We still love you, Sir Mark

Sir Mark Todd has had a little time to reflect on Rio, but isn't making any decisions yet about his eventing future

NZL-Sir Mark Todd: during the Second Horse Inspection for the Equestrian Eventing. Rio 2016 Olympic Games, Centro Olímpico de Hipismo, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Tuesday 9 August. Copyright photo: Libby Law Photography
Sir Mark says the Rio experience was a roller-coaster of fortune and emotion (Image: Libby Law)

The Kiwi eventing team was very despondent and disappointed yesterday at Rio when the medals slipped through their fingers. None was more disappointed than Sir Mark Todd, who was going after the record of the most medals of any New Zealander at the Olympics in any sport.

Sir Mark summed the situation up so very well on his Facebook page: “Have woken up this morning and the world is still going round! We may not have a medal to show for all our efforts but as some bright person once said, it’s not about winning or losing, but how you play the game. Well, the whole team certainly played to the best of their ability, and it wasn’t that we weren’t good enough, we just didn’t have that bit of good fortune with us that makes the difference between winning and losing at the highest level of sport. And the great thing was that we were a team, the grooms, the vets, farrier, physio, managers and of course the owners all pulled together to try and make it happen. From the start it was a roller-coaster of fortune and emotion.”

NZL-Sir Mark Todd rides Leonidas II during the Team Jumping Final for the Equestrian Eventing. Rio 2016 Olympic Games, Centro Olímpico de Hipismo, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Tuesday 9 August. Copyright photo: Libby Law Photography
Mark and Leonidas in the team show jumping round (Image: Libby Law)

We know that so many people really wanted to see Sir Mark bring home more gold medals for New Zealand, but it wasn’t to be. The support for the team has been tremendous, however, and the riders certainly acknowledged this throughout. While we may have had to send Sir Mark telegrams when he first started riding at the Olympics, social media has meant that it doesn’t matter where in the world you are, you can get your supportive messages to the riders. They do appreciate them.

Sir Mark also wrote about this on Facebook. “It has been so humbling to see the amount of support we have all had over the past week, I cannot thank you enough, as I know most of you supporters were as disappointed as we were to miss out on that elusive team gold medal. So once again, thank you all so much for your support, and for those of you in NZ, at least you can get a bit of sleep now.”

But let’s back up a bit and hear what our most capped Olympian said at the conclusion of the competition.

Sir Mark was heartbroken that he couldn't deliver on this occasion. (Image: Jane Thompson)
Sir Mark, pictured here leaving the arena after his disastrous round, was heartbroken that he couldn’t deliver on this occasion. (Image: Jane Thompson)

“Sorry” was the first word out of Sir Mark’s mouth after the first jumping round when asked what his message was to his many New Zealand fans. “We put ourselves in medal position, Jonelle jumped a nice round with two down, Clarke jumped a clear round, a great clear it was there. If I had jumped clear we were looking at gold.”

Mark had an inkling that something was up with Leonidas even before he went into the arena. “He was not relaxed and was looking around, he was little bit wild and the further we went the worse he got. He went rigid in his back and stopped jumping.”

Despite Sir Mark’s best endeavours, they took the first rail early in the course. “I thought, don’t panic, stay calm, we’ve still got a medal, but then the next one came down, then next one, and then it was just survival to get home.”

NZL-Sir Mark Todd rides Leonidas II during the Team Jumping Final for the Equestrian Eventing. Rio 2016 Olympic Games, Centro Olímpico de Hipismo, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Tuesday 9 August. Copyright photo: Libby Law Photography
Leonidas was unsettled and far from his usual form (Image: Libby Law)

Leo has had plenty of experience in the big arenas and atmospheres, and Sir Mark was puzzled why he was so off. “He’s never jumped like that before and I don’t know what to say. He is a funny, temperamental sort of horse. He was way too fresh; it felt like he hadn’t done anything yesterday.”

We know how much Sir Mark wanted that team gold. He hadn’t come out here just to try the caipirinhas, he really, really was after team gold. So much that he broke down in tears talking about it to TVNZ.

“I feel really disappointed for the other guys, for the whole team, the girls and guys that look after the horses, the support crew. It was down to me to deliver and it didn’t happen.”

Leo looked a different horse in the second round. He looked like the horse we are used to seeing. It was a lovely clear round and it dragged them into seventh place in the final count up. Sir Mark again fronted up to the media; he really is very popular with all the press, whatever country they are from.

“That was very bittersweet,” he said. “If only he had done that in first round. I can just live to rue what might have been.”

Sir Mark had actually contemplated not starting Leo in the second round, despite being in 11th position at that stage. But the true grit of the man came through. “I decided he had gone so badly he might as well come back in and try and put it right. My team mates said ‘come on, we are going to walk course’, so I thought ‘let’s go.’ As a rider I had let myself down, let the team down and let the owners down and it is not a very nice feeling.  It is good to finish on a much better note.”

Leonidas is owned by Di Brunsden and Peter Cattell and they were on hand to see the whole competition. Di herself has ridden at the top level and is also one of the powerhouses behind the Event Rider Masters series which is turning eventing around, with great prizemoney and fantastic presentation of the sport to the general public. Mark acknowledged that Di did influence his decision to ride in the final round. “Di is much more relieved now. I feel very sorry for them. They put a lot into the sport and a lot into the horse.”

Of course all the New Zealand media wanted to know about Sir Mark’s future. Will this be his last Olympics? Will he be retiring again soon? Every time he stopped at each of the media points (TV, radio, print) he got asked the same question. But each time his answer was the same. “I won’t be making any decisions for a while.”

It’s back to England and back to doing what he is so good at. “I have got horse [NZB Campino] entered for Burghley so I need to decide if I will do that or not. I haven’t always thought Campino is a Burghley horse, so we will have to see when I get home and ride him again.”

Sir Mark talking to media while Michael Jung on Sam (behind him in this photo) make history by joining him as consecutive gold medal winners (Image: Jane Thompson)
Sir Mark talking to media while Michael Jung on Sam (behind him in this photo) makes history by joining him as consecutive gold medal winners (Image: Jane Thompson)

Michael Jung has now equalled Sir Mark’s record of winning consecutive gold medals in eventing on the same horse. The only other rider to do this was Dutchman Charles Pahud de Mortanges with his horse Marcroix, in 1928 and 1932. “Now there are three of us and two are still alive,” said Mark.

Sir Mark is full of praise for Michael’s achievement. “He’s a great champion, you have got to hand it to him. We keep saying he’s beatable and he was, he got beaten in dressage. He just never makes a mistake after that, so he thoroughly deserves it.”