Remembering the 1964 Tokyo Olympics
Above: The Australian Showjumping Team for Tokyo 1964. L to R: Bridget (Bud) McIntyre and Coronation, Barry Roycroft and Genoe, Kevin Bacon and Ocean Foam and John Fahey and Bonvale.
Fifty seven years ago, at the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games, was the first time Australia had been represented by a showjumping team. In the 1956 Melbourne Games (where the equestrian events were held in Stockholm, Sweden), Albert Jacobs competed for Australia as an individual but did not manage to finish the course.
At the 1964 Tokyo Games, the Australian Showjumping Team finished 7th. Along with the 7th place earned in Beijing in 2008 – this remains the best performance of a showjumping team to date.
John Fahey and Bonvale collected 4th place in the individual competition – to this day the best result by an individual Australian Olympic showjumper.
With just over a week until the jumping starts at Tokyo 2020 (in 2021!) we take a look back in time to when things were very different in our sport. The Jumping Team for Tokyo 1964 consisted of Bridget (Bud) McIntyre, Barry Roycroft, Kevin Bacon and John Fahey. With the permission and blessing of John Fahey, we have taken large excerpts from his book The Master: the John Fahey Story, written by John Fahey and Joy Ringrose.
Above left to right: Kevin Bacon and Ocean Foam, Barry Roycroft and Genoe, Karl Jurenak (trainer) kneeling, John Fahey and Bonvale, Bud McIntyre and Coronation.
The trip to Tokyo
“When the squad was ready to leave, wharf strikes delayed their departure for several days. When they were finally able to board the SS Eastern Queen, each horse had to be loaded individually into a crate that was then hoisted onto the deck. These crates were open at the top and only came to wither height, enabling the horses to see the ground dropping away underneath them. For these highly strung horses it was a new and terrifying experience. Brahmin was so alarmed and restless that Kevin stepped onto the side of his crate to soothe him and was accidentally hoisted up into the air with the horse. Kevin had one arm hooked over the top and one foot clinging to a three-inch rail of wood protruding at the bottom of the crate.”
“Prefabricated stalls had been fitted onto the ship’s deck to house the horses. The dock workers had taken little notice of these unusual structures. On the day of departure there suddenly appeared a parade of stunningly beautiful horses, resplendent in their new gold-braided, green silk rugs; their lower legs encased in padded green and gold boots; their tails each in a green bandage. Every horse was led by a proud team member in a brand new green and gold uniform. The was stunned silence at this splendid sight until one of the dock workers yelled ‘It’s the Olympic Team!”
Above: The squad just before boarding the ship: Barry Roycroft and Genoe, John Fahey and Bonvale, Kevin Bacon and Ocean Foam, grooms Milton Hayes and Margaret Forgan, Bud McIntyre and Coronation, trainer Karl Jurenak with Brahmin (reserve horse).
“On 26 September 1964 the showjumpers finally sailed for Tokyo. As well as the riders there were two grooms, Margaret Forgan and Milton Hayes vet, Norman Judd, and trainer Karl Jurenak accompanying them. The team boarded a ship that sailed down the Brisbane River, out towards Tokyo. It took us ten days to get there. There had been a big round yard built over a hatch, with sand in it, so that we could keep the horses exercised every day, to keep them muscled up. We used to lunge them in the yard twice a day, for about twenty minutes.”
“The team’s introduction to shipboard life was a rough one, as they struck heavy weather on their first day out, causing several to be seasick. The ship was rolling so violently that at night they had to put rails up to keep themselves in. Bonvale’s solution to all this disturbance was to quietly lie down in his stall.
“Because the horses had to be fed, groomed and exercised regularly, no one had the luxury of stopping to recuperate. They just had to vomit and get on with it” John wrote.
“Barry and John, both very fit, quickly found other ways to expend the rest of their pent-up energy. Of an evening they would have a friendly few rounds of boxing. In the daytime it was swimming and long walks, or runs, around the deck.”
“After a couple of days the egalitarian Aussies had befriended the ship’s crew, delighted in the novelty of having the squad’s special horses on board. The captain got dressed up in Kevin’s boots and he got on Soapy (Ocean Foam) for a photo. 5 other officers had a ride. None of them could ride”
The Australian showjumping team arrived in Tokyo after a long road trip of 360 miles from Kobe, where they landed after their ten-day boat trip. The horses were in good condition and travelled exceptionally well. In company with horses from sixteen other nations, they were quartered at Equestrian Park, in the city area of Setagaya Ward.
When the team arrived at the Olympic Village, John was most impressed the venue’s layout as well as the efficiency of the Japanese. ‘The organization Tokyo was unbelievable. The training facilities were excellent. We had a number of sand arena tracks to work on. We were also transported away to an oval with a grass arena to train. Each country was allotted different times to train, for couple of hours each day.”
