Olympics equestrian: Carl Hester says gold medal will inspire others

 

The tiny Channel Island of Sark has only one postbox. It's time to paint it gold.

Carl Hester, who grew up on the island, helped Britain win their 20th gold of the home Games - a high-water mark since 1908 - and seal a first team dressage gold.

"I'm really proud of that place, and they were very upset the Olympic flame didn't go to Sark," he said.

"The flame went to Guernsey instead. If you come from Sark, Guernsey's a dirty word."

Eight hours earlier the 45-year-old had been strolling through the streets of Greenwich, rubbing shoulders with eager spectators as the biggest day of his life began.

Hester found it hard to sleep for apprehension as other Britons went about winning the first 19 golds. On buses he would miss the right stop, lost in thought and unsure - as a Sark boy turned Gloucestershire resident - which stop was where in the capital city.

But he knows how to deliver a title-winning dressage routine. Given the chance at last to prove as much, he and his team-mates took their place in British Olympic history: the champions who made it the best Games in a century.

Hester hails GB dressage gold

"We've all been watching on the telly," said Laura Bechtolsheimer, who completes the three-person team with fellow 27-year-old Charlotte Dujardin.

"We've seen how the crowd's been carrying the athletes. I watched Andy Murray beat Roger Federer at Wimbledon and that was pretty insane, to watch Federer losing in front of a crowd of 15,000 people.

"To experience that ourselves in front of an incredible crowd was immense, not only for us but representing British dressage as a whole. It was a groundbreaking day for us - we're all incredibly proud to be part of this."

Britain's dressage team is one big family. Bechtolsheimer's parents gave Hester his break in the sport, then Hester employed youngster Dujardin at his yard, and she in turn grew from her job as a groom to top-scoring in Tuesday's Olympic final.

As it shines under the brightest of spotlights, the sport wants those three to demonstrate inclusivity, not the atmosphere of a clique.

Interest is clearly there: equestrian sport has a huge domestic audience. Within minutes of Britain taking gold, footballer Michael Owen  tweeted that his children were scheming to become dressage champions.

"I'll do that question," said Hester, forthrightly, when the first reporter asked what hope dressage had of marketing itself as an affordable sport for children watching on TV.

FAB THREE FACTS

Bechtolsheimer is the granddaughter of billionaire property magnate Karl-Heinz Kipp

She has a degree in philosophy and politics

Hester won the Young Dressage Rider Championship in 1985

Dujardin only started dressage in 2007

"You've got three people here from very different backgrounds that made this team. Charlotte worked her way up to be a groom then ride at this level, Laura was a pony club kid.

"I grew up on Sark, the most ridiculous small island. I left home at 16, said I wanted to go to England and do horses, and worked as a groom for many, many years.

"There's a story up here," he continued, pointing to his team-mates, "that any kid could aspire to.

"You have to have the right opportunities and you have to find your way, but the obvious answer is that hard work and dedication paid off for all three of us."

You also have to have the right horse, as the spectacular reignition of Hester's career proves. Having failed to make the starting line-up for Beijing 2008 after three prior Olympic appearances, his hopes of success on the world stage looked to be toast.

Then along came Uthopia, a horse capable of great things. Hester and the stallion had a bond - by 2011, they were European champions just as Bechtolsheimer and Dujardin were hitting heights of their own. Put together, they were unstoppable for their country's first-ever Olympic dressage gold.

But time will not stand still. Neither Hester nor Dujardin own their horses, and both are expected to be on the way out. Their success makes them valuable commodities, and their owners had already given the GB duo special dispensation to keep their rides for the Games.

"I've had Uthopia for six years and the plan always was I'd ride him till the Olympics then he would be sold," said Hester.

"But I don't want to dwell on that; I'd rather dwell on the fact that the owners let us keep them for the Olympics. The fact they took the risk is what I'd like to say thank you for."

Those are the realities of equestrian sport: you don't get long to savour the moment. Hester may have to start from scratch, if he has an eye on Rio 2016.

But as moments go, dressage will squeeze every drop from this one. History has been made and, if Hester is correct and Michael Owen's children true to their word, a bright future is assured.

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