabell Werth enjoyed a brilliant academic career and took up a position with a law firm in 2001. From her early years, however, her real passion was horse riding, and dressage in particular.
At the age of 17, she was taken under the wing of the well-known owner and trainer Dr Uwe Schulten-Baumer, the start of the most successful collaboration in the history of dressage and one that came into its own when Werth was paired up with a chestnut gelding by the name of Gigolo.
Taking dressage to new levels with a dazzling combination of precision, artistry, talent and stamina, Werth and Gigolo collected four Olympic golds between 1992 and 2000. Victorious in the team event at Barcelona 1992, they won the individual and team competitions at Atlanta 1996 and the team at Sydney 2000, with individual silvers also coming their way at Barcelona and Atlanta.
In the meantime, the duo also won four world titles (in the individual and team events in 1994 and 1998), and five European crowns, achievements that made them the most successful pairing in the entire history of their sport.
After working briefly as a lawyer and then heading up a German firm‘s marketing department at the turn of the millennium, Werth decided to turn professional and devote herself entirely to equestrianism. Ending her long association with Dr Schulten-Bauer, she opened her own stables in her Rheinberg, near her home village, and was soon enjoying more international success with a new generation of horses.
A double world champion in 2006, Werth returned to the Olympic arena at Beijing 2008 to win another team gold and an individual silver. By that stage of her glittering career, she had won eight Olympic medals (five of them gold), six world titles and seven European crowns.
Injury to her mount Don Johnson caused Werth to miss London 2012. Bitterly disappointed to be missing out on the Games, she nevertheless wished team-mates Helen Langehanenberg, Dorothee Schneider and Kristina Spree the very best of luck in the British capital, where they would win team silver behind Great Britain.
Despite developing and launching her own successful range of equestrian accessories, Werth said she has no desire to stop competing. “My goal is to carry on for as long as possible, for at least another 10 years,” she said recently. “Whatever happens, I’m sure that horses will always play a big part in my life.”
Proving she remains as driven as ever, Werth has continued to enjoy success on the international circuit over the last four years, the highlight being team gold at the 2014 FEI World Equestrian Games in Normandy.
She is now looking to create history at Rio 2016, where she will ride either Weihegold OLD, the 11-year-old black Oldenburg mare she partnered to victory at the Wiesbaden CDI 5* on May 16, or Emilio 107, the 10-year-old chestnut gelding she rode to first place at the Munich CDI 5* Grand Prix Special a week earlier.
A podium finish at the National Equestrian Centre in Deodoro would put the German level with the Netherlands’ Anky Van Grunsven as the most successful rider in the 116-year history of Olympic equestrianism with nine medals, a distinction Werth will hold outright should she win two medals in Rio.
Though there is no shortage of competition for places in the Germany team, Werth, who will be 47 when she walks out for the Opening Ceremony in Rio, shows no signs of slowing up and is intent on adding to her Olympic medal collection.