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Switzerland’s Martin Fuchs speaks with composure beyond his years as he prepares to make his Olympic debut at Rio 2016. But while he may only be 23, he has been in the saddle since the age of seven and has a showjumping pedigree going back generations.
He made a strong impression on the equestrian world when he became the youngest rider in the 2010/11 World Cup aged 18. Among his competitors on the day was Austria’s Hugo Simon, who is 50 years his senior. And after taking part in the 2010 Youth Olympic Games in Singapore where the team ranked first, Martin is bringing his successful combination of experience and youth to Rio.
“I hope it helps that I’ve already been at Singapore,” he says. “It was a very nice experience for me. I spent almost 17 days there and it was a special atmosphere. One of the challenges at Singapore was staying focused with one horse, explains Martin, who ranked ninth individually with Midnight Mist and is now relishing the experience of a full Olympics”.
“You were there with one horse, not even your own horse,” he says. “It was a very intensive time with just this one horse. It’s going to be different this year, we will bring our own horses. Normally, we go to the show with two, three, four, five horses and there you just had to focus on one start, three days all over these 17 days. It’s difficult to stay focused just for this very special moment.”
The challenge of staying focused was something Martin’s father Thomas had shared with him, having competed in Barcelona 1992. Mr Fuchs senior is now the Swiss team coach while Martin’s mother, Renata, was also a champion elite rider in the 1990s. Martin’s uncle, Markus, was the equestrian team’s chef d’equipe at London 2012.
“I come from a show jumping family,” Martin says. “My parents, uncle, grandfather, godfather were all showjumpers. We had our own stable and I spent a lot of time in the stable already as a kid so I started riding aged seven, first with a pony, then a bigger pony, and then horses and since then horses.”
On his way to Singapore, Martin was crowned European children’s showjumping vice champion in Istanbul in 2006 aged 14 before winning bronze at the European junior championships two years later. And with a YOG gold medal under his belt, Martin says he is carefully preparing for Rio 2016 like any other championship, and has been buoyed by recent results.
But for all the methodical planning, it isn’t only Martin who needs to keep a cool head.
“You have to make a good plan for your horse, to make sure the horse is in great shape at this most important week or two,” he says. “It’s easier said than done but I think I’m on a good path. My horse Clooney was good the whole year but last week, he performed his best over the year so we are getting there. He’s a very good, talented horse. It’s not always easy to keep his head calm. He sometimes gets impressed by special things but he always gets better every day.”
Rio 2016 will be Clooney’s second big event after the Swiss team won bronze at the European Championship in Aachen last year to qualify for the Olympics. The 10-year-old gelding will fly to Rio the day before Martin in early August, giving them a week to acclimatise before their class.
“He likes to be in one place for many days so this is what makes me confident for the Olympics because we will spend a lot of time there and he will have time to get used to the venue and this makes him usually always better,” Martin adds.
“I’m really excited to go there. For sure a bit nervous but if we had talked last week, I would have been very nervous! Now after the good show and feeling so well with Clooney, I am much calmer and I’m really excited. For sure we aim for a medal, it would be nice to get a team medal and qualify myself for the individual final.”
But for the showjumping prodigy, Rio 2016 will be another important learning experience as his career goes from strength to strength.
“For sure, I’ll be impressed by the other athletes,” he says. “And some very special athletes will be there so I hope I’ll be able to watch others and other sports.”