Gold earned the hard way and with Charisma

Mark Todd and Charisma at Todd's Cambridge stud in 2001.
Mark Todd and Charisma at Todd's Cambridge stud in 2001.
In Los Angeles in 1984, a rather tall man on a rather small horse had Kiwis cheering when he became the first New Zealander to win an Olympic gold medal in the three-day event - disciplines of dressage, cross-country and showjumping.

Not forgetting the years of preparation and planning that go into international-level horses, Mark Todd's win on Charisma was earned the hard way.

He had an agonising wait after completing his showjumping round, the final discipline, as the performance by United States rider Karen Stives, the final competitor, would determine his fate.

Stives' misery in knocking down a rail propelled Todd into the gold medal position.

Four years later, in Seoul, Todd and Charisma were back.

It was as though four weeks, not four years, had passed between competitions.

The combination led after the dressage and performed flawlessly through the cross-country, perhaps the strongest discipline among the New Zealanders, and there was the tantalising prospect of a consecutive individual gold medal.

To anyone watching on television from afar as I was, wishing I was there, Todd looked as cool as ever.

True, he had the luxury of being able to have as many as three rails down and still win, but there was only one hiccup, when a single rail fell.

With a score of 42.60 penalty points, he had beaten two Brits - Scotsman Ian Stark, whose total was 52.80 penalties, and English rider Virginia Holgate-Leng, on 62.0. (Holgate-Leng had also finished third at Los Angeles).

Incredibly, he had became the first rider to win back-to-back eventing golds.

Perhaps in equestrian events more than any other Olympic competition, outside forces - luck, some might call it - can have a profound influence.

Injuries, even minor ones, can wreck years of preparation.

There is sometimes not a lot in passing or failing the veterinary test carried out after the cross-country to determine if combinations go through to the final phase.

Horses can do silly things in their paddocks or boxes, things which can wreck dreams.

Todd's sublime horsemanship and combination with a remarkable horse, culminating in that success at Seoul, earned him the respect of the international eventing world, and the admiration of so many New Zealanders.

Even now, 21 years on, I can't imagine his feat of consecutive gold medal wins ever being matched, let alone topped.

- Jane Davidson

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