BADMINTON, England (Reuters) - Age is no barrier to Mark Todd, equestrian knight and double Olympic eventing gold medalist, even if disbelieving bus drivers may still demand to see the New Zealander’s pass at the Rio Games in August.
At the 2012 London Olympics, as the 60-year-old recounted to Reuters at the weekend while competing in the Badminton Horse Trials, he was informed by one that the transport was for athletes only.
“I AM an athlete,” he replied.
“It happened a couple of times in London actually,” said the six-times Olympian with a wry smile.
“Another time I went to the village hairdresser and they said ‘Sorry Sir, you can’t have your hair cut. This is only for athletes’. So I was having to wave my card around a bit.”
Tall and lean, Todd is very much an athlete -- his astonishing recovery from a near fall in the cross-country section at Badminton triggered gasps around the course -- and competitor.
“I’ve had to modify and work hard to stay competitive. And I still do,” said the 1984 and 1988 individual Olympic eventing champion.
“Keeping up with these 20-somethings and 30-somethings, I’ve got to keep myself in shape.”
The International Equestrian Federation’s ‘Rider of the 20th Century’ is still very much a contender of the 21st as he sets his sights on Rio and Olympic records.
At Badminton, a social highlight that is to three-day eventing what Wimbledon is to tennis, the four-times winner finished fourth overall on Sunday.
The highest ranked of the New Zealand contingent, just as he was in Kentucky the week before, Todd beat rivals who were not even born when he first won in the grounds of the stately home 36 years ago.
But for a boycott of the 1980 Moscow Olympics, and an injury to his horse after being selected for Atlanta in 1996, Todd could have been contemplating his ninth Games in Rio.
Or maybe 10th. He ‘retired’ in 2000 and attended Athens 2004 as a coach before making the decision, after ‘an evening of several bottles of wine” as he put it at the time, to make a comeback in 2008.
In 2012, Todd equaled the Olympic record for the longest gap between medals with his fifth, 28 years after his individual eventing gold in Los Angeles. Now he wants to stretch it to 32.
“To win a medal at Rio. Team or individual. Or both,” he said of his main aim.
”I’ve got two good horses, this one (Leonidas II) and the horse that was in Kentucky last week (Campino, the gelding he rode to team bronze in the 2012 Games), so providing they are both fit and sound then I’ve got a good chance of being on the team.
“Both are possible,” he said, when asked which he might take assuming he was selected. “There’s not a lot between the two of them. A reasonably comfortable position. At the London Olympics, I ended up riding my third string horse.”
Rio has been Todd’s agenda for years, regardless of his own personal ambitions, because he is also coaching the Brazilian team who have an automatic entry as hosts.
New Zealand has little to fear from his working with rival riders -- Todd has compared it to coaching the Jamaican bobsleigh team -- but he does feel they could open a few eyes.
“My role with the Brazilians is a training one but also in an advisory role. Obviously when I get there I can’t be training them and riding myself so I’ve had to put in place different trainers for them,” he said.
“They are going OK. They are a young nation and they don’t have many riders and don’t have many horses so we’ve just got our fingers crossed a bit. If we get their best team, they could surprise a few people.”
“Its a global sport and we’re all friends together ... if we can help them a bit in their home Games then that’s great.”
Editing by Tony Jimenez/Peter Rutherford