58, metal hip, chronic back pain & a gold medal

What a great win for the veteran British rider, Nick Skelton on his well named horse, Big Star

Nick Skelton, Individual Gold Medal winner, Rio Olympics, 2016. (Image: Libby Law)
Nick Skelton, Individual Gold Medal winner, Rio Olympics, 2016. (Image: Libby Law)

Nick Skelton has taken the prize that he’s wanted for a long, long time, despite having chronic back pain (he broke his neck in 2000), a metal hip and being 58 years old! The show jumping individual gold medal went to him and his wonderful stallion Big Star today after they set the standard in the jump-off with a fast clear (42.82 seconds). It will join the team gold the pair won at London, which he admitted is still “in my sock drawer” but now he has two, he will get them framed together!

Nick was first of the six double-clear riders to go in the jump-off and said that he completely trusted his horse. “He’s the best horse I have ever had.”  His tactics were to go as fast as he could, but still be safe. “He’s a quick horse anyway. I had to go clear to add the pressure and just had to hope that luck was on my side.” The others then had to catch him and while they gave it their best shot, they really didn’t come that close.

GBR-Nick Skelton rides Big Star in the Individual 3rd Qualifier for Equestrian Jumping. Rio 2016 Olympic Games, Centro Olímpico de Hipismo, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Wednesday 17 August. Copyright photo: Libby Law Photographyh
Nick says Big Star is the best horse he’s ever had (Image: Libby Law)

The silver medal went to Peder Fredricson from Sweden on the well-performing All In. He was the only other clear round in the jump-off, but his time was 43.35 seconds.  “I saw Nick and tried to ride faster, but I couldn’t.”

Eric Lamaze was the last to go in the arena with Fine Lady, and the only other competitor that Nick said he watched. “I stayed on my horse and I didn’t want to look too much but I had to look at Eric as I knew he would be fast.” But Eric took the top rail off the second-to-last fence, though was quicker on 42.09 seconds, and as the fastest of the four-faulters, took the bronze medal.

Steve Guerdat could not continue the trend of the equestrian gold medallists from London winning again in Rio, as he took out the first fence, but was the second fastest four-faulter to finish just off the podium. Team USA’s great hope Kent Farrington also had the first fence down, plus another, to finish fifth, and Qatari Sheikh Ali Al Thani also had two rails, for sixth place.

All the medal-winning riders acknowledged what a great competition it had been and commiserated with the three in the minor placings.

Nick says that Big Star’s win was even more special as the Dutch-bred stallion, who is by Quick Star, had been out with injury for some time. “It has taken us two years to get him back on track. He has worked hard, we have very slowly worked to bring him back, we nursed and nursed him. He is the only horse I ride now, and when he stops, I’ll stop.”

Mark Beever and Big Star at the medal ceremony. Mark must have got a bit of sand in his eye. (Image: Jane Thompson)
Mark Beever and Big Star at the medal ceremony. Mark must have got a bit of sand in his eye. (Image: Jane Thompson)

Nick also paid tribute to his groom, Mark Beever who has worked for him for over 30 years. “He is the only horse he looks after and he is with him nine hours a day, constantly.” Mark himself was quite emotional when Nick’s medal was being presented.

The medal obviously meant a lot to the veteran rider. “Really for me, it has capped my career. I’m so happy, it’s amazing. It’s emotional. I’ve had a long career, so to do it now, I’m so happy. I have always wanted to do this. I nearly had it in London.”

Nick becomes the oldest gold medal winner for Great Britain. His groom, Mark, brought a step ladder into the medal ceremony and Nick used this to get on his horse once he had the gold around his neck. “I suffer from chronic back pain so to be legged up is painful. My metal hip doesn’t help either.”

There were 13 clears in the first round, which surprised many of the riders. The second round was big but not as technically difficult as many thought it would be. But six riders making it through to the jump-off meant an exciting competition for the big crowd that was there, and the many more who tuned in from all over the world.