Even a broken collarbone and ribs didn't stop Gillian Rolton from doing her bit for the equestrian team at Atlanta
Photo: Getty Images
In the fifth of our 10-part series on iconic Australian Olympic moments, we look back at the day Gillian Rolton defied incredible pain to secure a famous equestrian gold medal in Atlanta in 1996.
Most Australians would remember equestrian rider Gillian Rolton for the remarkable courage she showed in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, but she was certainly no one-hit wonder.
The South Australian had already won team eventing Olympic gold on horse Peppermint Grove at the 1992 Barcelona Games, and in doing so was the first Aussie female to enjoy Olympic glory on a horse. She was rewarded and recognised with an OAM on Australia Day in 1993 as a result.
While Rolton was a worthy recipient, her herculean effort during the '96 Games would suggest such an honour would have been more appropriate for her three years later.
Her dreams of winning gold medals at successive Olympics in the same event appeared gone when she fell and suffered broken ribs and a broken collarbone as Peppermint Grove lost balance during her run. As a consequence of Rolton's injuries, her left arm became immobile.
Remarkably, Rolton climbed back on and continued, only to fall a second time - into the water this time - as the horse failed to clear a jump.
She rose yet again to complete her run and help the Australian eventing team of herself, Wendy Schaeffer, Andrew Hoy and Phillip Dutton win gold.
In a recent interview, Rolton admitted she hadn't noticed her injuries during her performance.
"I was so totally focused on getting through to the finish. I just was oblivious to everything else, actually," she said.
In a separate interview, Rolton revealed her coach Wayne Roycroft was livid following her heroic display.
"He came up to me and he was absolutely like thunder. He said, ‘Well, you couldn’t help the first fall but why the (expletive), (expletive) did you come off the second time.’ And I just sort of pulled my shirt back and there was this bone sticking up and he said, ‘Oh … mmm, you better get to the hospital then. But don’t take any drugs, we’ll probably need you to ride tomorrow,'" she recalled.
Despite his harshness and the fact she wasn’t required the following day, Rolton bravely adhered to his instructions and didn't take painkillers.
Her display gave the rest of Australia's Olympic team, and indeed the country, an enormous lift.
It showed the world Australians are team players, and that any individual who dons the green and gold with the coat of arms puts their country before themselves.
In the year following the ecstasy of her Atlanta triumph, Rolton was devastated by the passing of her friend and fellow rider Anna Savage, who died from head injuries suffered while competing in 1997.
The tragedy placed doubts in Rolton's mind as to whether she should continue in the sport.
"It made me think about my mortality and how fragile I really am. I had some long talks with my husband, Greg, and for a time I thought maybe it's time to do something else," she said.
Peppermint Grove was retired in 1997, but Rolton continued to ride.
She missed qualification for the Sydney Olympics in 2000 aboard her new horse Endeavour, but was a flag bearer at the opening ceremony.
On November 30, 2000, she was inducted into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame.
Today, Rolton works as event director for the Adelaide Horse Trials; she will go to the 2012 London Olympics as an equestrian judge in eventing.
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