Part 20 Mirabooka. Horseman of the southern cross

 

Neale Lavis and Mirrabooka are the next Australians to ride the course. The endless hours of walking then finally running with Mirrabooka will now be put to the real test. He has had minimal jumping since his success at Badminton and today will test the best horses in the world, it is his chance to show he is in that lofty category.

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Neale feels he has done all he can to have Mirrabooka ready, but this is no longer about Neale and Mirrabooka, this is about his country and his mates. He can’t help but wonder if his pleading to Franz to allow Mirrabooka to take part was the right thing to do, perhaps he should have ridden the reserve horse. But now he is here on his beloved Mirrabooka and they will perform at their best, he will prove to the world the caliber of his Australian Thoroughbred along with the caliber of the Australian horseman.

 

Lavis starts his ride with Mirrabooka at his confident best. It is as though never a day of training was missed, again another fantastic round, the Commentators are in a frenzy over what is without a doubt, the best ride of the day.

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Lavis approaches the ravine, which he knows Crago has successfully negotiated and he knows the way has been partially cleared, but by how much? ‘Not a backward step!’ He turns Mirrabooka toward the cliff-like obstacle. As though it were a standard obstacle on the course, Mirrabooka and Lavis negotiate the dreaded drop and crash through the bush at the bottom. Word has spread around the course of the Australians’ tactics and with each attempt, the spectating-throng grows larger at the bottom of the ravine around
Franz Mairinger.

Lavis and Mirrabooka are also clear and fast on their round. The Team medal is now in sight as riders from other teams struggle with the difficult course.

The English Captain, Forbes-Stewart, is about to start his round. His teammates rush up to him to inform him of the route taken by the Australians. With a determined look, he rides onto the course. The Commentators are praising him and his fine round when he eventually approaches the dreaded drop off. He is looking sheepish, but has decided to take the Australians’ lead. He whips his horse, which instantly increases his tempo, and then at the final moment when the Englishman has committed himself to the task, the horse screams to a halt. Forbes-Stewart is almost unseated but manages to regain his position. With a look of relief on his face, he turns his horse and rides on to take the longer route to the bottom.

Another horse and rider has approached the ravine and launches off the cliff. A close look reveals it is Our Solo and Roycroft. They smash through the bush and onto the lower section of the course. All seems well and the Australians are set to record another clear fast round.

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Roycroft is now approaching Jump 31, not far ahead up the rise, the complex that consists of Jumps 32, 33 and 34, can be seen. It appears like some carnival oasis on the open brown grounds. A large crowd is gathered there to witness the carnage that has already ended the Olympic dream for many a competitor.

Jump 31, though large and very solid, is a row of concrete pipes which is a relatively simple ask for a combination like Our Solo and Roycroft. However, every jump must be shown respect. Underestimation of any jump can get even the best combination into trouble. The following combination of 32, 33 and 34 are daunting and will require every bit of Bill’s concentration. He makes the fatal mistake of thinking too far ahead. Roycroft is certain Our Solo has Jump 31 covered so he continues steeling himself for Jumps 32, 33 and 34. At the last second, the Jump Judge for 31, who has been seated next to the jump, drops his score sheets and they proceed to blow across the course in front of the jump. Without thought, the Judge rushes forward in pursuit of his paperwork. As fate would have it, at this very moment, Roycroft and Our Solo are on the final approach. The movement of the Judge and his fluttering paperwork breaks Solo’s focus. Roycroft, though surprised, is fast to react. He drives Solo on with his riding crop but it is too late, the damage has already been done. Solo’s striding is out and although he attempts the jump, his front legs strike the jump heavily.

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He lands chest first on the other side of the pipes. The horse’s momentum causes him to somersault forward, rolling over Roycroft, who has not had time to scramble clear. The horse is quick to his feet and stands stock still, apparently in a state of shock.

