10 Unforgettable Olympians: Diagonal

We take a look at 10 of New Zealand's most memorable Olympic horses

Daniel and Diagonal: our best ever show jumping performance at an Olympics (Image: Kit Houghton)
Daniel and Diagonal: our best-ever show jumping performance at an Olympics (Image: Kit Houghton)

Rider: Daniel Meech

Athens, 2004

Daniel Meech came closer than any other New Zealander to Olympic show jumping glory at the Athens Games, finishing 12th overall on the European stallion Diagonal. The 17-hand, 10-year-old, dark bay Westphalian was injured and out of action until six weeks before the Games, and his first qualifying round, which was jumped in horrendous heat, left him in the unpromising position of 63rd. He’d had three rails down and one time fault.

(Image: Kit Houghton)
Daniel and Diagonal jumped faultlessly in the first of the final rounds (Image: Kit Houghton)

However, qualifying scores were not carried through to the final, which consisted of two rounds over courses of increased difficulty. Only two riders were clear in the first round: Jessica Chesney-Kürten of Ireland and Nick Skelton from the UK. Daniel and Diagonal jumped faultlessly but finished a barely discernible 0.22 of a second over time for one fault, which put them in third position. At this stage, an astonishing 28 combinations were within eight penalties of the three leaders.

(Image: Kit Houghton)
At one stage, the pair were in bronze-medal position (Image: Kit Houghton)

Diagonal was a horse who responded well to pressure, but his recent injury had prevented him reaching peak condition, and the exhausting heat took its toll. He and Dan couldn’t reproduce their great form for the second round and dropped the middle rail of a difficult combination, as well as the front rail of the last fence, falling back down the field, but finishing higher than any show jumping New Zealander of the past. The competition was won by Rodrigo Pessoa of Brazil on the brilliant Baloubet de Rouet.

Dan and Diagonal were also part of New Zealand’s show jumping team at Athens, with Guy Thomas (NZ Madison), Grant Cashmore (Franklins Flyte) and Bruce Goodin (Braveheart); they finished in 11th place.

Athens 2004 Olympic Games -Markopoulo Equestrian Centre © Kit Houghton +44 1278671362 kit@enterprise.net
(Image: Kit Houghton)