Hester happy to play patient game in bid for sixth Games

When you've been an Olympian for 28 years already, what's one more to wait in the grand scheme of things?

For Carl Hester, 2020 was supposed to be the Olympic swansong, a final farewell in an esteemed equestrian life which begun in 1992 and his first Games in Barcelona.

Indeed, few know patience better than Hester himself, with his first medal – at London 2012, no less – coming two decades on from his Games debut.

Silver followed four years ago in Rio with Tokyo 2020 set to be a sixth Olympics for a 52-year-old who has been there and seen it all in equestrianism.

Well, not quite everything. The impact of COVID-19 has been felt globally and Hester is no different, learning how to adjust to life in lockdown with the year’s diary now wiped out. “I’m lucky enough to be based down at the yard so we have the horses and a lot of the team down here, which makes a big difference,” he said.

“It’s probably the longest time we’ve had in one place for some while. We’re used to travelling quite a lot so it is a difficult situation to get used to, but we’re in quite a fortunate position.

“We have another year to prepare for the Olympics which could be a good thing for us. The age of a dressage horse is so important, and we could be set up quite well with another 12 months under our belt.

“What the postponement does do is take the pressure off riding, for the time being. This is a unique situation for all of us and to be able to relax a bit more does make things easier – it makes a big difference to your riding.

“Dressage horses are expected to be athletic and so leaving them won’t work. Our horses are young and we’ll be looking to work with them three or four times a week to be ready for whenever we need to go again.” The Olympic flame won’t be lit for another year but the fire certainly hasn’t gone out of Hester’s belly, relishing the challenge that 2021 brings.

Indeed another 12 months offers him the opportunity to reflect on what has gone before, with the Games themselves and the world so different from the early 1990s.

Then the man from Sark became Team GB’s youngest rider to ever compete at the Games and he finished 16th atop Giorgione.

Twenty years of Olympic experience followed – despite absences from Atlanta and Beijing – before Hester’s glory came and what a moment it was, with he, Laura Bechtolsheimer and triple Olympic champion Charlotte Dujardin storming to Team GB’s first team dressage gold.

“That was such a fantastic occasion to be a part of and one which I look back on with such fondness,” he reflected.

“The build-up was difficult, there was a lot of pressure to get things right, especially with what we put on ourselves, because we knew what it would mean for both us and the sport in the country to win a medal, let alone gold.

“It was the first Games for Charlotte as well which helped me, being able to coach her gave me something else to focus on as well as my own performance.

“I’d left Guernsey when I was 19 to work on the mainland, so by the time Barcelona came around my family – who were hugely supportive – weren’t fully aware of what was happening.

“Going to a Games was the most amazing thing to happen with me – and some of my family were there without me even knowing about. They just came, watched the event and then left again.”

As for the future, optimism is evident in Hester’s psyche and with Team GB backing up their London gold with Rio silver in 2016, it’s little surprise that hopes remain high.

In Dujardin, Hester - who is likely to be Team GB's oldest representative in Tokyo - also has a triple Olympic champion to steer to further glory while also looking after his own preparations.

But there will be one notable absentee by the time Tokyo 2020 rolls around.

“This will be the first time Charlotte will ride at a Games without Valegro, so that is a big challenge in itself,” he added.

“But it’s also a fantastic opportunity – she’s a fantastic performer and the next Olympics is a great chance to show that it’s not all about Valegro, and for Charlotte to show how good she is in her own right.

“We’ve had an unbelievable era of dressage and equestrianism over the past ten years and it’s really exciting to see where we go next, both as individuals and as a team.”

Sportsbeat 2020