Rio Olympics 2016: Mark Todd on verge of history

By David Leggat

Boyd Martin, of the United States, competes on Blackfoot Mystery in the equestrian eventing cross country. photo / AP
Boyd Martin, of the United States, competes on Blackfoot Mystery in the equestrian eventing cross country. photo / AP

Mark Todd stands one good day's showjumping away from becoming New Zealand's most prolific Olympic medallist.

The New Zealand eventing team sit second in the teams event behind Australia, while the great competitor Todd is fourth in the individual standings.

Only paddlers Ian Ferguson and Paul Macdonald can match Todd's record of having won five Olympic medals. Just one medal tomorrow and Todd will stand supreme on six medals - and he could take it mark to seven.

New Zealand had a stellar day in Rio on the demanding cross country course which took a heavy toll on horses and riders.

When the dust settled, Australia remain in front in the teams event - with their best performer, Chris Burton and Santano II also leading the individual standings just ahead of double London 2012 gold medallist Michael Jung of Germany - and can afford to drop one collective rail early tomorrow and still win gold.

Put two down and New Zealand, if all three remaining riders go clear, will win gold.
One issue for New Zealand is they have no slack tomorrow; Tim Price and Ringwood Sky Boy were eliminated today, so Todd and Leonidas II, Clarke Johnstone and Balmoral Sensation and Jonelle Price and Faerie Dianimo can't afford any slipups.

Tim Price was first out for New Zealand and his mishap immediately put the heat on the remaining three.

Todd added just two time penalties to his dressage score, leaping from 17th to fourth; Johnstone had 4.8 penalties and moved from 23rd to seventh equal; and Price hurdled a pile of combinations to go from 43rd to 13th with eight faults.


Spirits were down after what they felt were a poor deal from the dressage judges, allied to performances they felt were short of their true capability. But the point had been made by Jonelle Price that there's a reason why it's known as a three-day event, and New Zealand bit back hard with a superb team performance today.

"I had instructions from the team to go safe and clear," the ageless Todd said. "The horse was brilliant all the way around. The instructions were also to ride safe at the fence where Tim had the problem and I think that probably cost me those few seconds."

Even so, Todd - twice the individual Olympic champion on Charisma in 1984 and 1988 and three times a silver or bronze medallist - was ecstatic with his own horse, and an choked up with emotion at the end of a dramatic and thrilling day.

"I am over the moon to have finished and gone well. It is a 3-star course with 4-star technicality. The fences come at you thick and fast."

But he had plenty of praise for his German-bred Leonidas II.

"He is so brave and honest," said Todd, a remarkable figure at 60 and still among the finest riders.

"The team needed me to get round. When you are travelling at 570 metres a minute, the fences come at you thick and fast. There is no room for error - the horses have to stay really focussed. It is a real riders course out there."

''Course they're in our sights," Todd added of the medal chase. ''I've said all along we've come here to medal."

Todd's individual medal chances hinge on French rider Nicolas Astier and his mount Piaf de B'Neville, who sit third four points better off than the New Zealander.

He needs Astier to spill two rails while going clear himself. If it's all square, the bronze would go to the combination which had the closest to optimum performance on the cross country - which is Astier, who incurred no penalties to Todd's two.

"The horses look like they've come through the cross country in good order. Normally they're all pretty good showjumpers so hopefully we can at least hold onto silver - and maybe go one better," Todd added.

Spare a thought for Johnstone too. He was on track for London four years ago but was forced out by horse injuries. Balmoral Sensation did him proud today.

"He was absolutely sensational. I am just thrilled with him - everything went to plan, I am just buzzing. My horse finished full of running. It is really intense out there."

Johnstone also has the New Zealand record for having walked the cross country course six times in preparation. It worked.

Much can happen in the showjumping arena. Tired horses can make uncharacteristic mistakes. New Zealand horse people well remember the saga of Spinning Rhombus at Barcelona in 1992, when Andrew Nicholson's mount spilled nine rails, dropping New Zealand from gold to silver.

Once the team medals are decided the top 25 combinations return to jump off for individual medals.

''He's an emotional man, he's been working towards this for four years, he is so passionate about this, it is his dream," Todd's wife Carolyn said today.

History beckons for Todd, and his team tomorrow.

- NZ Herald

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