Continuing our Road to Rio series, Lee Sobot talks to Northallerton’s London 2012 silver medallist Nicola Wilson on how she hopes to make the journey a lot less stressful this time.
NORTHALLERTON’S Nicola Wilson is looking to the future with three very good reasons to be cautiously excited about the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.
Wilson will be bidding to represent Great Britain at her second Olympics, after a rollercoaster of emotions en route to London 2012. The Yorkshire rider was initially named as first reserve in June’s selection but two months later was standing on the podium with a silver medal. Injury to Piggy French’s DHI Topper had opened the door to Wilson as first reserve.
Four years later, British champion Wilson would appear in pole position to be one of four riders representing their country at Rio 2016, with three horses from the yard having already qualified. The Yorkshire star, though, wiser by the knowledge of her 2012 rollercoaster, insists even her place on the plane is far from guaranteed.
Wilson and Rosemary Search’s much-missed Opposition Buzz eventually formed part of a stellar quintet that helped Team GB to a team silver at London 2012 with the Northallerton rider in illustrious company alongside the Queen’s grand-daughter Zara Phillips. William Fox-Pitt, Mary King and Kristina Cook completed the quintet but only four riders will represent Team GB in Rio. Go by the world rankings and Yorkshire will take two riders with Wilson currently ranked 12th – a personal best – one place above Huddersfield’s Oliver Townend.
World number four Fox-Pitt and Kitty King, world-ranked 11th, complete the top four British riders.
Yet Wilson is aware that a plethora of talented riders are snapping at the leading GB quartet’s heels, with Pippa Funnell and Gemma Tattersall also inside the world’s top 20 and Emily King – daughter of London Olympian Mary – among a host of talented young riders making giant strides.
Reflecting on her chances of making the plane to Rio in an exclusive interview with The Yorkshire Post, Wilson reasoned: “There’s four in the team and one travelling reserve but you never know, you really don’t.
“I don’t feel as if I can say I’m sure I will be there. There’s an awful lot of work to be done before then. I’ve got to keep working away and keep my feet on the ground and we can only do our very best. If it isn’t good enough then we go back to the drawing board and we just work harder – if that’s possible.
“Missing out at first in 2012 was a big blow but it’s all in the past. We are very much leaving all of that behind us and taking the next step forward to Rio and doing our level best to make sure that we are of the standard to be selected. But it’s incredibly competitive in our sport here in Britain. There’s an awful lot of fantastic combinations that could do very well at the Olympics.
“I just have to try and do my best to make sure that mine is better than the rest! Only time will tell.
“I couldn’t do it without my owners who are fantastically supportive and loyal, the girls on the yard and my sponsors and home team. I am the lucky one that gets to go to competitions and ride at these fantastic places.
“But it’s by no means just me that does all the hard work. I have a fantastically strong support team behind me and I am hugely grateful to everyone of them.”
The Team GB selectors will certainly have strength in depth to choose from as far as Wilson is concerned with three horses having already qualified.
Leading the way is One Two Many – owned by Gerry Kemp, Mary Kemp and Janine Shewan – the horse that Wilson partnered at GB’s last big international assignment, September’s European Championships at Blair Castle in Scotland.
The Northallerton rider helped her country to a team silver but was not happy with her efforts in finishing 27th individually.
Along with One Two Many, Annie Clover – owned by Wilson’s parents Mary and Barry Tweddle – and James and Jo Lambert’s new-kid-on-the-block Bulana complete the rider’s trio of Rio hopes.
Wilson said: “We had such a strong season last year with lots of horses but with Blair not quite working out individually and as well as I had hoped, I feel as if I have to really prove myself in the Spring and that’s what I am focusing on. I have to go out and prove that it was just a one-off blip and that we can still emulate the form we had prior to that.
“There’s three that are on the list of possible horses that could go to Rio; one being One Two Many who won a lot of CIC’s last year and was seventh at Badminton. Unfortunately for him and I, Blair didn’t quite go according to plan for us at the European Championships as individuals.
“He’s sort of heading my list of horses and then there’s Bulana who went to Holland at the end of the season last year in October and he went fantastically well to win the CCI three-star and break into the reckoning for this year.
“And also there’s Annie Clover who won the CIC at Bramham last year and had a great result out in America at the Lexington four-star there to be eighth.
“She’s also part of my trio I suppose, my musketeers trying to do our best to be selected and those three horses are qualified which is fantastic to have got that under my belt.
“We’ve done our best but with eventing we get three disciplines in dressage, show jumping and cross country. There’s the horse to think about as well as the rider.
“You are juggling the chances of things going wrong between the two individuals. There’s always the risk of things going wrong.”
Breaking her collarbone this time last year is one such example – but Wilson quickly recovered to enjoy a stellar 2015 which has led to the rider being on the periphery of the world’s top ten. At the end of a hectic season, a trip to the other side of the world with husband Alastair was in order to unwind and celebrate.
Wilson revealed: “2015 was fantastic and at the end of the season we went to Mexico for a week in the sun and it was just a lovely, relaxing week. It was our first holiday in nine years so it was quite well overdue!”