Tokyo Olympic gold medalist Oliver Townend hopes his mum will forgive him.
Huddersfield-born and raised Oliver, 38, struck gold as part of Team GB’s eventing team but then made an admission – he’d forgotten his mum’s birthday!
World No1 rider Oliver was so focused on securing his first Olympics success that he forgot to send mum Eve a present back home in Scapegoat Hill.
When interviewed about his gold medal success in Japan, the first thing the modest Yorkshireman could say was: “Happy birthday, mum! It’s my mum’s birthday and I haven’t done anything about it!”
The Tokyo Olympics have been a break-through experience for a sportsman at the top of his profession. He’s been the World No1 ranked rider since 2018.
Oliver, speaking with a heavy Yorkshire accent even though it’s the best part of 20 years since he moved away, told of his rapport with teammates Tom McEwan and Laura Collett.
The trio claimed Britain’s first Olympic gold in eventing since the Munich games in 1972 and it was only the third of all-time.
“I have never been as happy or comfortable on a team,” said Oliver. “We are all normal people. You can tell from my accent. None of us are from posh backgrounds.”
Eventing is a sport that goes under the radar and Oliver would be a big star in most other sports – but he likes the relative anonymity.
Sue Chadwick, a coach with Emley-based Rockwood Pony Club and an under-18s coach for the North for British Eventing, is a long-standing friend of the Townend family.
Sue coached Oliver from a young age at the pony club and Holme Valley Riding Club and remembers him as talented in the saddle and a little mischievous out of it.
“There were a few lads at pony club at the time who caused a bit of chaos and he was one of them,” said Sue. “But when he was on the horse that was his job and his talent shone through.
“He was always really focused and determined but he never had the best horses or ponies because they are ridiculously expensive but he learned a lot from riding those types of horses.”
Oliver grew up in Scapegoat Hill and began riding when he was seven. He inherited his love of horses from his parents. His dad Alan was an event rider and mum Eve showed side saddle at county level.
His first success came at the age of 11 with his pony Cool Mule at the prestigious Horse of the Year Show.
As a young adult he left Huddersfield and became stable jockey to the late showjumping trainer Kenneth Clawson in Leicestershire.
Oliver then set up his own stable operation in Leicestershire and five years later bought his own farm near Ellesmere in Shropshire where he remains.
Oliver was thrust to prominence in 2009 when he won Badminton and Burghley horse trials in the same year and he has been hugely successful since, winning three European team golds. He’s climbed the rankings and has been FEI World No1 since 2018.
He’s an undoubted star in equestrian circles and has been back to speak at Holme Valley Pony Club events but outside the sport he’s little known.
“It’s not a very high profile sport,” said Sue. “And Oliver is not really interested in promoting himself or doing social media, he’s only interested in riding horses.
“He would be quite happy if everybody just let him get on with his job. He would not want to be recognised in the street. He’s a typical Yorkshireman.”
After his first taste of Olympic glory, Oliver is now looking for more in Paris in three years’ time. However, he might – just might – be recognised when he comes back to Huddersfield to drop off a belated birthday present for his mum.