Friday Hoyden, Olympic edition: Gillian Rolton

Olympic rider Gillian Rolton

It’s Olympics time and again, we learn the names of athletes who we never hear of at other times. As a nation we’re obsessed with swimmers and runners and ball sports, but our equestrians kick serious butt.

We see horse racing on TV all the time, but rarely 3DE. It’s a brutal, testing sport needing both physical courage and years of hard work. The second phase, cross country, involves ridiculously large obstacles (I saw a twincab ute used as a jump at Werribee), in often slippery and muddy conditions. Eventing is unique in that older people can compete, and men and women compete with each other in the same events.

Fiona Carruthers writes in the Fin Review:

Ever since the late Bill Roycroft’s Man from Snowy River style ride at Rome in 1960, Australia has excelled in this event. In 1960, Roycroft rode the all-important final Show Jumping phase with a broken collar bone and concussion following a fall from his plucky mount, Our Solo, during the cross country phase.

And from there she makes a brief mention of Andrew Hoy and the rest of the current team. HEY WAIT A MINUTE. If you are going to mention Bill Roycroft, why is there no mention of the legendary ride by Gillian Rolton at Atlanta in 1996? Here’s the story:

Her dreams of winning gold medals at successive Olympics in the same event appeared gone when she fell and suffered broken ribs and a broken collarbone as Peppermint Grove lost balance during her run. As a consequence of Rolton’s injuries, her left arm became immobile.

Remarkably, Rolton climbed back on and continued, only to fall a second time – into the water this time – as the horse failed to clear a jump.

She rose yet again to complete her run and help the Australian eventing team of herself, Wendy Schaeffer, Andrew Hoy and Phillip Dutton win gold.

In a recent interview, Rolton admitted she hadn’t noticed her injuries during her performance.

“I was so totally focused on getting through to the finish. I just was oblivious to everything else, actually,” she said.

How tough is this woman? But there’s more:

In a separate interview, Rolton revealed her coach Wayne Roycroft was livid following her heroic display.

“He came up to me and he was absolutely like thunder. He said, ‘Well, you couldn’t help the first fall but why the (expletive), (expletive) did you come off the second time.’ And I just sort of pulled my shirt back and there was this bone sticking up and he said, ‘Oh … mmm, you better get to the hospital then. But don’t take any drugs, we’ll probably need you to ride tomorrow,'” she recalled.

Rolton has since been inducted into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame. She’s in London at the Olympics now, judging competitions.

Last time I took the boy to the Melbourne Show, I dragged him past the horse events. In the middle of the arena was Gillian Rolton, dressed to the nines in a skirt suit, big cloche hat and court shoes, judging some kids on ponies. I made sure to point her out to my son and tell him this story.

Categories: arts & entertainment, gender & feminism

Tags: , ,

8 replies

  1. She sounds great!
    My Friday Olympic Hoyden today is Australia’s Liz Cambage, who pulled out the first slam-dunk in Olympic women’s basketball history tonight! There’s already a new twitter hashtag for it – #slambage.

  2. Hopefully that might live on, not just as a twitter hashtag but in sporting parlance?!

  3. I think hearing about Gillian Rolton riding with a broken collar bone (I didn’t know about the ribs) was the first time I cried about the Olympics. I thought, and still do, that she is amazing. Getting back on your horse, twice, and riding well enough to help your team to gold is just awesome.

  4. Astonishing story.

  5. I don’t tend to watch the longer equestrian events, so I totally missed that ride by Rolton in 1996. Wow.

  6. Such heroics can’t happen any more. These days, if a horse or rider falls in the cross country, you’re out of the 3DE entirely. (Which is how the Australian team went from five people and in contention to three and not in the space of the cross country at this Olympics.)
    But I remember Rolton’s ride and it was awesome.

  7. I feel like a bit of a jerk for delurking to criticise a post, but I’ve had to watch the equestrian at work over the last several days, and it saddens me to see it celebrated on a blog I respect so greatly. Forcing animals to do dangerous and unnatural acts is cruel. The industry in breeding/killing horses for sport is also cruel. I have a real problem with celebrating someone involved in this.

  8. Yes, it’s a conflicting thing, equestrian sport. As someone who’s never in danger of being brave enough to do it, I nevertheless get fascinated by people who are capable of doing that.
    Equestrian is conflicting per se – as is eating meat, keeping dogs, etc, there are ethical conflicts abounding. But I don’t find the top level of 3DE as abusive as racing, by a long shot. Horses are kept for many years as “partners” rather than used up and thrown away in their thousands as happens with racing.
    But there are genuine worries with all types of horse events – google “Rollkur” and “Big Lick” for some horror stories in widely varying kinds of competition.

%d bloggers like this: