Olympians riding into the future
Germany’s three-day eventing team made it look easy here last Tuesday when they won the first gold medal of the Olympic equestrian events convincingly from runners-up Australia. Germany finished on 166.10 penalty points, ahead of Australia’s 171.20, and Britain’s 185.70. Germany's Hinrich Romeike, on his gelding Marius, clinched the gold for his team as the last of 57 riders to take on the 13 fences. Later he also won the individual competition.
Over the years, equestrianism has produced more than its fair share of heroic achievements, none more so than Denmark’s Lis Hartel. Hartel became one of the first four women to take part in Olympic dressage, but in 1944, when she was 23 and expecting her first child, she was paralysed by polio.
Gradually she reactivated most of her muscles, remaining paralysed below the knees, and after three years of rehabilitation took part in the Scandinavian championships. In 1952 she was chosen to represent Denmark in the Helsinki Olympic Games, and responded by earning the silver medal. When gold medallist Henri Saint Cyr helped her up on to the podium it was one of the most emotional moments in Olympic history. Four years later in Stockholm, Hartel won another silver medal.
Equestrianism has attracted nobility and the well-connected in equal measure. In 1976, the Queen of England’s daughter, Princess Anne, was a member of the British team; while the aunt of 1952 gold medallist Hans von Blixen-Finecke Jr went by the name of Isak Dinesen and wrote Out of Africa and Babette’s Feast, both of which became successful films. New Zealander Mark Todd, a dairy farmer who sold much of his herd to finance his Olympic ambitions, also became a writer – he wrote a 112-page biography of his horse Charisma, with which he twice won the Olympic three-day event.
Most gold medals
The most decorated rider of all was Germany’s Reiner Klimke, who won six gold and two bronze medals in dressage events between 1964 and 1976, while the horse with the most gold medals was Halla which, together with Hans Günter Winkler of Germany, won team jumping golds in 1956 and 1960 as well as the individual prize in 1956.
First lady of the Olympic Games?
There are of course a number of discontinued Olympic equestrian events, such as the high jump, the long jump and, in 1920 in Antwerp, figure riding, which included jumping on and off a horse, standing on a horse and jumping over a horse. In the Hack and Hunter Combined (Chevaux de Selle) in Paris in 1900, one of the participants was Elvira Guerra of France who, according to some records, was the first woman ever to compete at the Olympic Games.