Plan for Johnstone is to not stress, remain flexible

Clarke Johnstone rides Balmoral Sensation at the Horse of the Year event at the Hawke’s Bay A&P...
Clarke Johnstone rides Balmoral Sensation at the Horse of the Year event at the Hawke’s Bay A&P Showgrounds in March. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES
The Tokyo Olympics were set to get under way this week but have been postponed for a year. Sports reporter Adrian Seconi asks eventing rider Clarke Johnstone what he will do with the extra time.

Many thoughts went through Clarke Johnstone’s mind when news broke the Toyko Olympics would be postponed for a year.

All that training, all the mental energy, all that organising and for what — only to do it all again in a year?

It was deflating but also absolutely the right thing to do, Johnstone said.

"It was obviously disappointing when you are in the final stages of preparation," he said.

"But also it was the right decision because it would not have been possible to happen."

The 33-year-old was the highest placed of the New Zealand riders at the Rio Olympics. He finished sixth in the individual three-day event on board his No1 mount, Balmoral Sensation, and helped the country place fourth in the team event.

Missing out on a medal still burns but the 33-year-old, who grew up on a sheep and cattle farm near Outram, also gave a tremendous account of himself.

"The first time everything is new and you are going into the unknown whereas next time I just think I’ll feel a bit more comfortable.

"And with the knowledge that I placed in the top few last time, it gives you confidence that you can foot it with the best in the world.

"I learnt a lot from the last Games. And with the messy preparation everyone will have had, I think having and older more experienced horse is going to be an advantage.

"Certainly, the goal is to win gold and we are trying to do everything that we can to make that happen."

That older horse he is talking about, of course, is Balmoral Sensation.

He has also qualified back-up Aces High but "Ritchie" is his leading prospect.

"Balmoral Sensation is getting older. All horses from New Zealand turn a year older on August 1 technically.

"He turns 16, so he is getting towards the top end of the competitive age. Horses have competed at the Olympics older than that but it is getting up there.

"But he feels fit and well and I’m not concerned. One more year will be fine for him, especially since the year we’ve had has not been strenuous.

"I’m pretty comfortable he’ll be in good shape come this time next year."

Johnstone does not have to requalify but he does need to keep his qualification relevant.

He had hoped to compete on both horses in an event in New South Wales in December but that was now looking increasingly unlikely.

In a world grappling with Covid-19, it was hard to make any cast-iron plans, he said.

"I’ve just got to be ready and try not to let it stress me because things are going to keep evolving and changing all the time. You just have to be flexible I think."

Initially, Johnstone had planned to spend the final few months of his preparation in England and will look to do the same if possible as it was not ideal to go straight from a New Zealand winter to the heat of Toyko.

He is based in Cambridge but a good chunk of the New Zealand team is based in the United Kingdom.

Johnstone did the bulk of his preparation for Rio in New Zealand, so he knows it is possible.

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