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Roycroft defies doctors to see out three-day eventing win

10 Sep 1960
Rome 1960, Australia, Equestrian

Olympic athletes have to be tough. They often have to deal with physical and emotional pain, and cope with injuries and disappointment, as they push themselves to the limit. Bill Roycroft is right at the top of that list.

Roycroft was a typically tough Australian. He had been born on a farm and has done a series of outdoors jobs – farm labourer, sheep shearer and even being paid to break wild horses. He served in the Australian army and, after the end of the Second World War, started working full-time with horses, later entering equestrian competitions.
He had plenty of success and came near to winning a place on the 1956 Olympic team.

Undeterred by that near-miss, he continued to compete and was selected for the team for Rome, making his Olympic debut at the age of 45 as part of the three-day-eventing team.

But then he hit problems. He fell in the cross-country and suffered a range of injuries – concussion, a broken collarbone and extensive bruising. He was admitted to hospital and told to rest.

However, then came a curious twist of fate. His Australian team-mates had carved out a huge lead, but, with just the show jumping left, Brian Crago's horse went lame and was not fit to be ridden. With three riders required to finish each event, the country’s hopes appeared to have been dashed.

Instead, ignoring the protestations of his doctors, Roycroft left hospital, intent on helping Australia to victory. Assisted by his team-mates, he clambered on to his horse and started to ride, even though he could only use one arm.

It wouldn't have mattered if he had knocked down every obstacle, such was his team's lead, but instead Roycroft produced a remarkable clear round. The gold was secure,
Despite his age, Roycroft was only at the start of his Olympic career. He went on to compete at the next four Games, until he was 61, adding another two medals, both bronze. His sons Barry, Wayne and James all competed alongside him at the Games.

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