1956 Olympics in Stockholm equestrian events

The Stockholm Olympics were held in July, 1912, the fifth Olympiad of the modern era.

But there was also a Stockholm Olympics in June, 1956, and only equestrian events were held at this particular event. Why? Because the actual host of the 1956 Olympiad was Melbourne, and Australia is famous for its tight quarantine control, a custom that goes back decades.

According to Wikipedia, Australia “had a strict six-month pre-shipment quarantine on horses,” and authorities insisted from 1953 that they would not allow horses enter Australia, even for the Olympics, which were to be held four months later, from November 22 to December 8. So, in 1954, the IOC decided that instead of cancelling the equestrian events, they moved them to Stockholm, Sweden instead.

As a result, the 1956 Olympiad was the first and last to be held in two different hemispheres in the same year, and 1956 saw posters that featured two different cities. The one above is the equestrian part of the 1956 Olympics in Stockholm, while the one below is the standard poster for the Melbourne Games.

1956 Melbourne Olympics

Interestingly, Sweden won gold in half of the equestrian events: individual dressage, team dressage and individual eventing. One might think home field advantage made the difference. Maybe it did, although Sweden dominated the equestrian events at the 1952 Summer Olympics in neighboring Helsinki, Finland.

As is explained in the book, Success and Failure of Countries at the Olympic Games, by Danyel Reiche, success in equestrian events is directly correlated to a nation’s GDP – “Out of the 419 Olympic medals, 329 (78.5%) in equestrian were won by wealthy countries with a GDP above US$30,000.” In addition, Reiche points out that in the case of Sweden, “equestrian sports is a ‘folk sport’,” which may explain why Stockholm was selected as the venue on such short notice.

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Cian O’Connor on Waterford Crystal

Show Jumper Cian O’Connor was stripped of his gold medal at the 2004 Athens Olympics. O’Connor didn’t do the jumping himself. The Irishman is an equestrian, who rode a horse named Waterford Crystal. In competition horses also get tested for illegal drugs, and at the Athens Games, traces of various anti-psychotic and pain relieving drugs were found in Waterford Crystal.

So yes, Jane Fonda, they do shoot (up) horses.

Apparently, anti-pscyhotic drugs like fluphenazine are commonly used to calm horses, particularly in cases when horses have been injured and completed treatment, but won’t stay calm and allow their wounds to heal. Another drug like reserpine acts as a long-lasting sedative, which is likely prescribed for similar reasons as fluphenzine. They were likely in Waterford Crystal in order to calm this excitable horse and thus give the rider a more stable mount in competition.

Clearly the horse has no say in the matter. The team around the horse, including the rider and the trainer, are held accountable for what goes in the body of the horse. About a year after the Athens Olympics, O’Connor had to return his gold medal, and Rodrigo Pessoa of Brazil became the new showjumping king, trading his silver for gold. Chris Kappler of America got to trade his bronze for silver, and suddenly, Marco Kutscher of Germany was awarded a bronze medal.

Four years later in Beijing, a horse named Camiro was found to have the illegal pain killer, capsaicin, in her system. Camiro was the horse of rider Tony Andre Hansen, who was one of four members of the Norwegian jumping team. Camiro apparently failed the first of two drug tests so Hansen was not allowed to compete in the individual jumping event, but was allowed to compete in the team event, at which Norway took the bronze medal.

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Riders from the team of Norway celebrate during the victory ceremony of the team jumping final of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games equestrian events in Hong Kong, south China, Aug. 18, 2008. Tony Andre Hansen far left (Xinhua/Zhou Lei)

The Norwegian team stood on the medal podium and sank in the cheers and congratulations. Ten days later, after the Beijing Games had completed, Camiro failed a second test. With Hansen’s horse now DQ’ed, the Norwegian team dropped from third to tenth in the point totals. The four members of Team Switzerland were suddenly bronze medalists.

As for Cian O’Connor, eight years later at the 2012 Olympics, he was able to ride a horse named Blue Loyd 12 to the medal podium, taking the bronze medal in the London Games.

Michael Phelps
The incredible Michael Phelps

Gymnast Oksana Chusovitina, representing Uzbekistan, competed in her seventh Olympics in Rio at the age of 41.

American cyclist, Kristin Armstrong, won a gold medal in the individual road time trial in Rio, the third consecutive Olympics she has done so, at the age of 42.

Equestrian Phillip Dutton won a bronze medal in individual eventing for America at the age of 52.

Relative to Chusovitina, Armstrong and Dutton, swimmer Michael Phelps is a spring chicken. But at the age of 31, Phelps’ phenomenal Olympic career, particularly based on his results in Rio, is most definitely an outlier vis-a-vis his rivals and rival-wannabes. According to The Washington Post, “over the past 10 Summer Games, the oldest athlete to swim in the finals for the same events in which Phelps is scheduled to compete has been 29 years old, with the average age just under 22 years old. And, not surprisingly, times get slower as an athlete ages.” (Yes, Anthony Ervin winning gold in the 50-meter freestyle at the age of 35 is an even greater outlier.)

Michael Phelp's Aging Curve Compared_Washington Post

Role models are so important to aspiring athletes. And it’s not just adolescents and teenagers whose passions are ignited by their heroes. It’s Gen X. It’s even the Baby Boomers. They see Chusovitina and Phelps as trailblazers for those of us in our 30s, 40s and 50s, whose daily lives are filled with marketing meetings, children’s soccer matches, evening social gatherings, and attempts to overcome sleep deprivation on the weekends.

