It was the last day of competition and all that stood between the Australians and the Team Medal were a dozen or so flimsy show jumps. Not quite. Bill Roycroft will ride for Team Gold with a broken collarbone and ribs and still shaky from a severe concussion which had occurred just the previous day.
Everything has brought them to this point, Morgan and Lavis, should they ride clear, will take medals. Crago, though out of the competition, has paved their way. Should the Team take a medal, Crago will not be given one as only the top three scores are taken into consideration. He has resolved himself to this and is comforted by his new love, Judith, who has hardly left his side since they met. He has found peace and feels every bit as involved and part of the Team as the other men.
Though the door is only slightly ajar, it is still open. If by some miracle Bill Roycroft can get around the course in one piece, the Team Medal is on the table. The chances of Bill riding an Olympic show jumping course, one handed or even making it around, are shaky to say the least. The possibility of him going clear and putting the Australians into Gold Medal position is hardly worth contemplating, that is by everyone but Bill Roycroft. Bill hasn’t come this far not to give his best. Since leaving the hospital, he has been nothing but positive. For anyone who has ever broken a collarbone and or ribs, you will be acutely aware of the pain on the second day. Bill has not mentioned it once. He has supreme focus. There is little doubt Morgan on Salad Days and Lavis on Mirrabooka will perform, they dominated competition the previous day.
The equestrian world is in shock at the supremacy of the Australian riders and Thoroughbred horses, the daring bravery of Crago and Sabre, the sublime cross-county rounds of Morgan and Lavis and the tenacity and dedication of Roycroft on Our Solo to finish the cross-country course over the most difficult combinations, after such a terrible fall. At this point, the world is not aware that Bill, with all his injuries, has left the hospital and will ride in the show jumping.
The Australian Thoroughbred, what an awesome show of supremacy from a much-maligned breed. For the rest of the world, he is a racehorse. For Australia, he is our horse. 200 years ago some of the first horses off the ships were Thoroughbreds; they are as much a part of modern Australian history as the Convicts. Like the Convicts, they were taken from their native lands and brought to a tough, harsh world, where they needed to turn their hand to whatever was put in front of them in order to survive.
Crossed with other breeds to produce the Waler and Australian Stock Horse, they took Australia to war, opened up the inland, and helped build the agricultural wealth of the young country. Now they would stamp their athletic prowess and versatility on the equestrian world.
In perfect clear rounds, as expected, Laurie Morgan on Salad Days has taken the Individual Gold Medal. Neale Lavis on Mirrabooka has taken the Silver.
The job has been done and the world will take notice. Sam Horden’s dream has been realised and Franz Mairinger will be recognised as one of the greatest equestrian coaches.
The announcers have informed the crowd that Bill Roycroft will ride, what a credit to a great man. No one expects him to more than turn up, but the crowd and his mates will show their admiration for the effort, for only hours ago he had left hospital against the instructions of his doctors.
In the warm-up area, Roycroft mounts Our Solo. He is sporting a black eye and a grazed face along with his left arm cradled in a sling.
The Australians are gathered around him. Crago is proud of Bill and his efforts to do his best for their Team, “Whatever happens Bill, we’ve done alright for a pack of bushies.”
“Yeah, too right mate.”
Bill Roycroft was swept up in the moment, his good mate, Laurie Morgan, had just won a Gold Medal and his Teammate Neale Lavis, had won Silver. The adrenaline surges through his veins. Regardless of his situation and his injuries, he is a winner and will strive to win.
As Roycroft leaves the warm-up area, he turns to Crago with a defiant, confidant look, “Hey mate, you can put your house on me, ‘never a backward step’.”
Roycroft enters the arena, time slows down; he is a gladiator about to put his body on the line.
For him, there is no crowd, just noise and a blur of movement. Our Solo is with him and is unaware that Bill is not at his best. He is obedient and bold, his nostrils flare and his ears prick. He steps short and sharp, his foot speed is there to be seen, he knows what is ahead and this is his day.
The Commentator booms, “A standing ovation for the Australian, Bill Roycroft on his mount, Our Solo.”
A second Commentator adds, “Yes, and incredibly, should he manage to ride a clear round, Australia will take the Team Gold.”
Roycroft starts on the course. He is riding one-handed, his broken shoulder in a sling to prevent movement and to discourage any attempt to use it. Solo goes to work, basically he is on his own, he rattles numerous fences, but none fall.
Roycroft is in terrible pain and is fairly unstable on his horse as he steers the course one-handed. The crowd is in quiet awe and ride each effort with Roycroft and Solo as they struggle stoically around the course.
They have done incredibly, on numerous occasions one was certain that rails would fall when they were struck by Solo, but somehow they stayed in place. Lavis observed, “Is Sam Horden holding those poles in the cups?”
The crowd is on the edge of their seats. Is the impossible about to happen? The tension has built with every cleared jump. The Australians are in tears, only men that have fought together in the trenches or competed in team sport at the highest level can feel the special love they have for their battling mate at this precise moment.
As Roycroft approaches the last combination, blood can be seen seeping through his shirt. He appears weary and in danger of collapsing. He refocuses and Solo moves in to attack the triple combination. Solo jumps the first element well but on landing, Roycroft loses his balance. Solo jumps the second awkwardly; only one more rail stands between the Australians and Team Gold.
The take off for the third element is too early, Solo twists his body in the air to avoid contact with the rail and as he clears it, his hind legs strike the rail. It shudders and bounces, high enough for it to fall to the ground. However, on this occasion, it miraculously lands back in the cup.
The crowd erupts and jumps to their feet as one. The Australians embrace, bursting with pride. With excitement and disbelief, the Commentator calls the moment, “They’ve done it! Who would have believed it?! In only their second Olympics, Team Gold to the Australians! One of the greatest and bravest things I have ever seen. Not only that, Gold and Silver in the individual standings to Morgan and Lavis.”
Roycroft manages a smile; he would salute if he had another hand. No one could be more impressed with his achievement. It is truly one of the greatest moments in Olympic history, never achieved before and no doubt never to be repeated again.
The Australians had taken on the equestrian world and triumphed. This would be the beginning of an equestrian dynasty, which survives to this very day. Hardly an Olympics has passed since without Australia registering a medal in equestrian events.
Franz Mairinger went on to coach every Australian Team until his death in 1976.
Bill Roycroft, whose age had been raised as an issue in the first Games, competed at four more Olympics. Bill, and his son Wayne, received the Team Bronze Medal at the 1968 Mexico City Games and the 1976 Montreal Games, making them the first father and son combination to stand on the Olympic medal dais together. Bill also produced 23 Olympic horses, which is a feat that will be hard to repeat. The majority of these horses were sold and a percentage of the money went back into Equestrian Australia to help fund future Olympic Teams.
Brian Crago was the only member of the Team not to receive a medal; subsequently the rules have been changed so that all team members receive medals. Crago lived out his life in England where he married and lived happily.
The Gold and Silver Medals of Laurie Morgan and Neale Lavis, matched with the Team Gold Medal, were the greatest moments in Australian equestrian sport. No one would ever again doubt the qualities of the horsemen of the Southern Cross.