Olympic surprises: when events don’t go to plan

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No matter how meticulous the preparations, floods, technical glitches and form upsets have all become part of Olympic folklore and for some riders this has meant a last minute call-up.

Mary King, Athens 2004

By Athens 2004, the Olympic team competition involved five riders rather than four, but Mary King – veteran of three previous Games – was still only reserve behind Sarah Cutteridge (now Cohen).

Sarah had gone well with The Wexford Lady at Badminton, where Mary and King Solomon III had been given a “bye”.

“I spent an anxious summer, trying to be philosophical; it wasn’t the be-all and end-all. But of course it niggled,” recalls Mary.

At the 2003 Athens test event, riders had marvelled at the no-expense-spared Markopoulo horse park.

So there was a rude shock when King Solomon was deposited in scruffy, rat-infested reserve stables near the airport, with Mary in the Team GBR officials’ house, detached from her rider chums.

“I lived in limbo for about a week, though each day I worked ‘Solly’ and I started to relax. I was now there for the beer and might as well enjoy it.”

Then two days before the start, The Wexford Lady went lame.

“My emotions were mixed. I wasn’t at all psyched up for competing and not even sure I really wanted to ride. The other part of me, though, felt so lucky,” she says.

Almost the worst part was swapping stables.

Being reserve is an unenviable position, as you can’t help but hope you’ll get a run, but you know if it comes it will be at someone else’s expense.”

In the end Solly went clear inside the time, posting the third-best British score and so playing a direct part in team silver – Mary’s first Olympic medal in an unexpected conclusion to her “Greek holiday”.

To read the full feature about Olympic surprises see the current issue of H&H (12 July 2012)

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