Cian O'Connor crowned a superb Olympic debut tonight by clinching Ireland's first gold medal of the Athens Olympics with victory in the individual show jumping final at the Markopoulo equestrian centre.
The 24-year-old Co. Kildare-born rider only carried over four penalty points from his first round and produced a flawless final round on 13-year-old gelding Waterford Crystal to claim the top prize.
Afterwards, an elated O’Connor, who is expected back in Dublin on Monday, said: "I'm delighted with it. It's not often I'm stuck for words."
"My horse jumped class. I couldn't have asked for anymore. I didn't want to pre-empt anything with eight riders to go after me but I'm thrilled with it."
"I didn't even watch the last two as I got back up on Waterford Crystal in case there was a jump-off."
“It was a real team effort, my sponsors, the Irish team here have all helped me to win this medal,” O’Connor added.
“My groom, Jane Doyle, who has been with me this past two years, has been fantastic and, of course, the horse plays the greatest part. He gave me his best, just chipping the back rail of the combination in the first round."
Ireland Chief d'Equipe Colonel Ned Campion added: "It was a lifetime experience and we're over the moon for Cian and the team."
O'Connor's triumph came after his team-mate Jessica Kurten, who had jumped a clear first round to hold the joint lead with Britain’s Nick Skelton, produced a disastrous final round.
Kurten, riding Castle Forbes Maike, hit five rails and was hit with a one-point time penalty as well for failing to finish the round within the prescribed 69 seconds. She finished 19th overall.
Skelton, who recovered from a serious neck injury four years ago, also had a below par second round after a brilliant first session. Skelton hit three rails and had one time fault which put him in tied 11th overall.
A jump-off was needed to decide the silver and bronze medal winners after Brazilian Rodrigo Pessoa and American Chris Kappler were tied on eight penalties. Pessoa took the silver in unfortunate circumstances as Kappler was forced to pull up on Royal Kaliber who injured a tendon.
Triple Olympic champion Ludger Beerbaum of Germany finished tied for 16th.
Ireland’s other competitor, Kevin Babington, riding Carling King, jumped finished tied for 12th with four other riders after two solid rounds.
Filed by James Boylan