Nordlander leads Swedish charge in the eventing
In the resolution adopted at the Sorbonne Congress in Paris back in 1894 that paved the way for the launch of the modern Olympic Games, the inclusion of equestrian sports on the programme had been discussed, a motion which received the enthusiastic support of Baron Pierre de Coubertin.
However, it was not until two decades later in Stockholm, after lengthy and tortuous deliberations and planning, that equestrian events finally made their Olympic debut. Among the many logistical complications was the issue of transporting the horses for the 62 riders, many of whom were travelling from abroad; the Swedish government made things easier by exempting them from all normal border and customs regulations, and granting them free transport within Sweden!
The “horse riding” programme in Stockholm, included five medal events: individual and team competition in military riding (the equivalent of 3-day eventing), an individual show riding (dressage) competition and individual and team show jumping. Both team events were not actually separate competitions as they are today, but were decided based on aggregate scores of individual riders from the same country. Riders from 10 countries, all of them army officers, travelled to Stockholm: Belgium, Chile, Denmark, France, Germany, Great Britain, Norway, Russia, Sweden, and the USA, but only Sweden and Germany were able to supply a full team for all three disciplines. A total of 88 entries ran in the 3 events, with 62 riders and 70 horses.
Competitors from the host nation dominated all of the equestrian events at Stockholm’s Field Riding Club, winning four of the five gold medals on offer, as well as four of the five challenge prizes. Of those, Lieutenant Axel Nordlander of the Royal Scanian Hussars was arguably the strongest all-round horseman of the Games, winning individual military riding gold, and contributing largely to Sweden’s victory in the team military riding competition.
The military riding competition saw 27 riders from seven countries compete, all of them officers riding army mounts. The format differed greatly from the one we know today, with the competition taking place over five days rather than three. The first day saw riders undertake a 55km endurance ride which had to be completed in four hours, and which included a 5km obstacle cross-country course to be completed in 15 minutes. On the second day the horses were rested before coming out on the third day for a 3,500m steeplechase over 10 obstacles, which had to be navigated within a time limit of 5 minutes and 50 seconds. The fourth day saw them faced with a jumping challenge, with the final day given over to the dressage test. Each phase could garner up to 10 points. Nordlander scored an impressive 46.59 out of a maximum of 50 points from the five trials. He was joined on the podium by Germany’s Lieutenant Friedrich von Rochow (silver) and Captain Jacques Cariou of France (bronze).
In addition to the individual gold medal Nordlander was presented with the German Emperor’s Challenge Prize, a silver shield with the portrait of the Emperor engraved upon it, as the best military rider, and he also shared in the Swedish Cavalry’s Prize, a statuette of a Swedish 18th century mounted rider, as a member of the best overall team.