Jul 18, 2021

Olympic Musings with Australia's Andrew Hoy

Andrew Hoy and Vassily de Lassos. USEA/Leslie Mintz Photo

Australian eventing legend Andrew Hoy may be approaching his eighth Olympic Games, but the thrill of the world’s greatest sporting showpiece never dims.

“It gives me goosebumps just thinking about it,” he says.

Andrew, 62, has already taken part in more Olympics than any other Australian athlete. His first was Los Angeles in 1984, and he has been to every one since, except for Beijing in 2008. He has three team gold medals - from Barcelona in 1992, Atlanta in 1996, and Sydney in 2000, and an individual silver from Sydney, too.

“I was talking to Ian Chesterman, who is chef de mission of the Australian Olympic team for Tokyo, the other day,” says Andrew. “He said that this is the first Games for 62% of the Olympic team, and 60% of them will only ever do one Olympics. He also told me that the average age of the Australian team is 27! I used to be so proud of being the youngest member of the team - now I’m the oldest eventer, but not actually the oldest member of the Australian squad because our dressage rider Mary Hanna is 65.”

Why does the pull of the Olympics remain so strong?

“It all developed from a very young age when I started riding and working at home with my pony,” explains Andrew. “My parents have always been a tremendous support to me, and the attention to detail that exists in me comes from both of them, but predominantly my father. He was from an engineering background, although he later became a farmer, and he would look at farming very differently to most people. I learned by watching what he was doing, how he processed things and made changes.

“With horses, you can’t quantify the hours you spend working because there is no limit in terms of attention to detail. My parents taught me, If you want to be good, make sure you place good people around you. It is not just about what I do; it’s about the support team, my owners, my family, my staff, and my service providers. We must all share the same passion. The word I always come back to when asked about why I love working with horses so much still and how I sum up that relationship is harmony.

“You do not get a bigger sporting stage than the Olympics. That was made so clear to me when the Australian team had success in Barcelona in 1992. Someone would say to someone I was with, ‘Ask him to show you his gold medal.’ People always want to touch and hold a medal. Then they say, ‘What sport do you do?’ That’s the significance of an Olympics. We watch all sports - any sports - there, knowing that we are watching the greatest people in the world in their sport at the time of selection.”

It is that union of equestrian sport with other forms of sport that makes a Games so special. From the 100m runner to the yachtsman to the gymnast to the rider, they stand shoulder to shoulder at the opening and closing ceremonies and share the dinner table in the Olympic Village. However, it is fairly common for equestrian athletes not to take part in these ceremonies - or to stay in the Village; their events are often far away from the main Olympic park, and, if you’ve got a 4 am bus to catch before your morning dressage test, is taking part in an opening ceremony always a good idea?

“I have sometimes chosen not to march in the opening ceremony because my competition has started the next day,” says Andrew. “In Los Angeles, my first Olympics, I went [to the opening ceremony] - it was a seven-hour procedure, albeit one with huge excitement surrounding it. My jaw was on the floor - I felt so much awe about seeing these incredibly famous athletes.

“If you’re not one of the early nations marching, you don’t necessarily see very much of the ceremony at all - and I’m so short that I can’t see much over the other athletes anyway! I can’t really ask the basketball players to put me on their shoulders. . .

“Sometimes, I have sat in the audience in the stadium and watched the procedure and seen much more of it that way.”

Andrew did carry the Australian flag at the head of the Australian squad in Atlanta in 1996: “That was an extraordinary moment, that the Australian Olympic committee respected me enough to ask me to do that,” he says. “I was a very strong favorite to carry the flag in Tokyo, but they have chosen two other athletes, one male and one female, and I’m thrilled for them to have that opportunity.”

He laughs while telling a story about the closing ceremony of the London 2012 Games: “We were all lined up waiting to receive our passes for the ceremony, which were being handed out by a young member of the administrative team. She handed one to the yachtsman next to me and walked straight past me. I asked if I could have one, and she said, ‘athletes first, officials later.’ I said, ‘What part of me doesn’t look like I’m an athlete?!’”

Andrew does, however, always choose to stay in the Olympic Village.

“I say that the Olympics is my busiest time at the office for four years,” he says. “It allows me to focus completely and utterly on what I need to do.”

Andrew will be riding Paula and David Evans’ Vassily De Lassos, the 12-year-old Anglo-Arab son of Jaguar Mail whom he bought from French rider Tom Carlile in 2017. He is a serious medal prospect, an outstanding jumper whose dressage scores are improving all the time. Could he bring this most experienced of Olympians another podium finish?

“I think he’s a very strong contender,” Andrew replies.

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