More and more commonly, men and women past their “prime” are making the time and taking the challenge to up their game in high performance athletics. The “Olympics” for athletes of age groups from 35 to over the century mark is the World Masters Games. The number of participants since 1985 has grown from over 8,000 to close to 30,000 in 2009, which was more than twice the number of athletes who took part in the Sydney Olympic Games in 2000.

Oksana Chusovitina in Rio

As the nations of the industrialized world see their populace age rapidly, the people with the most money and influence are the aged demographics. Clearly, their interest in staying healthy and happy grows as they collectively age. As the human body’s production of hormones that enhance the benefits of physical exertion diminish from the age or 35, we can feel very clearly our strength diminishing over time. But considerable research and thought is going into how to increase flexibility, strength and staying power the older you get.

And the research tells us that exercise, low intensity or high, done on a consistent basis, will yield positive results for practically everybody. But the fact of the matter is, our busy lives demotivate so many of us from making that daily effort. This personal coach explains that making the effort is just a matter of making a decision.

The hard part about this for maturing athletes is that job and family responsibilities may make getting to bed early difficult. You need to make a choice as to the type of life you want to lead. If you’ve made the decision that you want to live a healthy, fit life, then going to bed early is part of it. That will likely mean the end of midweek social events, skipping TV after dinner, and strict adherence to stopping work after 8:00pm.

But to get to competitive levels of athletic performance, no matter your age, you need to dream. Photojournalist, Susana Girón, has followed these silver athletes taking their pictures, and concluded that age is not an issue if you have that burning passion for excellence

Sport in the elderly is not simply an issue of health. It is said that once you become older, you stop dreaming and become less passionate about things. The bodies of these athletes might dwindle with each year, but the passion with which they live and face the events remains stronger than ever, especially as they become aware that every championship might be their last. Living with passion means to remain forever young.

Phillip Dutton in Rio
Phillip Dutton

From the report, "THE GAMES OF THE XVIII OLYMPIAD TOKYO 1964"
From the report, “THE GAMES OF THE XVIII OLYMPIAD TOKYO 1964”

My cats have flown from Tokyo to Seattle to Singapore to Tokyo over a five-year period. To be fair, the whole experience of Vet exams, shots, cat containers, transportation to airports, planes with other animals and loud sounds….probably not the best thing for our cats. But we needed them where we were going, so on the plane they went.

Equestrians need their horses where they are going. And in 1964, horses did not fly well. In fact, in an AP report on October 1, it was reported that an 11-year-old gelding named Markham on the US team went berserk in her stall in the airplane only an hour after it took off from Newark Airport. Markham was causing such a commotion that officials felt that the horse had to be put down so as not to jeopardize the safety of the plane.

Christilot Boylen at 11.
Christilot Boylen at 11.

Born in Jakarta, Indonesia to a Chinese-Dutch-French-Indonesian mother and Australian father, and living in Singapore before settling in Canada as 3 year old, Christilot Hanson-Boylen was already a seasoned traveler.

At 16, when she entered the Tokyo Summer Games as the youngest Olympic equestrian in Dressage, she and her horse, Bonheur, had already competed in Germany and the US. But Japan was a completely different destination. During a time when equestrian athletes got little to no organizational or national support, Hanson-Boylen traveled alone from Canada to Japan. She related her experience to me, described below.

In those days, there were no trainers, no managers, no back up. I was sent by myself. It started strangely as I was sent to Paris first. I had to stay overnight in Paris at the Hotel Claridge. They said the rooms were all booked. I had this coupon, but all they said they could do was put a cot in the bathroom. I still thought the bathroom was marvelous. They put a cot in there and I was just too stupid to complain. People kept rattling on the door all night.

Christilot Boylen at 16, in Tokyo.
Christilot Boylen at 16, in Tokyo.

I get to the airport and I saw one of the famous jump riders Nelson Pessoa of Brazil. I followed him, thinking “he’s going to Japan. He knows the way.” I was feeling a little scared, so I Introduced myself. He said, “Stick by me.” Sure enough he picks the wrong plane. We land in Calcutta.”

Hanson-Boylen eventually made it to Japan, commencing a life of Dressage competition in 6 Olympic Games from 1964 to 1992.

To see what dressage looks like,

Prince Bernhard at the 1956 Melbourne Games
Prince Bernhard at the 1956 Melbourne Games

There are many stories of Japanese going beyond expectations in helping foreigners in need, but this story was above and beyond the call of duty. Prince Bernhard of Holland lost his Dunhill tobacco pouch while observing equestrian events in Karuizawa. That’s when a platoon of Japan’s Self Defense Forces sprung into action, combing the entire 33 kilometer equestrian course, finding the royal pouch in under 60 minutes. “They are quite wonderfully organized,” he said, referring to the Japanese Self-Defense Forces men. “They are really worthy of a gold medal.” (Did he really say that?)

Japan Times, October 22, 1964
Japan Times, October 22, 1964

Prince Bernhard was not a man of insignificance. He established the World Wildlife Fund in 1961. Unfortunately, he was forced to step down from the WWF after being implicated in the notorious Lockheed scandals, accepting a million dollar bribe in exchange for influencing Dutch aircraft purchases. Lockheed also helped bring