It's gold! Nick Skelton and Big Star are heroes in Rio
Absolute legends! Nick Skelton realised his one true ambition on Big Star with individual gold in Rio! It is the first time a British showjumper has won an Olympic individual gold.
Forget the nails, they were long gone, it was a finger-chewing finale as, after postng double clears, six of the world’s best went into a jump-off for the individual medals in Rio.
An individual gold medal has long been an ambition for Nick Skelton, and at 58 years old sporting hip replacements and a repaired broken neck, this was probably his last chance. The bionic man makes a comeback!
And the horse! Big Star has had several niggling problems that have kept him out of the competition arena. But Nick and patient owners Gary and Beverley Widdowson have nursed Nick's London 2012 team gold medalllist to peak fitness for Rio, and it paid off spectacularly today.
“Today was amazing”, Skelton said. “Big Star has been a bit rusty. The last time he won was in Aachen (GER) in 2013 and it’s taken two years to get him back on track again. A lot of people put a lot of time into bringing him back. 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. On his way back we nursed him and nursed him and today he came good for me.”
Tears pricking his eyes, an emotional Nick climbed the podium to take his well-deserved gold medal. He was close in Athens in 2004, and he so nearly did it four years ago and ended up fifth. 2016 was Nick's year.
“I’ve been in this sport a long, long time and to win this at my age makes me so happy, I always wanted to do it and nearly did it in London”, Skelton said, referring to his fifth-place finish in 2012.
Although 20 riders from 35 usually go through to the second round of the individual, all the four faulters joined the clear rounds, and 27 scheduled to come forward, although The Netherlands’ Harrie Smolders withdrew Emerald and 26 started, including Nick and Big Star with a clear and Ben on Tic Tac with four.
Ben commented after his first round today; “He jumped great again, it was just unfortunate as I think he has improved every day. He just didn’t get quite as much height as I would have liked (on the back rail) maybe he was looking through to the second part. I think I’ve said all week that if I had more time with him then there’s some things that we could definitely improve on and I think we’ll see that horse become very successful.”
Sadly for Ben, he came home on 13 in round two to total 17 and drop out of the running.
It was all down to Nick.
Sometimes, first draw is a disadvantage, but not on this occasion. And although he took care on the turns, Nick set a sizzling standard and the scopey Big Star never looked like touching a fence.
Their time of 42.82 was not only not beaten, neither was his clear. But it was a tense, high octane time as the other riders chased him.
London 2012 individual gold medallist Switzerland’s Steve Guerdat and Nino Des Buissonnets were first off, and it was all over by the first fence as the rail fell. And Qatar’s Sheilk Ali Al Thani on the consistent First Devision fell by the wayside with eight.
And Kent Farrington for the USA followed suit, hitting the first and the last on Voyeur to take an eventual fifth. Britain had definitely got a medal, but two first-class, ‘A’ star riders were to follow.
Sweden’s Peder Fredricson set off with determination and produced a clear on All In, and all Swedish and British eyes were on the clock, but he crossed the line just behind Nick on 43.35 – 0.53 sec in arrears.
Nick knew he had silver – but gold is all he has ever dreamed of, and when last to go, Canada’s Eric Lamaz on the ultra-consistent Fine Lady 5 hit a midway vertical, all his dreams came true.
“My biggest nerves of the Games was waiting for the others to go in the jump-off”, Skelton admitted. “I didn’t look too hard, I walked around and took an odd look but I had to watch Eric and he made me sweat for a minute!”
Peder Fredricson and All In took silver with Eric Lamaze in bronze. And what a touching gesture from the great man Eric, who patted Big Star before he walked to the podium, giving him the acknowledgement the stallion so greatly deserved. It is the aptly-named Big Star's gold, too.
“I’m not going to stop riding now, the only horse I ride is Big Star and when he stops I’ll stop,” said Nick on the Widdowson's amazing stallion.
Steve Guerdat took fourth, Kent Farrington fifth and Sheikh Ali Al Thani was sixth. One time fault in round two dropped Jeroen Dubbledam and Zenith – jumped in Britain in his formative years by Andrew and Emma Saywell and Dan Moseley – to seventh. Ben Maher and Tic Tac stood in 25th spot, just ahead of his London 2012 team gold medallist Tripple X with Canada’s Tiffany Foster. Carlo 273, a former International ride of Nick’s when owned bt the Widdowsons, also finished in the top 20 with Spain’s Sergio Alvarez Moya.
After all the disasters and disappointments these Games threw at the Equestrian Olympic athletes – horses and riders – what a fantastic, exhilarating, adrenalin-inducing finish!!
Photo © BEF/Jon Stroud Media & FEI/Richard Julliart & Shannon Brinkmann courtesy British Showjumping