Published Friday 27 July 2012

Mark Todd, the elder statesman of New Zealand’s Olympic team in London, today reflected wistfully on his first games, in Los Angeles in 1984.
“The Olympics are amazing. They are only every four years, so they’re exciting. It’s obviously not quite the same feeling as when Andrew [Nicholson] and I first went, in 1984, to Los Angeles.
“Back then we did all the things that young guys at their first games do. We ran round the athletics track, jumped over the hurdles…We’re over that a little bit now.”
Todd, riding Charisma, won the gold medal in the individual three-day event at those Los Angeles Olympics and defended the title four years later in Seoul, when he also picked up a bronze medal in the three-day teams event.
He had a bit of bad luck at subsequent Olympics with his horses getting injured, but still added a bronze medal to his CV at Sydney in 2000, making him one of the very rare group of New Zealanders to have won four Olympic medals.
At the equestrian press conference today, he still seemed fresh and eager, even if he is 56. He was quick to discount any suggestion that he might be the oldest athlete at the Olympics.
“Good God, no! There’s a [Japanese] dressage guy who’s 71, so I have a long way to go.”
With Todd, humour is never far away, and he spoke today about how he keeps getting questioned in London about what team he’s an official for. “They keep telling me off for getting on athletes-only buses, and I have to tell them I am an athlete!”
He said there really wasn’t a lot of difference between the 1980s and 2012 versions of himself.
“I don’t feel that different,” he said. “When you’re young, you don’t train as much. Just riding the horses is enough exercise. These days I do a few things to stay supple. Some stretching and a bit of yoga keeps you fit.”
After forming one of New Zealand’s glamour Olympic sports teams in the 1980s and 1990s, the equestrians have fallen on more barren times lately. To judge by their mood today they would not be surprised if that changed in London.
“I think we’re being called dark horses,” said Todd. “I like it that the Germans and the Brits are being described as favourites.
“We have a strong team, one of the strongest I’ve been in. It started to turn around again at Athens [in 2004] and then at the world championships when Andrew won a bronze medal in the individual and we picked up a team bronze.
“They things are cyclical and I feel we have come out of the doldrums.”
Todd and Nicholson, who is 51, are both competing in their seventh Olympics. Todd’s record is even more remarkable because he was chosen for the 1980 team as well, though he never got the chance to compete in Moscow that year because of the Western boycott. He retired after 2000 and was a coach with the 2004 Olympic team before deciding to return to competition.
Todd indicated the New Zealand team had most bases covered. “We’re slightly cautious. You never want to get too cocky. Loads of things can happen.
“But we have four horses that can score over 70 per cent in the dressage, that can deliver strong cross-country performances and that will be very competitive in the jumping.”
The New Zealand three-day eventing squad is Andrew Nicholson (captain), Jock Paget, Caroline Powell, Jonelle Richards and Mark Todd.
The three-day event, at Greenwich Park, begins on August 28, and finishes on August 31.