Riders rise to SJA occasion at BT Tower

Mike Calvin interviews showjumper Tim Stockdale and eventer Mary King at the SJA’s Olympic lunch at BT Tower on April 14. Photo: Steve Rowe/SJA

SJA members got a double whammy of Olympic stories at the BT Tower in central London yesterday, thanks to the help of the Association’s latest partners, BT Vision.

First, some got the chance to hear Olympics Minister Tessa Jowell and Lord Puttnam – the film producer responsible for Oscar-winning movies including Chariots of Fire – speak about the spirit of the Games as they introduced an initiative to support Dame Kelly Holmes’s legacy fund.

Then, over a lunch specially arranged for members of the SJA and our colleagues at the British Equestrian Writers’ Association, two dozen journalists got to meet some of Britain’s leading medal hopes for this summer’s Olympic Games: eventer Mary King, bidding to compete in Hong Kong at what would be her fifth Olympics, showjumper Tim Stockdale who is hoping to compete at his first Games, and Paralympic dressage world and Olympic champion Nicola Tustain.

Mike Calvin took the role of MC to introduce the riders to the audience of two dozen sports writers ahead of a critical few weeks before selection for the Olympics, when the equestrian events are to be staged in Hong Kong, with several showjumping and dressage rounds due to be held under floodlights in the early hours of the morning for the benefit of American television.

“I’ve been measured for the team jacket three times,” said Stockdale, 43, who made his British international debut 20 years ago, “but I’ve never gone to the Olympics.

“To compete at the Olympics, you’ve got to be a good rider, but you’ve got to have a very good horse, and I’ve never had a horse as good as the one I have now,” he said of Fresh Direct Corlato, with whom he won four international grands prix in 2007 and has qualified for the 2008 World Cup final.

Tustain told of how her opportunities as a child with Riding for the Disabled had introduced her to sport. With hemipligia, paralysis of her right side which she has had since birth, and which sees her ride without stirrups and the use of one arm, “I am in pain 24/7,” she said, “except when I am riding my horse. Then the pain just seems to go.”

However, there was still some pain from a recently fractured coccyx when she rode at last year’s world championships at Hartpury, Gloucestershire, where she won gold and silver medals. With a new horse, Rivaldo of Berkley, this year, Tustain is looking to compete at her third Paralympics with a view firmly on the 2012 London Games.

Tustain would still have some way to go to match the record of Mary King, whose first Games was Barcelona in 1992, but whose career looked to be finished after a fall in 2001 when she broke her neck. She was back riding within a year and won team silver at the 2004 Athens Olympics. With the Badminton horse trials in three weeks determining the composition of the 2008 British squad, King is keen to match Ian Stark’s record of five Olympics. “I need the new trainers that they give you with your kit – I’ve worn out the pair they gave me before Athens,” she said.

At the end of the lunch, SJA chairman Barry Newcombe presented a framed Kevin Macey original cartoon to each of the riders on behalf of the Association, and thanked BT Vision’s Steve Norris and Rachel Medill and Anna Greenway, from the British Equestrian Federation, for their help in staging the event.

This was the second SJA Olympic lunch staged so far this year, following an event with gold medal-winning sailor Ben Ainslie in Fleet Street in March. Further, similar events are planned to be held throughout the build-up to the Beijing Games.

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