New Zealand's Greatest Olympians - Number 9: Blyth Tait

By Rikki Swannell

We're counting down New Zealand's 25 greatest Olympians. Today, equestrian Blyth Tait.
Blyth Tait and his best-known mount Ready Teddy, pictured at the Athens Olympics in 2004, restored New Zealand's place at the top of the eventing world with gold in Atlanta. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Blyth Tait and his best-known mount Ready Teddy, pictured at the Athens Olympics in 2004, restored New Zealand's place at the top of the eventing world with gold in Atlanta. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Bronze: Individual eventing, Barcelona, 1992
Silver: Team eventing, Barcelona, 1992
Gold: Individual eventing, Atlanta, 1996
Bronze: Team evening, Atlanta, 1996

While one name undoubtedly stands atop the list of New Zealand's great three-day eventers, there is another not far behind him.

Sir Mark Todd may be the greatest rider of the 20th century, but his long-time team-mate Blyth Tait MBE, has a resume that's almost without peer globally. And that's why he is thoroughly deserving of his place in the top 10 of our greatest Olympians.

Team silver and individual bronze in 1992 were followed by team bronze and individual gold in Atlanta 1996.

And that's just at the Olympics. Tait has also won four world championships gold medals in team and individual competition, the Burghley horse trials twice and the prestigious Kentucky four-star event. Badminton is the only major trophy to elude him.

But those Games 20 years ago were Tait's crowning glory. Riding Ready Teddy, the little chestnut who could (and who, incidentally, has his own Wikipedia page), Tait led New Zealand's dominance at the Georgia International Horse Park, which also saw Sally Clark take silver and the team of Tait, Clark, Vaughan Jefferis and Andrew Nicholson win bronze.

Tait and Ready Teddy were initially named as reserves in the New Zealand team, but an injury to Mark Todd's mount saw them elevated to the competing group of four.

As is often the case with Kiwi eventers, Tait surged into the lead with an outstanding cross-country round, giving himself a rail to spare heading into the showjumping.

He didn't need it, going clear and inside the time limit to restore New Zealand's place at the top of the eventing world.

Tait competed in a further two Olympics, but didn't enjoy the same success. Named flag-bearer for the Sydney 2000 Olympics, both his mounts were forced out lame while in his final Games, in Athens 2004, Tait was 18th individually and the New Zealand team 5th overall.

He's one of just four Kiwis to have won four Olympic medals, while the list of accolades is a sign of his status in the Olympic community.

Tait was a finalist for sportsman of the year in 1996 and part of the equestrian squad which won Halberg team of the year in 1998. He was awarded the New Zealand Olympic Committee's Lonsdale Cup in 2001.

Biography: Blyth Tait

Tait is from Northland and attended Whangarei Boys High.

He first came to attention in the mid-1980s, qualifying for the 1986 world championship but his mount Rata died on the eve of the event.

His best-known mount, Ready Teddy, died of colic in 2011 and is buried at his property in Karaka.

Tait is still competing internationally, but missed selection for the 2012 and 2016 Olympics after coming out of retirement.

How we did it

This list was drawn up by expert Herald and Radio Sport journalists from our team covering the Rio Olympics.

It wasn't easy, partly because of the number of fantastic feats over the last century or so and partly because of the difficulty of comparing performances across sports and eras.

The first ground rule was that only gold medallists would be considered. That was tough considering the likes of Nick Willis (silver, 2008), Dick Quax (silver, 1976), Paul Kingsman (bronze, 1988) and Bevan Docherty (silver and bronze, 2004 & 2008) provided some of our most memorable Olympic moments.

We also agreed potential success in Rio wouldn't be taken into account. The list was also restricted to the Summer Olympics, otherwise Annelise Coberger, our only Winter Olympics medallist may have featured quite prominently.

Each member of the panel wrote their own list before we came together to thrash it out five at a time. It was a head-scratcher, but in a good way because it was a celebration of success.

List so far

No 25: Alan Thompson
No 24: Norman Read
No 23: Ted Morgan

No 22: Sir Russell Coutts
No 21: Paul MacDonald
No 20: Hamish Bond and Eric Murray
No 19: Rob Waddell
No 18: Bruce Kendall
No 17: Mahe Drysdale

No 16: Hamish Carter
No 15: Sir Murray Halberg
No 14: The 1976 men's hockey team
No 13: Sir John Walker
No 12: Ian Ferguson
No 11: Sarah Ulmer
No 10: Jack Lovelock

- NZ Herald

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