Olympic memories, two decades on

Liam Durkin

WITH last Thursday marking 20 years since the end of the Sydney 2000 Olympics, many readers may not know the unique story involving Sale’s own Gavin Chester.

Chester, a well-known figure in local showjumping, competed in two equestrian events at the 2000 games, but experienced a somewhat surreal turn of events to eventually make it onto the biggest stage.

“I was pretty lucky I got to go to the Sydney Olympics,” he told the Gippsland Times last November.

“I actually first got picked for Moscow in 1980 when I was 20, but we didn’t get to go because the government wouldn’t let us (because of the boycott following the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan). So it took 20 years for me to get the opportunity to go again.”

As his Olympic dream was snatched from his grasp all those years ago, the Sydney Games presented an extraordinary postscript, as Chester competed at the ripe old age of 41, making him one of the oldest competitors on show.

Olympic equestrian events are unique in a way, as the athletes’ path to entry depends mostly on the quality of horse they have at their disposal.

“Getting to the Olympics a lot of things need to line up – you to have a good horse at the right time and it needs to be sound and healthy and performing well as you do as a rider,” he explained.

“That’s why horses are so expensive, because there are families if they’ve got to pay $5 million for their daughter to go to the Olympics, they’ll do it.

“You know at any given time if you’ve got the right horse and a lot of times throughout the years riders have been capable – they just haven’t had the right horse – so it’s quite brutal in that regard.

“To get picked in an Olympic team you first have to get a certificate of capability and that’s done on a certain course with certain requirements and you have to do it twice to make sure you can’t fluke your way through.

“You have to get a score of zero (scored by not knocking over any hurdles) and then do another one to get your certificate. And you have to get that before your own country is even allowed to pick you.”

Chester is still heavily involved in showjumping and is the current president of the Sale and District Showjumping Club. He also runs a popular training facility in Stratford.

Sale and District Showjumping Club last year hosted the Fede ration Equestrian International World Cup qualifier, which had Olympic qualifying events taking place.