Rio: The one and only Clarke

On the eve of the Rio Olympics, we catch up with each of the NZ equestrian team members

Balmoral Sensation ('Ritchie') doesn't always look so innocent! (Image: Libby Law)
Balmoral Sensation (‘Ritchie’) with Clarke Johnstone (Image: Libby Law)

There are a lot of ‘only’s’ about Clarke Johnstone. He is the only member of the equestrian team under 30. He is the only one of the eventing team who hasn’t been to an Olympics before, or won an Olympic medal. He is the only eventer who has done most of his preparation in New Zealand.

Clarke Johnstone is the baby of the team at a mere 29 years old and is very excited about finally being named for the Olympics, after being in the running for London but missing out when his top horses were injured.

“I feel really excited on lots of different levels. It’s been a long four years since the last Olympics and I’m very excited to have finally got here – well, I’m still not there yet, and then of course it’s all about trying to win a medal. But we’ve got to this step.”

Clarke was the only rider to build up towards the selection mainly from New Zealand. He took Balmoral Sensation to England earlier this year to compete at Badminton Horse Trials where he acquitted himself so very well. “After Badminton I knew I had a strong chance (for selection); the horse felt really confident and to finish fifth at Badminton was just what we needed, so I did feel pretty confident.”

For Clarke, the Olympics are the “pinnacle of the sport, and for so many other sports.” He is really looking forward to representing his country at the Games. “I’m feeling really proud and just really excited to be going there, and can’t wait to get going.”

Clarke's proudest moment in his career to date, on the podium at the 2010 World Equestrian Games
Clarke’s proudest moment in his career to date, on the podium at the 2010 World Equestrian Games

Clarke has represented New Zealand at the World Equestrian Games, back in Kentucky in 2010. “I was such a baby, just 23, it was the first time out of the NZ/Australian competition scene, a huge learning curve. The travel was where it came a little unstuck. I have learned a lot about travelling horses in the six years since then, and how to manage them. But it was a great team environment, and we supported each other and learned from each other.”

Clarke finished 39th on Orient Express and was a member of the bronze-medal winning team at the event.

His parents, Rob and Jean, will be on hand to watch their son try to win an Olympic medal. Clarke also knows that there are many Kiwi fans who will be watching from home. “I’m really appreciative of all the support from home, it’s absolutely amazing to have all the messages of support, congratulations, wishes and luck. I’ve got lots of people to do proud – like David and Ann Goodin, and Donna.”

David and Ann bred Balmoral Sensation and Donna Smith produced him to three-star level, which is when the Johnstone family bought the lovely grey.

Clarke Johnstone and Balmoral Sensation

Some Facts about Clarke:

  • Birthplace: Dunedin
  • Born: 26 April 1987
  • Height: 192cm
  • Current FEI Eventing ranking: 32