STROUD (Reuters) - On a sideboard in Bettina Hoy’s house, a mounted case containing two Olympic gold medals reminds the German of the day she was crowned the best rider in the world.
Unfortunately the medals are copies, presented to Hoy by the German equestrian federation as compensation for her bitter experience at the 2004 Games when she was stripped of her individual and team three-day event titles.
Hoy was flying home to Germany to celebrate when a protest by rival teams robbed her of the medals. Lingering resentment at her treatment in Athens is now propelling her towards the Beijing Games.
“It drives me on — when I am on the treadmill and tired, I just have to think about Athens and I can run for as long as I have to,” she told Reuters at her home in southern England.
“I don’t think I have ever been physically fitter than now.”
Hoy, who is married to Australia’s triple gold medalist Andrew Hoy, agrees she made a mistake when her horse Ringwood Cockatoo crossed the start line twice in the showjumping phase.
But she still gets emotional when discussing how opposing teams battled to take possession of her medals.
“I am a Scorpio - I don’t forget,” she said. “Forgiving is too strong a word but I certainly don’t forget, it’s always there. I had two golds and I had to give them back.”
Soon after the showjumping, the final phase in the event, officials gave Hoy 12 penalty points which removed her and the German team from the medals. Germany appealed against this decision and were reinstated.
But this was not the end of the affair because the British, French and U.S. Olympic teams launched an appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport. It was the actions of these officials that still grates with Hoy.
“If you think about it, the Olympic Games follow very different rules to any other championships,” she said. “People said to us there would probably never have been a protest like that if it wasn’t an Olympic Games.
“You very quickly had non-horsey team officials taking over. A friend said ‘The Olympic Games are almost like the modern battlefield’ where every country tries to be more successful than other nations.
“The Americans do it to perfection. I mean they were the ones who waited two days to get the heavyweight lawyers in to fight the case.”
Has she had any contact with the American officials since? “No, and I don’t want to,” the 45-year-old says forcefully.
“The British and French team and officials wrote really nice letters to the German federation and I speak with all of the riders and have no problems with them.
“The Americans did nothing.”
CAS accepted the other teams’ appeal and France were awarded the team gold, Britain the silver and the United States were elevated to the bronze. Leslie Law of Britain inherited Hoy’s individual gold and American Kimberly Severson won silver.
“It would certainly have been a lot better if things had been dealt with in the correct way, there were so many mistakes made on both sides. I made the first mistake but I was the only one who paid for these mistakes,” Hoy said.
“There was no advantage gained for what I did ... Funnily enough, the rule has now been changed.”
Hoy went into hiding at her parents’ house after landing in Germany. She thought for a while of retiring but soon rekindled her love of working with horses and gained some perspective about what she had gone through in Athens.
“When I was in hiding with my parents, I received a letter from a friend saying she was sorry for what had happened. Only in the last three sentences did she say she was on her third course of chemo for breast cancer and had had a breast removed.
“And I thought ‘here I am crying my eyes out and, sure I’ve worked all my life for those medals but is it life-threatening? No, far worse things can happen to me’.”
Bettina and Andrew, who has won three eventing golds with the Australian team, are preparing for Beijing at their long-term base on the fringes of the Gatcombe estate owned by Queen Elizabeth’s daughter, Princess Anne.
Bettina will be partnered at the August 8-23 Games by Ringwood Cockatoo again and she is hoping things will turn out better this time for both of them.
“I felt very sorry for him — he was clearly the best, he did nothing wrong and he deserved to go down in history for winning two golds.
“Everyone said to me ‘you had the best performance on the three days and you will be remembered for that’.
“But I don’t have the medals to prove it.”
Editing by Dave Thompson