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Date
29 Jul 1952
Tags
Helsinki 1952

Dressage silver for inspirational trailblazer Hartel

Helsinki 1952 were the first Games at which dressage truly opened up to the world. Previously, it had been the preserve of military officers, but was now opened up to non-commissioned officers and even to civilians. Most notably of all was the presence of four women among the entrants, immediately transforming dressage from one of the most exclusive disciplines to one of the more inclusive.


Among the women taking part was Lis Hartel of Denmark, whose brilliance on a horse was made even more remarkable by the fact that she was paralysed below the knees after contracting polio some eight years earlier, when she was 23.

Hartel's response to polio had been to do everything she could to regain her health and her place in the sport she adored. She worked relentlessly to regain the use of arms and her legs above the knee. In the midst of her rehabilitation, she gave birth to a baby daughter, but her determination to get back in the saddle and return to competing remained undimmed. After three years of effort, she made her competitive comeback in the 1947 Scandinavian dressage championships. Despite having to be helped on and off her horse, she still finished an extraordinary second.

Her form and results continued to improve and she was selected for the 1952 Games, travelling to Helsinki with her favourite horse, Jubilee. Again, she had to be lifted on and off her mount, but her skill and determination shone through. Hartel finished second, just behind Henri Saint Cyr of Sweden, to secure a truly remarkable silver medal. In a moment that seemed to symbolise the Olympic spirit, it was Saint Cyr who immediately helped to lift her from the horse and onto the podium.

Four years later, in Stockholm (which was used for the equestrian events as Australian quarantine regulations meant that they could not take place in Melbourne), Hartel won another silver, once more finishing behind Saint Cyr. After retiring from competition she remained a hugely popular and inspirational figure, both in the equestrian world and beyond it.

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