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Equestrian: Mark Todd leaps to Games record

Sir Mark Todd. Photo / Duncan Brown
Sir Mark Todd. Photo / Duncan Brown

Expect Sir Mark Todd to become New Zealand's oldest Olympian when the team for the Rio Games is named tonight.

The veteran equestrian champion turned 60 on March 1 but, as the world's third-ranked eventer, continues to excel.

The double Olympic gold medallist's pedigree in four-star events since Badminton in May 2015 is extraordinary. He has competed in six (three apiece with Leonidas II and NZB Campino) and not finished outside the top 10. He finished fourth at both Badmintons, seventh at Lexington, 10th at Pau, sixth at Burghley and fifth at Luhmuhlen.

No decision has been made on what horse Todd would take to Rio. Campino competed at London; Leonidas contested the 2014 World Equestrian Games in Normandy.

Todd is set to eclipse William Edgar Swinnerton for longevity. Swinnerton was born five days before the turn of the 20th century and was 56 years, 10 months and 26 days when he finished 12th sailing as crew in the Dragon class at the Melbourne Games in the year of Todd's birth.

Todd needs to giddy up at four more Games to take the oldest rider record from Austrian dressage competitor Arthur von Pongracz, who was 72 years and 49 days at Berlin in 1936. The oldest Olympic competitor was Swede shooter Oscar Swahn, who loaded his musket aged 72 years and 281 days old at Antwerp in 1920.

Todd has always been renowned for his composure. He has been described as capable of "making a donkey jump 10 feet" or "winning Badminton on a skateboard".

In 2011 he became the oldest Badminton winner aged 55, and in 1994 won on last-minute mount Horton Point.

Todd's competitive instinct has never left, even after taking seven years away from the circuit after the 2000 Olympics. He does yoga and stretching to stay supple, but otherwise little has changed in his training regime since he won the first of consecutive Olympic titles in 1984.

"I've managed to stay fit and injury-free but look after my body more than I used to," he said. "For instance, I hired a personal trainer over Christmas back in New Zealand.
"I don't feel any different than I have for last 30 years, certainly not on a horse. I just don't look in the mirror too often."

Todd is blessed with a level temperament and his ability to thrive on pressure eradicates doubts. His only hindrance helping New Zealand earn team bronze at London was sceptical volunteers.

"It's not going to get better this time, if I'm selected, because most people don't expect me to be an athlete. I remember leaving the venue at Greenwich Park and the official said, 'I'm sorry, sir, this bus is for athletes'. I went to get a free haircut at the village and they said the same. I kept getting asked what team I was an official for."

First chosen for the boycotted Moscow Olympics in 1980, the New Zealand eventing pioneer attended seven Olympic Games between 1984 and 2012, a national record shared with Andrew Nicholson.

The other three team places will be contested by Jonelle (ranked ninth) and Tim Price (10th), Blyth Tait (26th), Clarke Johnstone (28th) and Jonathan Paget (41st). Triple Olympic medallist Nicholson looks set to miss out after breaking his neck last year. All the other contenders, except Atlanta Games gold medallist Tait, have had a top six four-star finish in the past year. They are hardly dark horses.

- Herald on Sunday

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