Sam Watson on his Olympic journey: ‘I bottled selection for London 2012, but Tokyo was different’

  • Irish eventer Sam Watson is aiming for his second Olympics in Paris this summer, but he says by the time he actually rode at his first, in Tokyo, it was no longer his absolute be-all and end-all.

    “My sister and my business partner Diarmuid Byrne – who both know me very well and follow my career – were so relieved when I went up the centre line in Tokyo,” he remembers, in an interview on episode 145 of The Horse & Hound Podcast, released this week. “They were like, ‘Oh, he’s made it to the Olympics’ because that must have been my ninth championship, but it was my first Olympics.”

    Sam continues: “I bottled London – I made a mistake in my last event before London, that looking back on it to me was because I didn’t know what mindset to be in. I was so excited and focused about potentially going to London that I forgot to ride well in the fences in the selection trial. And so I made a mistake and rode quite badly and that’s not the message you need to give your selectors on the last run. So I lost my place.

    “Back then, I would definitely have said, ‘Oh, I have to be an Olympian, I have to make it to an Olympics. You know, that’s what it’s all about.’”

    Older and wiser nine years later, Sam felt differently by the time he was selected for the Tokyo Games in 2021, with the buckskin Tullabeg Flamenco.

    He explains: “I was comfortable enough in my own skin by then that there are no results or ‘achievement’ that’s going to validate me as a person or define who I am as a person, as long as my wife still loves me and my family still love and respect me and same with my kids, and the people around me would think I’m a sound enough fellow and can make a difference.

    “So actually, Tokyo was just all about producing horses through to top level and that’s what I enjoy doing now. I would view myself more as a trainer than an athlete.”

    The Olympics was also interesting for Sam Watson because he works in high performance through the data analytics company he co-founded, EquiRatings.

    “As someone who works in performance and who has an inquiring mind about performance, the Olympics is the pinnacle of performance and you have all the other athletes there as well,” he says. “So I definitely enjoyed it from that point of view and it was a privilege to be part of it as someone who works in performance management.

    “You want to be there as part of your job. You don’t feel you need to be there to validate who you are as a person and that’s the difference – as a younger athlete, I felt like I had to be an Olympian to prove my worth. By the time I was old enough to go to Tokyo, I was just happy to be there and go through that process as a performer.”

    Hear Sam talk about his two potential rides for Paris 2024 and how he juggles working for EquiRatings and being a top-level rider on episode 145 of The Horse & Hound Podcast.

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