Geoff Billington: Skelton planned, prepared and delivered *H&H VIP*

  • On the day of the individual final I was at David Simpson and Louise Pavitt’s wedding. Luckily they postponed the speeches so we could watch Nick Skelton win gold. There was plenty of celebrating afterwards, as I’m sure you can imagine.

    Nick has spent four years preparing especially for the Olympics. According to the rider, the last time he tried to win was the Aachen grand prix in 2013 — everything else has been preparation for Rio.
    I spoke to Nick afterwards and he was on cloud nine. His performance was purely Nick doing what I’ve watched him do for the past 40 years — plan, prepare and deliver.

    It was no fluke him winning gold — he’s a man who plans to perfection and his round was calculated to a tee. I remember him winning the junior European Championships in 1975 and he was the same — you could call it precision engineering.
    Jack Whitaker won the pony European Championships in the same week, which shows we do have a promising next generation coming though the ranks.

    There is no mention of Nick hanging up his boots as far as I’ve heard and with a horse like Big Star in top condition, it would be a crime to stop now. On Friday, Big Star proved he’s best in the world, but also showed that he has the best man in the driver’s seat.

    Big heat

    The heat appeared to get to some horses but Big Star can cope with most conditions. He has plenty of blood and the heat didn’t bother him.

    The Brits had an unlucky time in the team rounds and Nick made his only mistake of the year in the initial round on Sunday (14 August) — adding an extra stride to the last fence — which resulted in one down. But it looked to sharpen Big Star up perfectly for the team and individual rounds.

    I’ve always felt that the showjumping format should see riders carry their faults forward, which would result in the most consistent combination winning — however I am obviously pleased this wasn’t the case in Rio, otherwise Nick wouldn’t have picked up gold.

    At London 2012, wiping the slate clean worked against Nick; however, it worked in his favour in Rio. In the jump-off, Nick really put the pressure on — it forced speed demons Kent Farrington and Eric Lamaze to make costly mistakes.

    Got the ticket

    It was disappointing to see low ticket sales and empty grandstands for the eventing and dressage, but great to see how popular the showjumping was. The Qatari riders put in good performances — although you would expect it, as they are under the management umbrella of Jan Tops — he’s as good at planning as Nick Skelton.

    It will also be sad if Jeroen Dubbeldam loses the ride on the brilliant Zenith, who is being sold at auction in September. Jeroen has done a fantastic job with that horse. With any horse and rider picked for an Olympic Games it is because of the partnership they have together, and that is certainly the case with Jeroen and Zenith.

    Ref Horse & Hound; 25 August 2016