Roycroft is obviously in trouble. He struggles to his feet, stumbling as he does. He appears dazed and his face is cut and grazed, but more alarmingly, blood can be seen oozing from under his shirt. His left shoulder hangs limply by his side. Roycroft staggers to Solo, takes the reins and in obvious pain, remounts one handed. Once on, he sets himself and begins to ride on, slowly at first, then quicker as he gets back to the task at hand.

He knew he was in trouble as he was in extreme pain with tunnel vision. He held the reins in one hand and without a helmet, rode towards the imposing complex, which is combination 32 – 34.

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It has been Roycroft’s intention to ride the straightest and most direct route through the complex, as have the other Australians, however in his current state, riding one handed and with unknown serious injuries, he elects to take the longer and less demanding route. This adds time to his round but he is aware of the time already saved by negotiating the ravine and is now, after his fall, riding for this own pride. Surely the best he can now hope for is to finish the cross-country course. It seems to take an age to complete the complex with the time-consuming twists and turns of the easier options. Roycroft struggles with the pain and the difficulty of controlling Solo one-handed. On a number of occasions he almost falls and at one stage, due to his lack of control, he nearly misses a compulsory element, which would lead to his elimination.

Finally they negotiate the last effort of the complex and gallop on to the finish line, where now overcome with pain, Roycroft passes out and falls heavily from Solo to the ground.

Marshalls and Medics rush to his aid. There are obviously serious concerns for his welfare. He is unconscious with a medical team working on him and taking all the appropriate precautions for spinal injury. Spectators are seen watching the proceedings and due to his lack of movement, there is real fear that he may have been killed.

Roycroft is air lifted to hospital.

Laurie Morgan’s round on Salad Days is now all the more important. Four competitors in a team start the course, but only the top three scores are taken into consideration. With Bill obviously out of the contest, there is no margin for error in Morgan’s ride. As Team Captain, he must now put his cards on the table. He has been obsessive about success all his life and now is certainly no different. Lavis and Crago have done their bit for the cause, the entire chance of a Team medal is on the Captain’s shoulders. Pressure is not an issue; Laurie has felt pressure many times in his sporting endeavours, and he called on all of those experiences today to give him an attitude of invincibility.

Morgan and Salad Days complete the cross-country course as though they are putting on an exhibition. An admiring crowd greets them at the bottom of the ravine, the Australians and their horses have proved to one and all that they are amongst the best.

Morgan’s sublime round puts him in position to take out the individual Gold medal; in fact he and Lavis are both in contention.

Crago has disposed of his demons, which have haunted him since the previous Games, and except for Bill’s injuries, all has gone to plan. They can almost touch the Gold of the Team prize.

Just when all the pieces were coming together, they were devastated at the end of the day when Sabre pulled up lame. There was no dispute, no question, no magic cure; he was gone. Crago was sick in the stomach and there is not a thing anyone can do. The game was over; the Team medal was gone. After all the work and adversity, it finished just like that. The men are devastated and Mairinger comforts Crago as best he can, but now he must look to the performances of his two remaining riders, both in contention for Olympic glory – not the ultimate goal, but still well and truly good enough to appease Samuel Horden’s doubters and bring glory to the effort. The day’s work was done and with nothing more to do to prepare for the next trial, the men turn their attention to Bill Roycroft.

In a Rome hospital the following day, Mairinger, the Team and Gino are all sitting in the waiting room. The Head Surgeon, who has been involved in Roycroft’s treatment, approaches them.

Morgan anxiously asks, “How is he Doc? Is he alright?”
“Mr Roycroft has suffered chest injuries, a compound fracture to the clavicle and has sustained severe concussion. He is in a lot of pain, however all things considered, he is incredibly lucky that there weren’t more severe injuries.”
Morgan was concerned and looking for certain confirmation of his mate’s condition, “There’s nothing permanent or anything like that is there Doc? He’s gonna come good isn’t he?”
“Oh yes, we’ll keep him here for a few more days and I’d say after six weeks rest he should be well on the way to recovery.”
Mairinger enquires, “Doctor, could we see Bill?”
“Well, if you make it very brief, he really needs to rest. No more than five minutes gentlemen. He’s in room 38 at the end of the hall.”

