Former Olympic eventing champion and international course-designer Blyth Tait on the Tokyo cross-country course, and how winning gold feels...
THE vibe from those on the ground at the Tokyo Games was that Derek di Grazia’s cross-country course was a good Olympic eventing challenge. It was an intense start and finish, the terrain was a little up and down and the track was twisty, so the time was going to add pressure to the performances.
On the whole, I thought competitors rode extremely well. As always at an event like this, the less experienced nations didn’t cope as well, but the course produced good pictures, which is positive for the sport, and horses didn’t look under pressure.
Frangible devices were never intended to affect the results of a competition as they did here; they are purely there to improve safety. Their use and penalties may need to be reviewed.
If horses were genuinely saved from a fall by a frangible, that’s as it should be, but if they activate too easily, that’s a concern because cross-country is about getting from A to B over natural timber and fences. We want to keep that aspect of it – the showjumps fall easily enough!
The combinations were generally on four or more strides and I wonder if that was deliberate with the two tiers of competition. The very good pairs would be more able to cope with a specific striding pattern being demanded.
The Brits were impressive, without a doubt – they looked really solid and weren’t having lucky moments. I’m proud of the New Zealand team, and all the nations in the top five after cross-country did a commendable job – you needed three clear to be in the hunt.
Three-man teams add a different dimension and probably made people less willing to take risks, such as at the Bumps and Stumps at fence 18abcd. The reward had to be worth the risk and it wasn’t there, with the long route not being time-consuming. But Derek did a good job at not looping horses back round in the slower routes, which would be tiring for them.
I had not expected the scores to be so close after cross-country. The Brits had a decent margin, but behind them New Zealand in fourth was fewer than two fences from team silver. One fence covered the top five individually. It made for an exciting final day.
Our sport is different to many because it takes four days to unfold. You don’t have the elation of winning the 100m sprint, but afterwards, it’s immensely satisfying to know you have brought a horse to his peak at the right time, with preparation and performance gelling.
Winning Olympic gold does open doors for you – it gets you exposed to a wider audience. I had won world gold by the time I took the Olympic title so I had experienced the joys of an individual title, but commercially, it let me expand, continue to be based in the UK and make a career in eventing.
At the Olympics, it’s special to be part of a bigger team. New Zealand is a small nation and you get familiar with the other athletes and feel you have the support of the whole country – we’re going crazy for trampolining in New Zealand at this Games!
It’s certainly very satisfying and rewarding to win and afterwards, you appreciate the magnitude of your achievement.
- This exclusive column can also be read in Horse & Hound magazine, on sale Thursday 5 August
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