Enter Stuart Tinney and Jeepster – cool, calm and collected, or so they appeared from the stands! The pair did not miss a beat, meeting every fence in perfect rhythm and dropping just one rail. When they jumped clear over the last fence the crowd erupted with delight. Jumping to our feet, we roared with appreciation; Sydneysiders Stuart Tinney and Jeepster had finished the Olympics on a total score of 41! Ultimately, this was the best performance within the team competition; had the current system been in place at the time whereby, the individual medals are awarded based on performances within the team competition, Stuart Tinney would have won individual gold for Australia. At Sydney, the individual medals were decided by a completely separate event. Stuart was the best eventing rider in the world that day, in front of his home crowd, and we were as proud as punch!
One rider to go, and despite Great Britain’s best efforts, when Andrew Hoy entered the arena he did so with 5 rails in hand. “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie! Hoy, Hoy, Hoy!” – the crowd was on its feet again, cheering, willing a gold medal moment that was surely just minutes away from realisation. Then a hush, a retreat to our seats, and we could hear each footfall as the elegant grey Darien Powers and our most decorated Australian equestrian in history approached the first. We jumped every fence with them, our hearts in our mouths – some rails fell, then the moment came when there were fewer fences to jump than there were rails in hand and it was real, it was happening, we had won the gold!
No one wanted that day to end. It was magical, we were euphoric, this was a real-life fairy tale; a third consecutive medal for the Australian Eventing team and we weren’t reading about it, we were living it! During the victory lap, the riders basked in the glory of the moment. As Stuart Tinney described during the EA Hall of Fame induction in 2017: “We were told we were allowed to go twice around or something and they couldn’t get us out, we went around about five times! The crowd was amazing; my wife Karen, who helps me with the horses all the time – helps train them at home – was there. Everybody was there, all my friends were there. We live down the road really, so it was unbelievable and it will never happen again. Even if I win another gold medal, it won’t be like that, that’s for sure.”
For Wayne Roycroft, who coached the Australian Eventing team from 1988 to 2010, a period in which the team won four team and two individual medals, this was an incredible moment. “Sydney was the most extraordinary experience, and for me personally it was amazing,” he said.
After the Games, participation in equestrian sports in Australia grew, buoyed by the inspirational performance of our Australian heroes. Many Australian riders have been fortunate enough to compete at the SIEC since the Games; for the eventers, the experience is particularly nostalgic – 20 years on, some of the original cross country fences still form part of the course. Galloping down to the “Olympic water”, or flying over the Snake fence, it’s impossible not to remember that wonderful Sydney September, and the gutsy, record-breaking performance of our Australian Eventing Team.
Next issue: We look back at the Dressage and Para Dressage at Sydney 2000.