Now his renowned belief in his own ability, and that of his horses such as the brilliant grey Ballaghmor Class, has been vindicated and rewarded with a first gold medal for the Team GB eventing team since 1972.
And, while Townend was denied an individual medal as showjumping phase reached a thrilling climax, this was a historic team triumph alongside his fellow debutants Tom McEwen, the individual silver medallist, and the miraculous Laura Collett whose own journey to Tokyo gold is one of the great sporting fairytales. She had to be resuscitated five times after a horrific fall in 2013 left her with multiple injuries and virtually blind in one eye.
No wonder this trio were so emotional as they received their medals; this was, in many respects, the ultimate Olympic triumph over adversity.
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