By Joseph Romanos
The bare facts of Sir Mark Todd’s Olympic record are startling enough – Rio de Janeiro will be his eighth Olympics and he has won five medals, two of them gold.
But Todd’s Olympic CV is actually far more impressive even than that. Rio will be the ninth games for which he has been chosen. And he really won another medal, a silver in 1992, but the harsh rules of the time meant he missed out.
Here’s how Todd’s Olympic experience plays out:
1980, Moscow: Todd, 24, was chosen for his first Olympics. He’d competed at the 1978 world championships, and established his reputation by winning the prestigious Badminton event on Southern Comfort in 1980. Sadly, he never got to Moscow - the New Zealand team largely boycotted the 1980 games, at the behest of Prime Minister Robert Muldoon.
1984, Los Angeles: Todd made up for lost time when he rode Charisma to a gold medal in the individual section of the three-day event. A clear showjumping round was just enough to earn Todd the gold ahead of American Karen Stives.
1988, Seoul: A busy Olympics for Todd. He successfully defended his three-day event title, again aboard Charisma, and was a key member of the New Zealand lineup that won the bronze medal in the team section. In addition, Todd rode Bago in the showjumping event, finishing 26th.
1992, Barcelona: This was a most unfortunate Olympics for Todd. He started well on Welton Greylag, but his horse strained a ligament in the endurance section and subsequently had to withdraw. The New Zealand team won the silver medal in Barcelona, but because of the rule at the time, Todd was excluded from the medal recipients because he did not complete the event. In the same circumstances, he would now be a medallist. Todd rode Double Take to 37th in the show jumping event at Barcelona.
1996, Atlanta: More misfortune for Todd, whose horse, Kayem, pulled up injured on the eve of the competition. He was unable to take his place in the New Zealand team.
2000, Sydney: Todd made what was thought to be his Olympic swansong by riding Eyespy II to a bronze medal in the three-day event. He was one of only four New Zealand medallists in Sydney.
2004, Athens: Having retired from international competition, Todd was a New Zealand equestrian team coach at Athens.
2008, Beijing: Todd returned to international competition after eight years and more than held his own, riding Gandalf in the three-day event. The New Zealand team finished fifth and Todd was 17th in the individual event.
2012, London: Still going strong at 56, Todd, riding NZB Campino, helped New Zealand to edge Sweden for the bronze in the team event and was 12th in the individual section.
2016, Rio de Janeiro: Remarkably, advancing age does not seem to have dulled Todd’s ability or competitive instincts and he is preparing for yet another Olympics. When the New Zealand team was named, Todd was bracketed with two horses, NZB Campino or Leonidas II.
Todd’s overall record in three-day eventing is mind-boggling. He has won Badminton four times and Burghley five times and twice been a member of world champion New Zealand eventing teams.
He was named Rider of the Century by the International Equestrian Federation. One of his great rivals, Briton Karen Dixon, once said: “He could make a donkey jump 10 feet.”
Along similar lines, fellow New Zealander Andrew Nicholson said: “Mark can ride anything – he could go cross-country on a dairy cow!”
But despite all his triumphs around the world, Todd’s career is defined in the eyes of many New Zealanders by his Olympic deeds. His five Olympic medals places him alongside kayakers Ian Ferguson and Paul MacDonald at the top of the New Zealand list. He is also one of only nine New Zealanders (with double scullers Caroline and Georgina Evers-Swindell regarded as one team) to have won at least two gold medals.
At Rio, Todd, who was knighted in 2013, would have become New Zealand’s oldest Olympian, but for the selection of 62-year-old dressage specialist Julie Brougham. At 60, Todd is just a kid compared to the oldest ever Olympian, Oscar Swahn of Sweden, who was 72 years, 281 days old when he competed at the 1920 Olympics in shooting. But in the modern era, it is most unusual to find a 60-year-old Olympian.
In 2012 Todd equalled the Olympic record of 28 years for the longest gap between winning first and last medals. Obviously if he was to win a medal in Rio, that record would be his alone.
Todd has also been responsible for two famous New Zealand commentating quotes:
In 1984 television commentator Brian O’Flaherty shouted, “Hi ho, silver!” when Todd went clear in the showjumping section of the three-day event. His clear round guaranteed him the silver medal, which became gold when the final competitor, American Karen Stives, knocked down a rail.
And in 1988 O’Flaherty was at it again, with “That’s two for Todd and Todd for two”, after Todd wrapped up his second successive three-day eventing gold medal.
Todd really has been New Zealand’s ultimate Olympian.
As fellow competitor Vaughn Jefferis once said: “We all owe a huge debt to Mark Todd. He was the first, and he paved the way for the rest of us.”Rio 2016 Olympic Summer Games Vaughn Jefferis Andrew Nicholson Mark Todd Equestrian - Dressage Equestrian - Eventing Equestrian - Jumping