A decade ago today (6 August) showjumping fans up and down the country erupted in delight as Great Britain’s quartet of Nick Skelton, Scott Brash, Peter Charles and Ben Maher won a glorious team gold medal in front of their home crowd at the London 2012 Olympics.
Tabloid headlines took great delight in highlighting the combined age of the team (two of whom were in their 50s), running with headlines about Britain’s “Golden oldies”.
“I’ve waited a long time for this,” said Nick, then 54 and riding at his sixth Olympics.
But it was a phenomenal team performance and possibly one of the biggest surprises of the Games because it had been a whopping 60 years since Great Britain had last won a showjumping gold medal at the Olympics – when Harry Llewellyn (Foxhunter), Douglas Stewart (Aherlow) and Wilfred White (Nizefela) took the crown in Helsinki in 1952.
We remember that momentous day in London like it were yesterday, but how many of these epic moments do you recall from the day British showjumpers won Olympic GOLD?
1. ‘The best day of our lives’
A real team effort from the riders, not to mention the grooms, owners, trainers, supporters and a hard-working crew behind the scenes, resulted in the highest accolade of the sport, an Olympic gold medal.
“This is the best day of my life – the best day of all our lives,” said an ecstatic Scott Brash.
“How fortunate we are to have a quartet of riders that came together at just the right time and did us all proud,” said Graham Fletcher at the time.
2. THAT electrifying jump-off
2008 was the first time the Olympic showjumping team gold medal was decided by a jump-off and Greenwich made it two on the trot. The British squad had to do it the hard way, going into battle with the Dutch, and all four riders from both nations had to jump once more against the clock over a shortened course.
Nick went first and delivered a flat-out clear, then Jur Vrieling matched his clear for the Netherlands. Ben Maher nailed a classy economical clear before Dutchman Maikel van der Vleuten dropped two poles. British hopes soared, but then Scott just rubbed the second fence for four faults. However, when Marc Houtzager hit one fence, the cogs began whirring as last British rider Peter Charles and Vindicat entered the ring, having yet to jump clear throughout the competition. But Peter dipped into every pot his great experience and rode the round of his life, leaving every fence standing and glorious gold was won.
3. The moment Peter Charles sealed gold
After Peter and Vindicat crossed the line to put that spectacular clear on the scorecard, a storm broke over the crowd and they lost all control, cheering, whistling, stamping and hugging with tears running down many a cheek. The champagne bar was the most popular spot in Greenwich within minutes of the team gold being won.
4. Nick Skelton’s premature leap on the podium
So excited was Nick about finally winning gold at his sixth Olympics, that he leapt on the podium too early – much to his team-mates’ amusement.
5. A packed podium
Great Britain won gold ahead of the Netherlands and Saudi Arabia. Dutch team member Jur Vrieling reflected: “We were going for gold from the beginning. But of course, we are very happy to win silver.” Meanwhile the Saudi riders were delighted with their first Olympic team medal.
6. The tears, the emotion
Nick Skelton’s emotion after he won gold was plain for all to see – he’d set out his plan to win gold and so determined and focused had he been, that he’d galvanised those around him into believing that gold was their destiny. He received 345 text messages of congratulations in the immediate aftermath and even gave BBC presenter Clare Balding a huge on-camera hug after winning gold.
7. The fences and that stunning backdrop
Bob Ellis’s London and maritime-themed courses were masterful and having the City skyline as the backdrop proved spectacular, and a constant reminder of how lucky we were to have the greatest sporting event on home soil. On walking Bob’s track for the first time, Saudi rider Ramzy al Duhami quipped: “I wish I had shown my horse more postcards of London!”
8. The support of the crowd
For anyone lucky enough to bag a ticket to Greenwich that day through the official London 2012 ballot, the atmosphere was electric as we rode every rollercoaster of emotions through the afternoon – and well into the night as the celebrations rolled on. But the riders credited the passionate, hyper-excited crowd for lifting them to glory.
“Without this crowd, we could never have done it,” said Nick Skelton. “People said that riding in an Olympics at home would add pressure, but it was totally the opposite.”
In the crowd was showjumping legend John Whitaker, who recalls: “I was just enjoying myself, thinking I’d managed to stay anonymous, when they announced on the loudspeaker that it was my birthday and everyone turned round to look at me. It wasn’t so quiet after that!”
9. Look out, ladies
One of our favourite moments was when Scott Brash, in response to Clare Balding asking him how winning team gold would change his life, said: “To be honest, I’m hoping it will help me pull more women.”
10. The heroic horses
Scott said of Sanctos: “He’s a joy to have in your stable, so easy to work with.”
“He’s amazing. He hasn’t got a negative. He’s the most perfect horse,” said Nick Skelton of the stallion, owned by Gary and Beverley Widdowson, who went on to take him to individual gold at the Rio Olympics four years later.
11. All the headlines
The British showjumpers made headline news around the world, unsurprisingly many of which featured the “Golden oldies” line but it was great to see equestrian sport receiving extensive coverage, including on both the BBC and ITV main news at 10pm. John Whitaker reflected: “What an unbelievable result for the British showjumpers – it’s been a long time coming!”
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