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Tokyo Olympics: Team GB win eventing team gold for first time in 49 years

·4 min read
Britain's Oliver Townend, riding Ballaghmor Class, celebrates after competing during the equestrian eventing jumping at Equestrian Park in Tokyo (AP)
Britain's Oliver Townend, riding Ballaghmor Class, celebrates after competing during the equestrian eventing jumping at Equestrian Park in Tokyo (AP)

Eight years ago Laura Collett was in a coma after a suffering a horror fall, now she has Olympic gold.

And it was left to the son of a milkman, Oliver Townend, to deliver the medal with just one fence down to complete the team three-day eventing competition.

Along with the third member of that particular triumvirate, Tom McEwen, it gave Britain its first Olympic gold in the event since the Munich Olympics in 1972.

That same year, Richard Meade also doubled up to win the individual title, something the British trio could not repeat as McEwen came away with silver behind Julia Krajewski.

Collett’s story to get to Tokyo is nothing short of remarkable. Competing back in 2013, a horror fall led to her lacerating her liver, breaking two ribs and losing most of the sight in her right eye.

In addition, there was a punctured lung, and fractured shoulder. In a frank interview not long after her recovery, she admitted she would have been dead were it not for the inflatable life vest she was wearing at the time.

Seven weeks later she was back competing, and eight years on she is an Olympic champion as she played a central role on London 52, a horse more affectionately known as Dan.

“I never believed I could be here at an Olympic Games let alone win a gold medal,” she said. “It’s phenomenal to be here. I feel very, very lucky.”

Her own ambitions in the individual event, where she had started the day in contention, were dented when she had a fence down in the team showjumping competition, equating to four costly penalty points.

She did well to recover during the team jumping round, however, her horse seemingly spooking at the water jump and then looking composed for the remainder of the round in hot and humid conditions.

Despite the fence down, with McEwen, the first of the British riders in action, already clear and other rivals having faltered it meant that Townend could afford to have four fences down and still bring home the gold and end 49 years of equine hurt.

In the weakest of his three disciplines, he had one down, which hampered his hopes in the subsequent individual event as Germany’s Krajewski catapulted past him by two points.

They were set to go head to head for individual gold in the subsequent individual jumping final, but Townend again knocked a fence down to drop out of the reckoning as Krajewski became the first woman in Olympic history to win the individual gold in this event.

McEwen had a second straight clear round for the silver while Townend tumbled to fifth and Collett ended ninth with two more clattered fences.

The 38-year-old Townend is among a crop of British riders to dispel the myth about the riches required in the sport amid perceived elitism.

His father Alan would get up at 1.45 every morning to do his local milk round, partly to fund his own horse-riding ambitions. He once rode at the prestigious Burghley Horse Trials and would also buy and sell horses to help balance the books.

Townend has marked himself out as Britain’s top three-day eventer in recent years with a third straight Kentucky Derby Three Day Event win among others.

But his rides on Ballaghmore Class, a horse he first partnered with in 2012, in the dressage, cross-country and showjumping comfortably eclipsed anything he had achieved in his career before.

The perhaps unheralded McEwen, who was riding Toledo de Kerser, is the son of equine vets and is based at the Gatcombe Estate owned by Princess Anne, one of a number of riders to attempt to win team eventing gold for GB but come up short.

That Britain broke that near half-century run is no mean feat but it was the manner in which the team gold was achieved that was so impressive – the margin of victory a huge 13.9 penalties at the completion of the competition.

Australia took the silver medal, with a 62-year-old Andrew Hoy competing in his ninth Olympic Games, taking his Olympic medal collection to five: three golds and two silvers, and a first Olympic medal for 21 years.

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