The naming of the New Zealand Olympic Equestrian team was exciting last night, especially being able to watch it live on our computers! While, disappointingly, there was not a drum roll accompanying the announcement, it was great to see the team all lined up. We’d all been speculating, some even entered a sweepstake, some lost and some won.
For the riders, it wasn’t about a sweepstake, it was about achieving dreams that had started years ago. I had the opportunity to interview some of the riders afterwards via the phone. One comment that stuck in my head was from Sir Mark himself. He recalled when he had made it to the Olympic team back in 1980, and was set to compete at Moscow. When the Games were boycotted, he said he thought that was the end of his dreams. “I have had my chance to get to the Olympics Games and it has been taken away,” he recalls thinking. “Little did I know back then that 36 years later and I’m still so excited about going to the Olympics.”
The successful riders have without a doubt put in a huge amount of hard work over many years to get to this point, as did the ones who didn’t quite make the team. Their supporters, coaches, grooms, family, friends and probably bank managers have also had to do their share of toil, as no rider can do this without considerable support from many people.
While researching the facts and figures behind the riders and the horses in preparation for the announcement, I was intrigued to discover that our dressage representative, Julie Brougham, is 62 years old! I had to double check that, and we double checked it with her last night. Go Julie! First Olympics at 62! How’s that for an achievement?
But in reading the various media reports, including the one from NZ Olympic Committee themselves, they all talk about Sir Mark Todd being the oldest in our team (out of all sports). I’m sure that Toddy will be more than happy to be able to pass over the honour and the title to Julie who is in fact 21 months older than him. Julie shares her birthday, incidentally, with a previous Olympian: Vaughn Jefferis (yes, my brain is cluttered by some unusual knowledge).
Julie looks great, and isn’t our sport fantastic that we are not only one of the few Olympic sports where women compete directly against men, but that you can make your Olympic debut at 62! We are happy to keep Julie’s little secret, and won’t be suggesting the other media outlets change their stories to reflect the actual facts. They can find out themselves if they care to check. Toddy’s story is a great one, and he’s in with a strong chance of being the oldest medal winner, fingers crossed!
I am excited about the team’s prospects, and hope that the stars and moons are all lined up so the horses and riders not only get to hear the judge’s bell inviting them to start their dressage test, but that they all make it safely through those final finish flags, or in Julie’s case, back into the arena for the Grand Prix Special and the Freestyle.
But with that excitement is a big tinge of disappointment for those three riders who were so close but not in the final team.
John Thompson has worked hard to get his qualifications and has set the New Zealand dressage scene on fire with his ready smile and great laugh. We look forward to seeing him smile again soon.
Tim gets to go as the travelling reserve, with the selectors preferring him to take Ringwood Sky Boy. Luck hasn’t been on Tim’s side this year, starting with Wesko (a medal prospect) injuring himself. Jonelle has also done the travelling reserve gig, to Athens in 2004. I travelled to see her there, going out to where the reserve horses were kept once competition started. Believe me, it wasn’t a palatial complex, quite the opposite, and was many miles from the competition. But that made her want the Olympic adventure even more. There are not that many riders’ families going out to Rio, so having Tim there with the team will be invaluable for the others, especially Jonelle. He will play a very important role, even if he doesn’t get to ride.
And the other one who got so close is Blyth Tait. Second reserve, not travelling but on standby just in case there is a rash of injured horses or riders. Blyth has worked incredibly hard to get back to the top after coming out of retirement. With the change of rules he had to requalify from the very bottom again, his previous world-class achievements counted for nought. He and Paul have since developed a very impressive team of horses. I’m sure that Blyth will be pushing on and will force his way into the team for the World Championships in two years. And in true Blyth fashion, he is right behind the team.
Disappointed not to get the nod for Rio but proud to have got amongst it. Best of luck to the team. Right behind you, right to the podium
— Blyth Tait (@BlythTait) June 27, 2016
Yep, all in all, I think we have a team, young and old, including the reserves, that we can be very proud of and really get behind. Go the Kiwis!