Mark Todd and Andrew Nicholson have today created another landmark in New Zealand’s rich sporting history when they were named as part of a five-strong equestrian eventing team to compete at the 2012 London Olympic Games.
The two will represent New Zealand at their seventh Olympic Games, eclipsing the five Olympics attended by kayaker Ian Ferguson and board sailor Barbara Kendall.
Nicholson and the double Olympic gold medal-winning Todd are joined by their bronze medal-winning 2010 World Championship team-mate Caroline Powell, along with Jonathan Paget who rode as an individual at the same World Champs. Jonelle Richards completes a strong-looking New Zealand Team with Lucy Jackson named as the reserve.
It is Powell’s second Olympics, while Paget and Richards are new caps.
New Zealand Olympic Committee secretary general and selector Kereyn Smith is delighted to name the eventing team today.
“Equestrian eventing is an iconic New Zealand sport and one which has secured us 10% of our nation’s Olympic medals,” she said. “We look forward to the team also contributing to winning New Zealand’s 100th Olympic medal at London 2012 and we wish the athletes well as they prepare for the Olympic Games.”
Equestrian Sports New Zealand eventing high performance coach Erik Duvander says the riders are capable of both individual and team medals.
“All champs are slightly unpredictable and things have to go your way on the day, but the quality is most definitely there,” he said.
ESNZ shifted its eventing high performance programme to the United Kingdom following the 2010 World Championships in Kentucky, and it is a decision that has paid dividends on many levels.
“This is a team that continues to evolve and get stronger all the time,” says Duvander. “Our younger riders bring their own skills and experiences to the team and everyone mentors each other in different ways. This is a well jelled unit.”
56-year-old Todd will ride the German-born NZB Campino (owned by New Zealand Bloodstock and Todd), an 11-year-old bay gelding. Nicholson will compete aboard 12-year-old chestnut Nereo (owned by Deborah Sellar) on whom he won individual bronze at the 2010 World Championships. The Spanish-born horse has been hugely consistent for Nicholson for several seasons and is rarely out of the top placings.
For 50-year-old Nicholson it is very special to be named for London.
“The pinnacle for me is an Olympic gold – that is at the top of my list. If I can arrive at the Olympics with Nereo in the state he should be in, then I am confident we will be competitive with the best, and in with a good chance of winning,” he said.
But he’s not one to put himself on a podium before the work is done.
“There are some very good combinations from Great Britain, Germany, Italy, Australia, America and the list goes on....but I do have an awful lot of faith in Nereo.”
And he’s “feeling good” about the prospects for the New Zealand team.
Scotland-based 39-year-old Powell has her 19-year-old pocket rocket grey Lenamore (owned by Lexi Jackson, Janie MacKinnon and Powell) on whom she won Burghley in 2010, while 28-year-old Paget earns his new cap aboard Clifton Promise, a 13-year-old bay New Zealand-bred thoroughbred owned by Frances Stead who he rode to an impressive seventh place at the 2010 World Champs.
Paget is “excited and honoured” to be named.
“I felt I had done enough, but nothing compares to getting that phone call from Erik (Duvander) to tell you officially,” he said. “It’s a big relief. I plan to make the most of the opportunity of riding alongside the likes of Mark (Todd), Andrew (Nicholson) and Caroline (Powell), and under the coaching of Erik. He has done an amazing job preparing such a strong team for London.
“He is a very brave coach and pushes us all in a good way.”
For 31-year-old Richards, the selection aboard her 12-year-old New Zealand-bred bay gelding Flintstar (owned by Darnelle Hubbard, Tim Price and Katherine Gray), is a dream come true.
“I feel very fortunate to have got the nod” she said. “Flintstar and I are a proven and reliable combination, and I know we add a very strong fifth link to a serious team. I have been training with Mark (Todd) since December, the horse is looking a million dollars and I feel everything has just fallen into place.”
All of the New Zealand squad riders have been careful in their build-up to London.
“Preparation for the Olympics is about arriving there in the best sort of shape – especially with this year’s cancellation of events,” says Duvander. “We know with both our horses and riders that the ability is there.”
ESNZ chief executive Jim Ellis is confident the Kiwi team will put in a solid performance.
“This is an exciting eventing team which we hope can repeat our previous Olympic successes,” says Ellis. “It has a strong blend of experience, youth and horsepower with a unique team ethic.”
New Zealand has won nine Olympic equestrian medals including three gold, two silver and four bronze; 10% of the 90 Olympic medals won by New Zealand.
Todd represented NZ at the Olympics in 1984, 1988, 1992, 1996, 2000 and 2008 while Nicholson received his Olympic caps in 1984, 1992, 1996, 2000, 2004 and 2008. Todd was also selected for Moscow in 1980 but missed out due to the New Zealand boycott.
Todd is also New Zealand’s oldest male medallist. He was 44 years and 203 days old when he won bronze at Sydney in 2000 and has won four Olympic medals in total – individual gold at both Los Angeles in 1984 and Seoul in 1988, team bronze at Seoul in 1988 and individual bronze at Sydney in 2000.
Todd is not our oldest Olympian at 56 years and 149 days at start of games. This honour remains with William Swinnerton, sailing Melbourne 1956 who was 56 years and 335 days at start of games.
Nicholson was part of the New Zealand team to win silver at the Barcelona Olympics in 1992 and bronze in Atlanta four years later.
New Zealand Equestrian has had 37 competitors at the Olympic Games to date including 26 male and 11 female.