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The equestrian world’s leading figures have lined up to pay tribute to Gillian Rolton, one of equestrian sport’s most respected and influential figures, who has died at the age of 61 after a two-year battle with cancer.
The Australian double-Olympic champion achieved legendary status at the 1996 Summer Games in Atlanta, four years after she had secured gold in team eventing on her Olympics debut in Barcelona.
Rolton displayed astonishing bravery to recover after her beloved horse, Peppermint Grove, fell and skidded during the endurance phase of the event.
After remounting, despite being unable to use her left arm, another fall at the next obstacle somersaulted Rolton into the water. However, she boarded once again and galloped on for the remaining 15 fences over three kilometres to finish the course.
It was only after Rolton had been taken to hospital in an ambulance – and she had refused pain-killing drugs because she thought she might be required to ride in the final team jumping round the next day – that it was revealed that she had suffered a broken collarbone and broken ribs.
The gold medal that duly followed was just reward for the sort of courage that she displayed in her fight with endometrial cancer, helping to raise awareness of the condition to a wide audience.
Former Olympics team-mate Wendy Schaeffer led the tributes to Rolton, who is survived by her husband, Greg. She told ABC News,
“She’s done so much more for the sport than anyone has done before. She always had that belief that she could do it, and she did,”
Rolton, who remains one of four Australians to win at least two equestrian Olympic gold medals, was given the honour of serving as one of eight Olympic flagbearers at the Opening Ceremony of the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games.
She was also the first Australian woman to win Olympic and World Championship equestrian events and has been credited for sparking interest amongst a generation of riders in Australia and worldwide following her high-profile exploits.
"The loss of Gill to cancer has devastated so many people in the eventing world," Catrin Norinder, the FEI's Director of Eventing and Olympic, said.
"She was a truly special person who had time for everyone and who gave so much back to the sport she adored. Her successes on the field were mirrored by her incredible input on the administrative side on so many levels. Her passing leaves a huge void that will be difficult to fill.”
Australian Premier Jay Weatherill has granted a state funeral for the trailblazing equestrian star on Monday 27 November 2017 at 1pm, at Victoria Park / Pakapakanthi, Adelaide. Family, friends, colleagues and members of the public have been invited to attend.
“A dual gold medallist, a massive advocate for greater levels of awareness in relation to the scourge of cancer, she has played this critical role in making an international horse event South Australia's great event,” Weatherill said.
“All of those things make her a great Australian, a great South Australian, and I think it's appropriate that she be honoured in this way. She is obviously a woman of extraordinary talent but also of great courage, but also for South Australia she has been an extraordinary promoter of the horse industry."
Wayne Roycroft, the coach of Rolton’s gold-medal winning Australian Olympic team, was also full of praise. He told The Advisor;
“She was a very determined person and she had such a great association with Peppermint Grove, who would do anything for her,"
“She was part of that breakthrough gold medal in Barcelona that put us on the path to continuing success. Her heroics in Atlanta showed everyone just what was required to win a gold medal.”
News of the equestrian legend’s death emerged midway through Adelaide’s Australian International three-day event, which was directed by Rolton for 10 years.
With flags at half-mast and a minute’s silence during the award ceremony, the event’s winner, New Zealander Clarke Johnstone, summed up the sombre mood by saying during an emotional tribute.
“This is not about me, it’s about Gillian. Without her this event would never have taken place,”
Fans, friends and equestrian lovers the world over took to Twitter to add their tributes with the hashtag, #Gillrideswithus.
Some of the heartfelt tributes on Twitter included the following:
So sad to see the passing of a legend #gillrideswithus - @Cr_CarolMartin
RIP Gill Rolton. such an inspirational person both on and off the horse. - @ema_dem
The world lost an amazing woman yesterday. I will never forget you. I am the woman I am because of you. Rest in peace Gill #gillrideswithus - @EDEnchanted
Text by Hannah Spreckley
Images from: Social Media, Equestrian Australia (www.equestrian.org.au)