‘He grew wings for me’: how Ben Maher and Explosion W won Tokyo Olympic gold

  • Ben Maher said he was “not going to leave anything on the table” as he jumped-off for individual Olympic showjumping gold at the Tokyo Games.

    The British rider and the phenomenal 11-year-old gelding Explosion W (Chacco-Blue x Baloubet De Rouet) jumped a spectacular clear in a time of 37.85sec, which could not be matched, to secure individual Olympic gold.

    “I’ve had many good horses in my career, but I won’t ride another one like him,” said Ben, who is in with a further medal chance in Tokyo as part of the British team later this week.

    “That’s kind of a big statement – I think he’s just such an intelligent horse, a fun horse to be around. He’s just a real athlete. He’s not a normal horse.

    “All the nerves that I have coming from the hotel today and the things going on in my mind, actually when I get to the gate and I go in, it kind of all goes away. I jump fence one and something clicks – he just fills me with confidence. I just really enjoying riding him and hopefully it lasts a long time.”

    Ben, who was part of the British gold medal-winning team at London 2012, added the result “doesn’t seem real”.

    “I think it will all sink in tonight or tomorrow morning when I wake up,” he said, adding there has been a lot of pressure in recent weeks.

    “I’m biased, but I believe I am on the best horse. He’s an incredible horse and I’m very fortunate to be able to ride him for Pamela Wright and Charlotte Rossetter. They kept him for me for this, and with that comes pressure. People expect. And little comments here or there that normally I don’t pick up on were kind of sitting in the back of my mind all the time.

    “It’s finally happened, so I’m just very happy and relieved that it’s done and I’ll just try and enjoy every moment of it now.”

    Ben added he has “so many people” to thank.

    “I’m not from a showjumping family background so I watched many of the riders when I was just a small child at home on TV at Olympia and Hickstead, and tried to learn always from them,” he said.

    “I have so many people I owe this to. In the end, obviously Explosion is, the main one, but I have vets and farriers that have been with me for 10 to 15 years, my team back home, Explosion’s groom Cormac Kenny, he came to me from Ireland when he was 16 and he has grown up with me and he’s here to be a huge part of this moment.

    “[I must also thank] my family, my fiancée – I’m getting married in two weeks time. I don’t know what was more pressure this or getting married in two weeks! There’s so many people that have contributed to make this possible and hopefully we’ll get home and have a good celebration.”

    How Ben’s Tokyo Olympic gold medal-winning jump-off round played out

    Ben explained there was an “element of luck” on the pair’s side today.

    “By being fastest qualifier yesterday, I thought if I could jump a clear round [in the final] that I would be last in the jump-off and it threw me off a little bit when I wasn’t as that’s what our team believed was the case,” he said, explaining that he wanted to be in a position going in knowing exactly what he had to do.

    “But Peter Charles [London 2012 teammate and father of Ben’s Tokyo teammate, Harry Charles] and Scott Brash were watching for me and when they said, ‘you just have to go and do what you’ve done on him in the past’. As I was going through the gate, I didn’t want to be that person who was fourth.”

    He added the early stages were “probably fast, but for him it felt a little cautious”.

    “So I really pressed across the middle and I saw a distance from a long way back,” he said.

    “But just as I got a few strides away – I’ll have to see the replay – but [it felt like] he questioned what I was asking him to do, and I felt him just take a breath. He doesn’t do that very often and for a moment there it could have gone very wrong. But he grew wings for me and hurdled that jump.

    “I got a great turn back and just kept going to the last. I guess there’s an element of luck always involved in these things, but he is an incredibly fast horse.”

    He added: “I was not going to leave anything on the table today and fortunately everything went my way.”

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