It’s a couple of weeks since Ben Maher’s incredible gold medal-winning performance at the Tokyo Olympics, but it will take a lot longer for those magical memories to fade, especially for the likes of Ben and his groom, Cormac Kenny.
It was a truly special evening for all those involved, and everyone watching from home, as Ben and Explosion W emerged triumphant from a high-class, nail-biting jump-off to claim gold for Britain.
We caught up with Cormac Kenny, to find out how the day played out for him as groom, from preparing Explosion during the morning to the high-stakes atmosphere of the individual Olympic showjumping final in the evening.
Cormac explains that he did his best to ensure that Explosion’s build-up to the big evening was as normal and uneventful as possible.
“He got up early, had his breakfast, then we went for a hand-walk and some grass for an hour, until it got too hot,” says Cormac, who has worked with Ben since he was 16.
“He wore his magnetic blanket, and had a massage from the team physio, Rachel [Greetham]. He had his shoes checked, to make sure he was good to go that night. Then it was another hand-walk before lunch – not a very long one because it was really hot – and then Ben arrived to ride and we started getting him ready for the ring.”
Cormac says that it was business as usual for he and Ben as they prepared for the evening’s final.
“At this point we’ve done it that many times that we know our jobs. We do talk [during the lead-up], but I know my position and he does the riding and we just get on with it,” he says.
His mindset might have been matter-of-fact in the build-up, but as the night’s events unfolded, Cormac had to pinch himself, just like the rest of us.
“I honestly couldn’t believe it. That jump-off was one of the craziest jump-offs I’ve ever seen,” he says. “I’ve seen the horse go fast, but that was like a Ferrari in F1 – it was incredible.”
Ben produced the fastest clear round of the jump-off so far with two combinations left to jump – he had guaranteed himself a medal, but tensions were high as the colour that medal would be was left in the hands of Sweden’s Henrik von Eckermann (King Edward) and the Netherlands’ Maikel van der Vleuten (Beauville Z). So, what was Cormac doing as they waited for the outcome?
“I just picked up my stuff and walked away, I didn’t even look at the screen,” he laughs. “Ben was jogging Explosion off and cooling him down. You just wait – you don’t even look at the board, you just wait for the scream. I can normally tell by the scream if we’re beaten, or if [the rider in the ring] did good, but only enough for second or third.”
As the gold medal was confirmed – with Maikel finishing with bronze and Sweden’s Peder Fredricson in silver – all eyes were on Ben as he rubbed Explosion’s face in touching gratitude, and then gave Cormac a huge hug, a moment Cormac admits was pretty emotional.
“When he won it felt like a massive weight was lifted off my shoulders – when I realised it was done and the goal we had set was complete,” he says.
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