As the men were walking down the hall, Morgan turns to Gino, “Listen Gino, see if you can get your hands on a radio so, if Bill feels up to it, he can listen in to the competition this afternoon. That might cheer him up.”

Gino leaves the group and sets off in search of a radio. The Olympic Team enters Bill’s room. He is awake and staring out of the window. On hearing them, he sits up, which causes pain.

“G’day fellas, I really appreciate you blokes stopping by, but you’ve got more important things to worry about today.”
Momentarily, Morgan softens from his usual ‘let’s get it done attitude’, “Mate, you’re our biggest worry, but the doctor tells us you’re going to be okay.”
“Yeah, I’ll be fine Laurie.”
“Listen fellas, the only thing I can say is, I’m sorry. I just don’t know what happened out there.”
Mairinger supportingly responded, “What happened out there was not your fault Bill. It was a freak accident, that Marshall’s paper just spooked your horse. It should never have happened.”
“All I remember is approaching the jump, Solo felt good, I felt good and then I just remember waking up in a bloody helicopter. Solo’s alright isn’t he?”
“He’s fine Bill. He came out unscathed.”
Crago jokingly added, “That’s because you cushioned his fall Bill. He came down on top of you mate.”
“Well listen fellas, I really appreciate you blokes coming around, but I want you to leave and concentrate on your preparation. It’s medal day today and we only need three of us to take the Team gold. Isn’t that right Brian? We didn’t bloody go down that ridge for nothing!”

There is an awkward silence in the room. Roycroft senses something is wrong.

“What’s up? You blokes keeping something from me?”
Mairingar breaks the news that Laurie and Neale are the only ones riding today, “Bill, Brian’s horse pulled up lame.”
“Shit! Brian, I’m sorry mate.”
“Watching you airlifted in a helicopter put things in perspective. The fact that you’re gonna be okay is all that matters.”

Lavis agrees, “He’s right Bill.”

The Team, knowing that their five minutes are up, start to move towards Roycroft to say their goodbyes. Mairinger places his hand on Bill’s shoulder, “Well Bill, thank heavens you’re okay. Now we must let you get some rest.”
Morgan taps his friend on the leg, “Listen mate, Gino should be here in a minute. I’ve sent him to get you a radio so you can listen in this arvo.”
Roycroft is suddenly animated, “Listen in? Bullshit! Brian’s horse is out and mine’s okay. I’m coming with you blokes. End of story!”
Mairinger was impressed, but also realistic, “Bill, you’re in no condition to come with us to watch, let alone compete!”
“Listen Franz, we haven’t come this far to let some stupid bloody fall stop us from getting the Team medal. I’ve had worse.”
Morgan knows the toughness and commitment of his mate, “Bill, you’ve got a broken collarbone, your ribs are stuffed and you’ve got concussion. And …”
Roycroft got up from his bed, “And bloody nothin’ mate! This isn’t open for discussion. We’ve gotta give it a go, it’s as simple as that!”
Morgan knows there will be no stopping Roycroft once he has made up his mind, “Bill, the doctors aren’t gonna let you leave here.”
Gino enters the room with a radio, “Mr Bill, thank heavens you’re okay.”
Roycroft reaches out with his good arm, flinching as he does so. He takes Gino’s hat off and places it on his own head, “I’m okay mate, now how about you give me your coat and jump into the bed and we’ll see you at the car in ten minutes. Capisce?”

Moments later Roycroft, wearing Gino’s clothes, is walking out of the hospital, surrounded by his Teammates. Surely in his state, Roycroft, though gallant, will not be able to do the job, but who are the Team to stand in his way? They all understand his position.

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