Mark Todd, born in Cambridge in 1956, is among the most celebrated New Zealand sportsmen, with two Olympic gold medals and three bronzes, and every other major three-day title available to him. His Olympic career is fabulous. He was first chosen for the Olympics in 1980, but the Americans boycotted those Moscow Olympics, and New Zealand followed suite, so Todd never got to compete. Nevertheless, he went on to compete in the 1984, 88, 92, 96, 2000, 08 and 12 Olympics. By the time he was competing in London in 2012, he was 56 and the second oldest New Zealander to have competed at an Olympics, not that it showed with his superb performance that year. Todd was a pioneer of three-day eventing in New Zealand. Those who followed him included Olympic medallists and world champions like Tinks Pottinger, Blyth Tait, Vaughn Jefferis, Vicky Latta, Sally Clark, Andrew Nicholson, Jock Paget and Caroline Powell. 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.” Growing up in the Waikato area, Todd had an incredible passion for horses. In 1978 he was part of New Zealand’s first three-day eventing team to a world championship, at Lexington, Kentucky. On a brutal course Todd was doing well – 10th after the dressage and second in the steeplechase – until his horse, Tophunter broke down during the cross-country stage. That championship opened Todd’s eyes to international three-day eventing. He juggled his finances, sometimes having to sell his horses, and had a crack at Badminton in 1980. Badminton is the Wimbledon of eventing and Todd was a virtual unknown when he arrived, his mate Nicholson as his groom. Riding Southern Comfort III, Todd was 45th after the dressage, but was one of only three inside the time limit on the cross-country. Going into the final day he was third. When Lucinda Prior-Palmer and Helen Butler came unstuck during the show jumping, Todd was Badminton champion, the first foreigner to win the crown in years. It was his first major victory in a glittering international career that was to stretch over four decades. The highest peaks, certainly in the New Zealand public’s estimation, were his two Olympic gold medals on Charisma, in 1984 and 1988. But there was much more to Todd’s career than just the Olympics. He had four victories at Badminton – 1980 (Southern Comfort III), 1994 (Horton Point), 1996 (Bertie Blunt) and 2011 (NZB Land Vision). When he rode in 2011 he was the oldest rider ever to have contested Badminton. That he won in such style only confirmed his quality. At Burghley, the other major event of the annual eventing calendar, he won in 1987 (Wilton Fair), 1990 (Face the Music), 1991 (Welton Greylag), 1997 (Broadcast) and 1999 (Diamond Hall Red), the year he was also third on Word for Word. As late as 2013 he was eighth on Oloa. Todd performed consistently well in other major European events and has been a stalwart member of New Zealand teams at world championships. His first world championship was at Lexington, Kentucky, in 1978. In 1986 at Gawler, Australia, he was 10th in the individual section on Charisma and helped New Zealand to fourth in the team competition. In 1990 at Stockholm he was fifth in the individual on Bahlua and helped the New Zealand team, also comprising Andrew Scott, Andrew Nicholson and Blyth Tait, to first place. In 1994 at The Hague, The Netherlands, Todd rode Just An Ace as the New Zealand team finished sixth. In 1998 the New Zealanders – Todd, Tait, Jefferis and Sally Clark - won in Rome, Italy, and Todd was second in the individual section on Broadcast News. Todd did not appear again at a world championship until 2010, when he rode Grass Valley and helped the New Zealand team to a bronze medal. Over the years he gained a reputation for being able to hop on to an unfamiliar horse and turn in a champion performance. Briton Karen Dixon, a strong rival, said: “He could make a donkey jump 10 feet.” Todd was named Rider of the Century by the International Equestrian Federation. As one of his great rivals, Lucinda Green, once famously said: “Todd could win Badminton on a skateboard.” His Olympic victory at Los Angeles in 1984 was probably the most dramatic of his career. Entering the show jumping he was lying second behind American Karen Stives. Charisma, not always the safest of jumpers, went clear and then Todd waited while Stives entered the show jumping arena. Puffing away on a cigarette, Todd twitched nervously until Stives hit the second-last fence and Todd was the Olympic champion. Todd and 16-year-old Charisma, or Podge, as Todd called him, defended the title magnificently at Seoul in 1988, outclassing the field in searchingly hot conditions. When the gold was Todd’s, Television commentator Brian O’Flaherty injected famously: “That’s two for Todd and Todd for two.” Besides winning the gold medal at Seoul, Todd was part of the bronze medal-winning New Zealand three-day eventing team, and competed in the show jumping, finishing 26th on Bago. He had forgettable moments at the Olympics, too, besides the 1980 boycott. In 1992, the year he was the New Zealand team flag-bearer, his horse, Welton Greylag, broke down during the competition. He rode Double Take to 37th in the show jumping that year. At Atlanta four years later Kayem was ruled out on medical grounds. Todd was looking to close his career – or so he thought at the time - on a high at the 2000 Sydney Olympics and brought some cheer to a tough Olympics for New Zealand when he rode Eyespy II to a bronze medal in the three-day eventing. Shortly after the Sydney Olympics, Todd returned to New Zealand, to breed horses and concentrate on other business ventures, including the manufacture/retail of harness and other tack. However, he remained closely involved with three-day eventing and was one of the New Zealand Olympic team coaches at Athens in 2004. His return to the competitive side of his sport before the 2008 Beijing Olympics went surprisingly smoothly, considering he had been out of top competition for so long. At the Olympics, he finished 17th on Gandalf, and helped New Zealand to a fifth placing in the team event. Todd and Nicholson, good friends for more than three decades, became New Zealand’s most experienced Olympians at London in 2012. They were both outstanding, and led the New Zealand three-day eventing team to a bronze medal at Greenwich Park. Todd rode Campino and performed well. Entering the final round of the showjumping, he was seventh in the individual standings, but Campino was tiring and Todd had to shepherd him around the course. Todd finished 12th in the individual competition. In the team event, New Zealand – Todd, Nicholson, Jock Paget, Caroline Powell and Jonelle Richards – grabbed the bronze behind Germany and Britain. It was tight though and Todd needed to get the very best out of Campino to hold off Sweden. Todd received a wonderful reception from the knowledgeable crowd at Greenwich Park, acknowledgement of a sublime career in the sport. Todd’s medal was his fifth at the Olympics, which equals Ian Ferguson’s New Zealand record.  Mark won the Halberg Supreme Sportsman  Award in 1988 and was a member of the Halberg Team of the Year in 1998. He was inducted into the New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame in 1993. He was awarded an MBE in the New Year's List in 1995 followed by a CBE on Queen's Birthday 1995. In the New Year Honours 2013 Todd was knighted as Knight Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to equestrian sport.

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Be the Inspiration: Sir Mark Todd

07 February 2016

When it comes to strength in the stirrups, double Olympic champion Mark Todd is a natural.