‘A mix of sadness and relief’: eventing legend Mark Todd retires (again)

Sir Mark Todd says he is feeling a “mix of sadness and relief”, after his announcement yesterday (28 July) that he was retiring from eventing, aged 63.

The seven-time Olympian said he had planned to keep it quiet but having been persuaded by Jonelle and Tim Price, his winning team-mates for the Irish leg of the Nations Cup series at Camphire International Horse Trials, he made the announcement on the podium.

It was finishing on a high for Mark, who notched up six Olympic medals, including back-to-back individual golds on Charisma in 1984 and 1988, and four World medals, not to mention five Burghley Horse Trials wins and four Badminton Horse Trials titles during his two stints in the sport.

“It’s slightly surreal,” Mark told H&H today (29 July). “It hasn’t really hit me yet.

“Obviously, I couldn’t keep going for ever, and it was just when would be the right time. Would it be next year, and try to go for another Olympics? That was ruled out, and I decided I was going to finish at the end of this year.

“But this year, once I’d started taking up training [racehorses], my focus shifted; having something new and exciting to focus on changed things.”

Mark said that once he had decided to stop, he “couldn’t wait”.

“At every competition, I was thinking ‘oh my god, is this going to be the one too many?’” he said.

“About two weeks ago, I decided Camphire would be the stopping point. I had three really good rides – except I had a senior moment on one and missed out a cross-country fence – and I wasn’t going to announce it, I was going to disappear quietly.

“But I told my team-mates before the showjumping that this would be my last one and they said: ‘You’ve got to do something’. So I did.”

Mark said to be competitive, a rider has to be “110% focused”, and he felt he was not putting that 110% in, and that he had not been riding as well as he had in the past.

He added that even his owners had not known about the decision until this weekend, and that now all the horses at his yard have to be sold while he concentrates on training.

“I don’t think you can really understand unless you’ve been a competitor, but the camaraderie among riders, as we’re all doing the same dangerous job, is something very special,” he said. “All the people involved – I’ve had amazing owners, fantastic sponsors, great people working for me; the eventing world is one big family.

“It’s been amazing, being part of it and I’ll certainly miss that, and the excitement of cross-country, the adrenaline rush, the high after a good round.

“But I won’t miss that sick feeling in the stomach on cross-country morning at Badminton, Burghley or championships!”

Mark said he will still be riding and teaching – “I love riding, I’m not going to stop that, but I’m over going to competitions” – as well as trying to emulate on home soil the success he has enjoyed training racehorses in New Zealand, although he says the plan is to stay in Britain for the “foreseeable future”.

Looking back on his two careers – having retired after the 2000 Olympics, he made a comeback for the 2008 Games – Mark said he could not pick one performance in particular as a highlight.

“Every big win was a thrill and excitement, it’s hard to pick one,” he said. “The two Olympics on Charisma, but any big four-star win, although to come back after an eight-year break and win Badminton [on NZB Land Vision in 2011] was pretty amazing.

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“But apart from the personal successes, just being involved in the sport, and the people, is what’s kept me there.”

And is there any chance this retirement will end like his previous one?

Mark laughed.

“Last time, it took me seven and a half years to decide to come back, and even then it was only for a dare!” he said. “It’s not going to happen this time.”

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