O'Connor claims bronze after dramatic jump-off
LONDON 2012:SO MAYBE that’s what Strummer and Jones meant by London Calling – an impossibly perfectly storied Olympic triumph in the face of adversity for Cian O’Connor. If only the mean time at Greenwich wasn’t so precisely accurate, it might have been gold, or at least a jump-off for it. Or it might have been silver, if he hadn’t been so boldly determined to win the jump-off for that too.
Yet this was unquestionably a bronze medal worth its weight in gold, produced on his horse Blue Loyd 12 with such magnificent confidence that you’d swear O’Connor had it planned all along.
“Well I did,” he says, raising a modest and utterly deserved smile. “I don’t think I’m the best rider in the world, but I think I’m one of the most planned, and organised, and that is vital. You won’t win things by chance. You only win by proper planning.
“I mean we were two one-hundredths of a second outside the time on that last round. Then when Nick Skelton, the British rider, had one down, I knew I’d won a medal, so we threw caution to the wind on the jump-off. I think we were unlucky to knock the last, but to win a bronze medal, I would have accepted that any day.”
Certainly, we weren’t expecting it – yet tipped off by O’Connor’s clear round that morning, only six riders doing so, he suddenly had every chance in the final round: after 80 seconds, 10 fences, 13 efforts, then the jump-off to decide silver or bronze, he’d finally got his personal golden moment – eight years after the original one. But if his disqualification from Athens, after winning the gold medal on the horse Waterford Crystal, who later failed a doping test, provided the inevitable back-drop, the 32-year-old O’Connor has clearly moved on.
“Well, I put Athens behind me a long time ago. For sure, it comes into the spotlight again, winning a medal again in the Olympic games. But for me it was all about coming here to deliver the goods, thats all I ever set out to do, and I’m certainly very pleased I’ve come and done that today, and in such style as well, just two of us in the jump-off for that medal.”
Later, at the official press conference, he’s asked if he sensed some people weren’t rooting for him, after what happened in Athens. “You sensed that?” he asks back. “I didn’t sense that. All I sensed was the great support. There must have been a few bitter ones, but I didn’t hear, thank God. That’s a matter for them.
“I’m very happy, and surround myself with people that support me. I know some people are anti-horses, and think it’s elite, or whatever, but it’s a wonderful sport and I would encourage anybody to get into it.”
The fact that O’Connor’s place in London was uncertain right up until the eve of the games, as the de-selection controversy surrounding Denis Lynch rumbled on, was then surpassed by an even greater twist of fate, as he was only called into the 22-man final yesterday morning, as first reserve, having originally failed to qualify, after the late withdrawal of Sweden’s Rolf-Göran Bengtsson’s horse Casall.
So he ended up in the jump-off with Gerco Schroder of Holland, although O’Connor would have faced the tie-breaker with eventual winner Steve Guerdat of Switzerland had he not exceeded the time limit on his second clear run by a mere 0.02 seconds: the Dutchman went clear in 49.79 seconds; O’Connor was on the verge of claiming second until Blue Loyd’s hind legs clipped the top of the last fence.
Inevitably, he paid tribute to his horse, previously owned by a Norwegian rider: “He’s not a huge horse by any means, but he’s a fighter, and that’s what you need on these big days.”
Two fighters, as it turned out, and another big day for the Irish at the Olympics.