Ageless Todd set for eighth Olympics

The winner of two Olympic gold medals, one silver and three bronzes in a career spanning five decades, Sir Mark Todd is New Zealand’s most successful Olympian of all time. Named “Event Rider of the 20th Century”, the 60-year-old is set to contest his eighth Games in Rio.

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“When I was a little kid I wanted to represent New Zealand in the Olympic Games,” said Sir Mark Todd, speaking earlier this year to his country’s National Olympic Committee as part of its Be The Inspiration series. “I was fortunate enough that I have done it on more than one occasion.”

That is a remarkable piece of understatement from a man who will very soon be making his eighth appearance at the Games.

Describing what it takes to be a top rider, he said: “We as riders have to be strong. We have to have core strength. We have to be fit. We have to have strong legs. Almost equally important is the mental strength. Going into a competition, if you have any fears or doubts, then that can immediately transmit to the horse and then your whole performance can go out.

“Naturally, I’ve always had a good mental strength. I’m very competitive, so I love to win. I’m also quite relaxed and a little bit laid-back. I’m one of those people that I think the pressure of competition actually brings out the best in me.”

Still his country’s highest-ranked rider at sixth in the FEI World Eventing Athlete Rankings, which are headed by Germany’s Michael Jung, the 60-year-old Todd was officially named in the New Zealand team for Rio 2016 on 27 June. Lining up with him in Brazil will be Jonelle Price, Jock Paget (both of whom rode with Todd on the team that won bronze at London 2012) and Clarke Johnstone.

Todd will also coach the Brazilian eventing team in Rio, a role he also played with New Zealand at Athens 2004, which was one of only two editions of the Games in the last nine at which he has not competed (the other being Moscow 1980).

Eventing pioneer

The veteran Todd is a pioneer of three-day eventing in New Zealand. A genuine horse lover, his initial career goal was to be a jockey, but he grew too big and moved into show jumping. His natural ability to ride all types of horses eventually led him into eventing, which combines dressage, cross-country and show jumping.

In 1978, aged 22, he formed part of the first New Zealand team to line up at the Eventing World Championship, which were held that year in Lexington (USA) and where his horse, Tophunter, suffered an injury during the cross-country.

Two years later, Todd scored the first major success of his career in partnering Southern Comfort to victory at the Badminton Horse Trials in England, the most prestigious three-day eventing competition of them all.

Kicking on to become the best in his sport, the New Zealander won countless events and dominated the Olympic individual competitions at Los Angeles 1984 and Seoul 1988 on the trusty Charisma. As well as those two golds, he also collected a team bronze in the South Korean capital.

Further wins came Todd’s way at Badminton in 1994 and 1996, while he has also scored a record five victories at the Burghley Horse Trials and won two world team titles, in 1990 and 1998, a year in which he also collected individual silver.

His country’s flagbearer at Barcelona 1992, Todd had his hopes of scoring a hat-trick of Olympic titles dashed when he was forced to retire after the cross-country, though he did have the consolation of winning silver in the team competition. He earned selection again for Atlanta 1996, where an injury to his horse prevented him from even taking the start line. Despite those setbacks, the FEI named him its Event Rider of the 20th Century.

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Coaching and a comeback

After appearing at his fifth Games at Sydney 2000, where he won individual bronze, Todd retired from competitive riding and returned to New Zealand to take care of his horses. When he returned to the Olympic stage at Athens 2004, he did so as the coach of his country’s eventing team.

Unable to stay on the sidelines for too long, however, he was back in the saddle at Beijing 2008, where rode Gandalf to 17th in the individual competition and fifth in the team event.

Despite being well into his 50s, Todd remained as competitive as ever and won another Badminton crown in 2011. He then qualified for his seventh Olympics at London 2012, linking up with Jonelle Richards, Jonathan Paget, Caroline Powell and Andrew Nicholson to pocket team bronze behind Germany and Great Britain, fully 28 years after his first Olympic medal, a joint Games record.

While continuing to compete at the level, Todd has also been busy posting riding tutorials online and writing books, the latest of them being the autobiography Second Chance.

Now 60, his competitive desire is undiminished. His objective for Rio? “To win a medal: individual or team… or both.”  

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