William Funnell: The golden moment *H&H VIP*

  • I don’t think a single one of us wasn’t in tears watching Nick Skelton on that podium. It’s one of the greatest things to ever happen in showjumping, and we’ve waited long enough. Great Britain’s last individual medal went to Ann Moore and Psalm, who won silver in 1972 — and we’d never won gold. So what Nick achieved in Rio is phenomenal.
    But as big a job as Nick did during the Olympics, bringing that horse back from two serious injuries, and more or less two years off is a gold medal in training. And you can’t stress enough how much credit should go to his whole team in achieving that feat.

    Nick is probably one of the best riders we will ever see, but a lack of match fitness meant he and Big Star were slightly rusty on day one and the two of them benefited from every round. Outside in the warm-up on day one, Nick said to me, “I’m not sure if Big Star’s kidding me because he’s really quiet.” But when they went into the ring Big Star was unbelievably fresh.
    By the individual final, any rustiness had gone and we saw the Big Star of old. Everyone involved with horses knows you need a touch of luck, but actually I don’t think Nick needed any. For showjumping, for Nick, for everyone, that gold medal means so much.

    Produced for glory

    Like Big Star, Peder Fredricson’s silver medal-winning ride All In was discovered as a youngster and both Nick and the Swede have produced the horses themselves to become the best in the world. But this is why
    we also need investment from people like Gary and Beverley Widdowson, who own both Big Star and Michael Whitaker’s Cassionato, and we’re very lucky that they’re such enthusiasts. Owners get so little out of an Olympic Games, but Gary’s ridden himself and he breathes the sport, and above all, he supports his country.

    Camera never lies

    The team result was not what we’d hoped for. Without Nick and Michael’s faults at the water jump on the first team round, Great Britain could have finished on four penalties and progressed to round two, even vying for medals. In hindsight, both riders say they would have ridden the water differently.

    I watched the replay and was adamant Nick wasn’t in the water but, to be fair to the FEI, they provided three different camera angles during the appeal. Watching the replay in slow motion wasn’t conclusive, but in reverse it became clear that the horse did in fact touch the tape. So all credit to them for having these facilities in place — at the time we felt cheated, but in fact we weren’t and everyone was happy with that.

    On top of the world

    This week’s column could so nearly have been me bemoaning the state of the sport and asking why we have no younger riders — after all, we sent Ben Maher and three old men, two of whom are granddads, to compete at the Olympics. But Nick and Big Star saved the day.

    To get three medals across the equestrian disciplines meant the 2016 Olympics really was a great event. Big Star and Valegro: they were both big stars. To feel part of GB’s record-breaking medal haul makes us all feel on top of the world.

    Ref Horse & Hound; 25 August 2016