David O'Connor - O'connor Vs. The Wall
O'Connor vs. the Wall
Navigating the technically demanding stadium, O'Connor jumped clean over the first five fences. Clearing fence six, the big horse brushed the top rail, which made a rapping noise but did not fall. Then O'Connor made a potentially disastrous tactical mistake: He turned to glance back at fence six. When he faced forward again, O'Connor had temporarily lost track of his place in the course. He slowed Custom Made as he looked about. Members of the capacity crowd, sensing his distress, shouted, "the wall!," cueing O'Connor to the fence seven, a breakaway wall. He did not hear them.
To have bypassed that jump—going "off course"—would have resulted in O'Connor's elimination. In a matter of moments, though, he had regained his bearings, leapt cleanly over the wall, and continued the pattern correctly, accruing five points with one rail down.
Though the slip had cost him valuable seconds, O'Connor had still completed his round in the time allowed, and the gold medal was his in a new Olympic record of just 34 penalty points over three days. It was the first individual gold for the U.S. in that sport since 1984.
A documentary film by Olympics chronicler Bud Greenspan caught O'Connor muttering, "stupid, stupid" to himself as he exited the arena. "My head is still sore from being on a swivel looking for the next fence," he was quoted in an Associated Press article posted on ESPN.com. "There was a moment there of words that can't be printed." To make such an error with the stakes so high continued to dog O'Connor even after he accepted his prize: "I was so upset about the missed turn that I still thought about it during the victory gallop." Still, O'Connor's gallop, gold medal around his neck, American flag waving in his right hand, was a widely seen image of the Sydney summer games.
Subsequent to his Olympic victory, O'Connor continued to dominate international eventing. In 2001 he again took the Fair Hill CCI*** aboard The Native. And in September 2002 O'Connor (on Giltedge) joined Kim Severson, Amy Tryon, and John Williams to take the U.S. team's first gold medal at the World Equestrian Games held in Jerez, Spain. However, the future of Olympic eventing lay in doubt. The International Olympic Committee Programme Commission issued a recommendation eliminating this sport, citing cost, danger, and other factors. O'Connor spoke up for eventing, telling Practical Horseman that "horse sports are growing in popularity, and we're growing with them." He added: "You have people who're there and supporting you just because you're from their nation. They don't know a lot about your sport, but they're going to support you just because you're an American or a Canadian or whoever you are. And that's quite a special feeling." In November 2002, the IOC accepted the International Equestrian Federation's proposal to retain eventing in a modified form. For the 2004 games in Athens, the competition will retain dressage, cross-country and show-jumping, but eliminate the roads-andtracks and steeplechase courses.
For O'Connor, the fascination of his sport begins and ends with the horse. "I really like the communication with the horse," he noted in his O'Connor Event Team Web site. "Watching them become confident and discover the amazing things they can do. There's definitely a personal kind of closeness between you and the horse. There's a connection between your personalities."