Great Britain’s Nick Skelton claimed Individual Gold riding Big Star after a six-way jump-off was required to decide the medals in yesterday’s Olympic Final in Rio.
“I’ve been in this sport a long time and to win this at my age makes me so happy,” said Skelton, who was first to jump in the decider.
The fifty-eight year-old is the first British rider to win this event, and to do so he had to fight off competition from three previous winners. Two of them, Canadian Eric Lamaze and Swiss rider Steve Guerdat also made the jump-off, while the other, Jeroen Dubbledam of the Netherlands cruelly missed the decider by picking up a time fault after finishing 0.02 of a second outside the time in the second round.
The British rider said that his strategy when being first into the arena for the jump-off was to go clear but as fast as safety would allow. “He’s a quick horse anyway,” he said. “I wanted to put pressure on everyone else and I had luck on my side.”
Steve Guerdat was second-in with Nino des Buissonnets, bidding to become the first horse and rider combination to win the event twice. The London 2012 winners came unstuck at the first fence when toppling a pole for a four fault total. Sheik Ali Al Thani of Qatar then had eight faults with First Devision, as did American Kent Farrington with Voyeur, before Sweden’s Peder Fredricson guaranteed himself a medal by going clear with All In half a second behind Skelton’s lead time of 42.82.
Last to go was Eric Lamaze on Fine Lady, who would have known that a cautious clear would have given him Bronze. It was evident though that he was going for Gold and looked to be on target until bringing a pole down after a sharp turn to the second last. It was the first fence the combination had knocked all week in six rounds of Olympic show jumping. It did net Lamaze the Bronze medal as his time was faster than Guerdat’s – indeed faster than Skelton’s as well.
It was a fairytale for Skelton and Big Star who have both battled back from injury. Skelton broke his neck in a fall in 2000 and continues to suffer chronic back pain. Big Star, on whom he won Team Gold at London 2012, had been sidelined for two years in the intervening period. “A lot of people put a lot of time into bringing him back,” Skelton said. “He’s always been amazing. He wants to do it all and he has all the right attributes. He’s the best horse I’ve ever had and the best I’m ever likely to have. I’m so pleased for him.” Mike Dunne