Picture by 2016 Getty Images

Five things you didn't know about Steve Guerdat

London 2012 jumping gold medallist and current world number one is a sporting hero in Switzerland, but did you know that he was close to representing Ukraine?
By Rory Jiwani

Steve Guerdat became a Swiss sporting hero when he won equestrian jumping gold at London 2012 on Nino de Buissonnets.

The son of two-time Olympian Philippe Guerdat, Steve moved to the Netherlands in 2003 to work for top horse dealer and 1992 Olympic team jumping gold medallist Jan Tops.

A year later, he went to his first Olympic Games in Athens before winning team bronze at Beijing 2008 and then the individual title in London.

He just missed out on the medals in Rio, but is now looking forward to his fifth Games in Tokyo where he will be 39.

A three-time World Cup Final winner, world number one Guerdat became a father in April and showed the demands of parenthood have not affected him greatly with victory in 2021's first CSI5* outdoor event in May aboard Venard de Cerisy at Hubside in Grimaud St-Tropez.

Read on to find out five things you did not know about one of jumping's leading lights.

From 'Jumpman' to jumping

In an interview with FEI.org last year, Guerdat was asked who his heroes were as a child.

Guerdat immediately replied, "Michael Jordan. I’ve always been a sports fanatic, and his story is an inspiration. Normally a superstar is really good over a short period of time, but with him you were never disappointed.

"It was like a lesson of life and sport, about not giving up, and as a kid he was someone I was crazy about."

In the equestrian world, he admits being inspired by his father, and Britain's six-time Olympian John Whitaker "for much the same reasons" as he admired Jordan.

"With John, everything is easy. I think he doesn’t even know what he’s achieving because he does everything so naturally.

"Horses respond to him and it’s just natural for him to ride and win in a very natural way with a completely natural attitude. That inspires me as a rider."

Now Guerdat is in the position of being an inspiration to other riders, something he is not entirely comfortable with.

He said, "I don’t see myself as really good. I trust what I do but I still have so often the feeling that I am so bad at it, so many mistakes, so many things I’d like to do so much better.

"I’m not even thinking about being a hero, being someone who inspires other riders."

John Whitaker rides Ornellaia at Rio 2016
Picture by 2016 Getty Images

Guerdat has been immortalised in sculpture form

Guerdat may be behind a certain Roger Federer in the affections of Swiss sports fans, but he boasts one honour the tennis star is currently lacking.

While Federer has a street named after him in his birthplace Basel, Guerdat's hometown Bassecourt has a sculpture of the jumper and Nino de Buissonnets celebrating their triumph at London 2012.

The installation was designed by local artist Andre Voirol and unveiled in June 2015 with the equestrian star the main attraction.

His favourite horse isn't the one you'd expect

You might think Guerdat's London 2012 partner Nino des Buissonnets is the horse he has loved most during his career.

Wrong.

That honour goes to Jalisca Solier with whom he won team bronze at Beijing 2008 and the 2010 IJRC Top 10 Final in Geneva.

He told FIE.org, "She's basically the horse that made the biggest step in my career. I don't want to say she saved me, but I was in a complete hole in my sporting career when that mare brought me into the spotlight and giving all the time 200% for me.

"She was the kindest horse you would ever find. She was always there fighting for me. She was the best horse that has ever been around for me!"

When asked if there was a horse he would love to ride, he replied, "No, because I already rode the best horse in the history of showjumping, Tepic La Silla!

"I only rode him for three or four months and I won my first medal in the European Championships in 2003 and a couple of Grand Prix."

The partnership was brief with Jan Tops finding a buyer for Tepic La Silla, and Guerdat's growing frustration with losing rides saw him move on after three years.

"I would have liked to have him longer, but I feel privileged I could ride him in just a few shows because he was unbelievable. He had absolutely everything. For me he was the very best!"

Guerdat, of course, reserves special affection for Nino des Buissonnets who is spending a happy retirement at his farm in Elgg.

Guerdat almost competed for Ukraine

After leaving Tops in early 2006, Guerdat agreed to work for Ukrainian oil magnate Oleksandr Onischtschenko, giving him the chance to develop long-time partnerships with horses.

It was the opportunity of a lifetime with the 23-year-old given a company car and flat and paid four years' salary in a one-off lump sum.

There was one condition - Guerdat would have to switch allegiance to Ukraine in time for the London 2012 Olympic Games.

And in May 2006, sat pen in hand over the contract at a competition in La Baule, France, Guerdat decided he could not sign.

"It didn't feel right," he later admitted to rolexgrandslam.com. He had to return the car, the flat, and all of the money.

With no cash or horses to ride, Guerdat's brother drove over from Switzerland to pick him up.

That situation saw him miss the 2006 World Equestrian Games, but Yves Piaget stepped in and bought Jalisca Solier for him to ride.

And the rest is history.

Steve Guerdat rides Jalisca Solier in the team jumping competition at Beijing 2008
Picture by 2008 Getty Images

Ending up in the wrong country

You may have heard about the story of Serbian tennis player Bojana Jovanovski who, in 2011, flew to Carlsbad, New Mexico when she was supposed to be playing in a tournament in Carlsbad, California.

Well, Guerdat had a similar experience on the road in 2003 - before the days of sat nav - just after starting work for Tops.

He told FEI.org, "There was a show in a place called Heikant and I drove the truck for about three hours with the groom and eight horses, but when we arrived we couldn’t find the showgrounds.

"We drove around for a long time before I realised that I’d taken us to Heikant in Belgium, and the show was in Heikant in Holland!

"Luckily it wasn't too far, maybe another two hours’ drive, and we only missed a couple of classes!"