Alice Collins’ Rio blog: ‘I cried. Then I got a ‘Skelfie’ with the Olympic champion’

  • Today Nick Skelton won Olympic gold, becoming Team GB’s oldest Olympic medallist since 1912. It was absolutely epic.

    He’s nearly 60 and the pair of them have come back from a whole raft of potentially career-ending injuries (read all about that in the magazine report in next week’s issue).

    Nick is nearly 60 and whenever my own mother tries to use age and infirmity as an excuse for not doing things she doesn’t fancy, I remind her of Nick.

    And now he’s the Olympic champion.

    The story is unbelievable. I was emotional when Charlotte Dujardin won, but because I had more belief that she would — dressage is the most form-driven of the three equestrian Olympic disciplines — I managed to hold it together a bit better.

    For the showjumping final, I was sitting in the press stands meticulously noting down who had faulted where and what the rounds looked like, while my colleague Pippa was in the nearby mix zone — where the riders are all interviewed after their rounds — getting quotes.

    Big Star jumped 39 gigantic fences in the Olympic stadium today and didn’t touch a single one.

    Over the three rounds, the British press got more and more twitchy.

    Big Star gives so much to Nick and looked feisty and full of running.

    Sitting in the press tribunes by myself I began to shake with nerves. This partnership came so agonizingly close to gold in London and I really, really wanted them to win a medal in Rio. When I realised Nick had definitely won a medal, I let out an involuntary squawk of excitement. My heart was beating so frantically I thought I was going to have a heart attack. It was trying to climb out of my throat. Reckon I’d lost about half a stone trembling, sweating and pushing blood round my body at supersonic speed by this point.

    I was shaking so much at this point that my notes about the rounds before Big Star’s are illegible.

    Pulling like a train

    Was it too much to hope that he could win a medal? In the six-strong jump-off, Nick was first to go.

    He rode the tightest of lines, Big Star still pulling like the big-hearted brown train that he is, then exploding off the ground. Nick dared him and trusted him all at once.
    Continued below…

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    One by one, the challengers fell by the wayside. The last rider to jump, Eric Lamaze, was the only one who could deny Nick this blockbusting gold. Eric’s quick, and his horse hadn’t touched a pole all week. But when a rail landed — thud — on the wet arena surface, I leapt out of my seat manically shaking and crying, sprinted to the nearby mix zone and celebrated with Pippa. I’m sorry to the foreign journalists I scattered in my excitement.

    Nick had done it. I was grateful to be able to hide behind my sunglasses as my eyes leaked.

    This gold means so much to so many — not least of all Nick, who shed a manly little tear on the podium.

    Some partnerships are more than the sum of their parts and I am so grateful and lucky to have witnessed two such British combinations — Nick and Big Star, Charlotte and Valegro — winning individual medals at the Rio Olympics.

    Now I need to sit down, let my heart get back to normal, and try to decipher those notes.

    Thank you Nick.

    Full 20-page report from the Olympic showjumping in Rio in the issue of H&H published Thursday, 25 August, including full analysis of every round of the competition and expert comment from Geoff Billington and William Funnell.

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