Once an Olympian, always an Olympian

“One day, I want my grandchildren to ask: What is that gold badge on your suit? And I shall say: ‘That’s the official suit that I wore when I rode at the Olympic Games'”

It is fantastic really. It’s everything I have worked towards for the past two years. But it’s not just me. Although I am the one who will go in the ring, it’s the whole team. It’s the owners, the sponsors and everyone who has been involved over the years. The mail box is still full. I’ve had texts, letters and cards from people I haven’t seen for 15 years saying well done, and congratulations. It’s really nice.”

Tim, and his grey mare, Fresh Direct Corlato have been picked with four other riders, John and Michael Whitaker and Ben Maher, to jump for Great Britain at the Olympic Games this summer, held in Hong Kong. Ben Maher has been on great form, John Whitaker was an obvious choice with the talented Peppermill, and brother Michael with Portofino are a very experienced combination.

“It’s a good team, with every chance of a medal,” says Tim. “We are in the top three in the Super League. It’s really Germany, Holland, ourselves, the USA and Canada. We are all so close. We beat the German Olympic team in Rome recently and it was unbelievably close between us in Switzerland, where two time faults, not a fence down, cost us the difference between second and fifth place. We are not at the back end of the field, and we would be one of the favourites to win a medal.”

The team competition starts with a speed competition and then two full rounds on consecutive days.  The scores are added up and the lowest one discarded, so the best three scores count. The top 25 riders then go forward to jump for individual medals three days later. It’s pressurised stuff, but it doesn’t faze Tim.

“I quite like that really. If someone makes a mistake it opens up the door,” he says confidently, but Tim wants the waiting to be over. He wants to be in the arena, under the floodlights and getting on with it. “I’m excited and it can’t come quickly enough. The longer the wait, the more time there is for accidents and that is so easy to happen. Everything is going so well, but it makes you realise that, at the end of the day, you have to minimise risk. You must look after yourself and your horse.  I want to get in there and get stuck in, so I’m apprehensive on that side, but I am thoroughly looking forward to the experience.”

Tim will continue to jump his other horses in the meantime, but carefully. “I’m not paranoid, but anything can happen at any time, I will control what I can control,” he explains. “Yesterday someone brought me a horse that wouldn’t jump water. It was bucking and leaping about and I said, ’I’m not getting on that. Not at the moment.’ One of the top German riders, definitely a candidate for a gold medal, broke his leg in two places schooling a young horse last week.  So no Olympics for him. These things can happen so easily.”

Meanwhile, what has Corlato been up to? “Well, she’s been swimming this morning,” laughs Tim, talking about her as if she has just come back from a lazy morning with the beautician. Her competitions have finished and Tim is just rounding up the fitness with regular swimming, two work programmes a day and some galloping. She will go to Newmarket for blood tests and final health checks and then begin her quarantine period at Towerlands, close to Heathrow airport from where the horses will fly.

Flying?  How does that all happen?  “She goes business class,” laughs Tim. He probably means ‘business crate’, even though Corlato isn’t a Frequent Flyer and doesn’t have many Air Miles – she’s only flown once. The ‘business crate’ is stalled for three horses but Corlato will travel in style with just one other companion. The horses walk into the crate as they would a trailer and then it is lifted with a forklift truck into the hold of the plane. Scary stuff, but a small equine army will be on hand to look after Britain’s Business Class equines. A vet, a groom, and a handler will travel in the plane with the horses. Two grooms will be waiting on the tarmac in Hong Kong, and a further two will fly out six hours later.

On the flight, Corlato will enjoy light snacks of bran and chaff and a haynet to pick on. So far she has been a good traveller, unlike Portofino who bangs and crashes about. And, as each day brings the biggest challenge of Tim and Corlato’s lives ever nearer, the reality for Tim is sinking in.

“I went to pick my kit up on Tuesday and the experience is very nice,” he says.  “It’s not just riding kit. There’s tons of stuff I will never wear and will probably give away, but, I have got a proper suit. It has gold braiding in the lining and a lovely gold badge that says ‘Great Britain Olympic Team 2008’. I’m going to keep that hanging in the wardrobe and show it to my grandchildren one day.”

Tim’s wife Laura and his father will be watching the action in Hong Kong. “I would have loved to have been at the heart of the games in Beijing,” says Tim. “Seeing some of the other sports would have been wonderful, but quarantine doesn’t permit the import and then export of horses out of China, so Hong Kong it is.”

And we wish him and the rest of the British Team, the very best of luck.