Monday 5 December 2016

58-year-old who recovered from a broken neck and a hip replacement becomes GB's oldest gold medalist in a century

Andrew Baldock

Published 20/08/2016 | 11:48

Great Britain's Nick Skelton has dismissed any immediate prospect of retirement after crowning a stellar showjumping career by winning Olympic individual gold at the age of 58.

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Skelton's dazzling display in Deodoro on the brilliant 13-year-old bay stallion Big Star proved a spectacular triumph over adversity.

Not only has Skelton battled back from serious injury - a broken neck 16 years ago, persistent chronic back pain and undergoing a hip replacement - but Big Star has also returned to showjumping's biggest stage following injuries that beset him since Skelton's Olympic team gold at London 2012.

Warwickshire-based Skelton collected Britain's first individual showjumping gold medal in Olympic history - it was also a first British individual medal of any colour since Ann Moore took silver at Munich 44 years ago - and came following a thrilling jump-off.

Additionally, he became the oldest Olympic champion in any equestrian sport, eclipsing German Klaus Balkenhol, who won dressage team gold in Atlanta 20 years ago, aged 56.

Skelton, who had jumped two clear rounds earlier in the day to be among six combinations that raced against the clock, posted a time of 42.82 seconds, and no-one else could touch him, including London 2012 individual champion Steve Guerdat and highly-fancied American Kent Farrington, who both had the first fence down.

Skelton, competing in his seventh Olympics, won by more than half a second from silver medallist Peder Fredricson, of Sweden, and Canada's 2008 Olympic gold medallist Eric Lamaze.

"I am not going to stop now," said Skelton, who has won 16 major championship medals, including two Olympic golds.

"I only ride Big Star at the moment. When he stops, I will stop. For definite.

"I have been in the sport a long time. I am so happy - it was amazing.

"I was just emotional on the podium because I am so happy with what I've done. To do it now is unbelievable. It is pretty emotional for all concerned."

Hailing Big Star, Skelton added: "The last competition he won was the Aachen Grand Prix in 2013 - it has been two years to get him back.

"It has taken a lot of work, but I always knew if we could get him right, then he could do this.

"He is an absolutely amazing horse. He has all the right attributes and he is the best horse I am ever likely to have.

"We have been very slowly bringing him back. I have nursed him and nursed him, and he has come good for me - this is for him.

"I've always wanted to do this - I nearly did it in London. I've had European medals and world medals, but to win this is emotional.

"My groom has been with me for 31 years, but if you see how many hours he spends with my horse, you would be amazed. He only looks after that one horse, and he's with him nine hours a day constantly."

Skelton's success means that Great Britain's equestrian team finished their Rio campaign with two gold medals - Skelton and dressage star Charlotte Dujardin - plus a silver for the dressage team.

And it was only Britain's sixth individual Olympic showjumping medal after silvers for Moore and Marion Coakes, plus two David Broome bronze medals and a bronze for Peter Robeson.

Skelton added: "That (jump-off) has been the biggest nerves of the Games for me. I didn't want to look too much, but I had to look at Eric, because I knew he would be quick.

"I was first to go in the jump-off, and I thought in my mind to go as fast as I could, but be safe.

"He's a quick horse anyway, and I had to be clear, because it adds a bit of pressure on everyone else. I needed luck on my side, and it was today."

Britain's Ben Maher also progressed to the final day of action in Deodoro, finishing 25th on Tic Tac.

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