Reiner Klimke or how to train with respect

There was a particular feature of Reiner Klimke that horses appreciated: an untiring enthusiasm and a deep respect. This combination helped him ride to many victories, and enabled him to perfect his style of dressage. On 14 January 2007, he would have been 71: time for a look at the career of a unique horseman.

A rider who improved with age

Reiner Klimke took part in a total of six editions of the Olympic Games, between the ages of 24 and 56, and won six gold medals and two bronzes, making him the most titled Olympic rider of all time. An equestrian dressage specialist, he competed in the two events that make up this discipline: individual and team dressage.

In the individual competition, he got better with every Olympic appearance. In 1960 in  Rome, he finished 18th, in last place. Four years later in Tokyo, he placed sixth with 1,404 points, 100 points lower than the gold medallist, Switzerland’s Henri Chammartin. Then, at the 1968 Games in Mexico City, and in Montreal in 1976, he finally made it onto the podium, winning two bronze medals.

In Los Angeles in 1984, he climbed a further two places, dominating the competition with a score of 1,797 points in the qualifying rounds and 1,504 in the final. In this way, between 1960 and 1984 and in just five editions of the Games, the German rider climbed from the bottom to the very top of the table, picking up one gold and two bronze medals in the individual equestrian dressage event.

Unlike his individual Olympic progression, his career with the German team was utterly stable. In five editions of the Games, from Tokyo in 1964 to Seoul in 1988, he won five gold medals with Germany, the most faithful of its team members. The scores ranged from 2,558 points (Tokyo 1964) to 5,155 points (Montreal 1976), with gaps between first and second place ranging from 32 points (Tokyo 1964) to 282 points (Los Angeles 1984).

Confidence and trust

It is hard to make comparisons between dressage and other sports. Often described as equestrian ballet, it requires perfect harmony between horse and rider, something born only of long hard work to build confidence and understanding. The rider has to direct his horse by means of precise, discreet movements, to get it to perform passages, pirouettes, piaffes, trots and canters in a predetermined order. The competition takes place over three rounds: the first two are mandatory, and the third is a free programme. Dressage is also unusual in being one of the rare disciplines where men and women compete together.

His proud mounts

While Reiner Klimke owed his victories to his horsemanship, he owed them also in large measure to the horses he rode during his career. The three which made him successful were Dux in Tokyo and Mexico City, Mehmed in Montreal and Ahlerich in Los Angeles and Seoul.

This German lawyer and notary, the most titled Olympic rider in history, died on 17 August 1999 in his native city of Münster. In addition to his Olympic victories, he achieved four world championship and eight European championship titles. More than any other discipline, dressage combines the beauty of movement with sports performance: the dashing rider Reiner Klimke perfectly illustrated this twofold art.

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