London Olympic Games 1948

September 12th, 2012 at 10:40 am

The 1948 Games started with the Individual Dressage Test – just one test rather than the three we’ll see this time round – and it was a rather different challenge; no piaffe, no passage, some extended and collected trot with the reins in one hand, some counter-canter, four-times changes, two-times changes, and fifteen one-times changes – these changes had the highest co-efficient of 20, the next highest co-efficient, 15, was for a diagonal in extended canter followed by a collected counter-canter, through the corner.

The class was won by the Swiss military officer, Captain Hans Moser riding a cavalry charger, Hummer – the Thoroughbred was purchased in Hungary for the Swiss cavalry as a six-year-old, and he was 12 when he competed in London. 82,000 spectators crammed into Wembley Stadium to watch the dressage, and the winner’s form was captured by the famed equestrian photographer, Jean Bridel shooting from an ‘amazing’ 80 metres with the new fangled telephoto Leica for the 1948 edition of L’Année Hippique.

The team gold went to Sweden, with France taking silver and the USA, bronze.

The Times correspondent, Major John Board, found a more individual way to capture the action for his article in L’Année, he was rightly renowned for his pen and ink. Here is his impression of the bronze medallist, Captain Boltenstern on Trumf.

Although Major Board covered hunting and all horse sports except racing for The Times, Country Life, The Field and Riding, he found the equestrian eventers “of extraordinary interest… since they were the first that I ever saw. I hope they will not be the last for what I have seen has helped me to enlarge my outlook and improve my mind. Having been brought up with my generation to believe that all Englishmen were heaven-sent horsemen, and having had little opportunity to compare our methods with those of Continental riders until a fairly advanced age, this belief died hard. Indeed I still believe that we have in England a singular aptitude, instinct, sympathy and understanding of the horse, which properly educated, makes us at least the equals of any others…. The fact that we have two superlative equestrian sports not shared in the same degree by any other nation, namely foxhunting and polo, has rendered the Englishman rather lazy in improving his actual horsemanship…”

Nonetheless the Major was impressed that Britain had managed to produce teams for the Three Day Event and the Showjumping, and he proudly noted that the Showjumping team actually “did contrive to complete the full course, something managed by only two other nations of the fifteen competing.”

The eventing dressage saw the Swiss take the lead, closely followed by the French and the Americans.

After the dressage tests finished, Colonel Podhajsky, until recently the director-general of the Spanish Riding School, gave a demonstration of Haute Ecole work on his stallion, Neopolitano Africa.

The Cross Country was held at three different locations, remember these were the days of roads and tracks, then steeplechase, then 34 cross-country obstacles, in the grounds of the Royal Military College, Sandhurst. Here Board “forsook my car for a horse which would give me at least some chance of seeing the competitors round the cross-country course…”

Captain Bernard Chevallier (France) on Aiglonne won the gold medal in the Three Day Event on a score of +4, the next best score was -21.

It was a long day “made longer by unconscionable time taken by the accountants in computing the scores and the delay in publishing them.” (Some things never change) When they were published the scores revealed that the Danes were in the lead, the United States, second and Sweden, third.

Captain Blazer on Muhmud, the best performed Swiss rider.

After an action-packed showjumping round, the USA emerged as winners, just 3 and 1/2 points in front of Sweden, with Mexico, third, Switzerland, fourth, and Spain, fifth – they were the only nations to complete. The individual gold medal (no they didn’t have to jump twice in those happier days) went to France’s Captain Chevallier and Aiglonne, silver to the American combination of Lieutenant-Colonel Henry and Swing Low, and bronze to Captain Selflet and Claque of Sweden.

It seems that back in 1948 the attention given to the footing was a little primitive. Major Board writes: “I walked round the course in the morning and my first impression was of a rather small arena in the vast amphitheatre of Wembley, deep going which threatened to become boggy, and of an admirably chosen and sited course guaranteed to give an exhaustive but entirely fair test.”

“In the first place I have never seen so many refusals in international competition, and this I ascribe very largely to the state of the ground, which starting as deep, ended in being a veritable quagmire.”

In the first round, France was eliminated when Nankin fell at the triple, injuring both horse and rider – then Holland, Italy, Portugal, Finland, Brazil, Turkey and Denmark, were also eliminated. In the next round Argentina was eliminated, leaving Spain, Ireland, Sweden, England and Mexico, still in the running. In the next round even that great British combination of Lt Col Llewellyn and Foxhunter could do no better than 16 faults.

Victory in the teams went to Mexico, led by Lt Col Mariles Cortes and Arete, who also took the individual medal. Silver individual to another Mexican, Captain Ruben Uriza and Hateuy. Bronze to Chevalier d’Orgeix riding Sucre de Pomme who took 3rd after a jump off against Col Wing of the USA on Democrat. Team silver to Spain, and bronze to Great Britain.

Obviously it is going to be very different 64 years later. For a start, civilians – and female civilians at that – will be very much in the race for medals, and the horses will be somewhat more specialised and more talented than the usual cavalry charger. Certainly there will be miles more hype and hysteria, but perhaps I should fire off an email for LOCOG suggesting in the interests of historical continuity, a nice quiet hack might be made available for this correspondent, all the better to enjoy the cross country…

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