“The Australian and New Zealand horses, after their short quarantine period, all began to work well. Coronation was showing slight lameness and was not asked to do excessive jumping.” Ted Dwyer, Ocean Foam’s owner observed “In watching the other teams in training I was amazed at the amount of jumping which they did. This was on top of the fact that most of the teams had completed a heavy European and English show season. The Australian horses did not get nearly enough jumping during the final training period. For the first two weeks only flat work and jumping over very small fences took place. Time ran out before any real jumping could be done.”
“On Friday all the countries except four had a competition. It was not a really big course, just a bit tricky. Only Kevin and I jumped. I had one fence down: last part of a treble – a bamboo rail. It was just one of those unlucky things. Kevin had 19 faults. Didn’t go real well at all. He got thrown over his (Ocean Foam’s) head once, in a stop, and had two fences down. There were 26 horses started and there were four clean rounds.”
Bonvale, the smallest horse at the Games, was rising quickly to international standard. The other Australian horses were slower to respond to their Tokyo pre-Olympic training. The following day, while Ocean Foam was starting to improve, there were still problems in the squad…
”Genoe has been stopping a couple of times. If they are not careful, (they) could break his heart, as he is only 7. (He was) going better today over low fences, but rushing a bit. Coronation was lame for a week after we got here. They have just started to jump him. Seems quite sound, but Bud can’t hold him. Only jumping low fences.”
Australia was competing against riders from Britain, Italy, Korea, Argentina, USA, Mexico, France, Russia, New Zealand, Spain, Switzerland and Germany. In all there were forty-six riders in the competition.”
“The day finally arrived on 24 October 1964. The skies had cleared to a bright day. However, the ground was still soaked, making the track heavy going. The Course was not huge. The jumps ranged between 4’10” (1.47 m) to 5’3″ (1.6m) in height. However, the spreads were challenging, with the maximum being 6’7″ (2m) at the last jump. This oxer was to be a problem for many of the horses. It was to be a longer day than John had anticipated. “The riders left the village to collect their horses. They didn’t arrive at the stadium until 6.30 and wait another hour before they could walk the course. The jumping then commenced at 8 am.”
“On the day of the event each member of the team was presented with a sheepskin saddlecloth, a luxurious item, for their Olympic appearance. It is a cardinal rule of horsemanship that you don’t try out new gear at a competition, you always trial it beforehand, be it a different bit, a martingale, noseband, saddle or whatever else”.
John sensibly objected to using this untried gear. He had asked to use his saddlecloth before the event and was told ‘No, we have to keep them clean and fresh for the competition’ John believes this determination robbed him, as did many others when they saw what happened during his round.
The Olympic showjumping course in Tokyo 1964
John was the fourth rider out. At just under 15hh Bonvale was tiny in this international field of large jumping horses.
“I jumped clean up until the last two fences; John recalls. ‘As I was approaching the twelfth jump the saddlecloth moved back, and as Bonvale went to jump the water the saddlecloth came over his tail and just took his attention. He landed in the 17’6″ wide water jump. Bonvale appeared to the audience to have cleared the water, but unfortunately he had dropped one back foot on the tape for faults.”
Bonvale’s saddlecloth flapping at the third last jump.
‘We came down to the last fence and it was a false fence, an oxer false wall in the middle of it. He had that down as well: Bonvale had been unbalanced and had caught the take-off rail on this last fence.”
“Coronation too had difficulties at the last two fences, but he had also a rail at the first jump of the double, for a score of sixteen faults.”
Bud McIntyre and Coronation at the last fence.
“Ocean Foam was the last horse to jump for Australia. Travelling the course, he took a out of the wall and had a foot in the water. Kevin checked him severely at the last jump, hoping this would make him lift clear from the false ground – Instead , Soapy stopped suddenly, throwing Kevin to the ground. He remounted and rode at it again, this time pulling a rail for a total of twenty-nine an a half faults. This gave the Australian team a total of fifty-three and a half faults end of the first round. There had been no horses clear in this round.”
Kevin Bacon and Ocean Foam at the last jump
During the first round, Coronation had injured his hind leg. A rushed veterinarian patch-up by the team vet Norman Judd enabled him to compete in the next round.
The second round kicked off at 12.30pm. John went out fourth.
“In the second round the ground was really boggy and heavy. There was a vertical on a bit of a curve and approaching that jump I went further out than I normally would have. Bonvale just tickled the top rail off. He jumped the water easily in the second round but had the last fence down. We finished up with eight faults for a total of sixteen faults.”
“After I finished riding was the worst time, counting the others left to jump. It was in the last five horses when we were put down from second to third. By this time there had been ninety-six horses go around the course and there were only two clean rounds.”
“Coronation had a stop at fence number five as well as time faults, racking up a total of twenty-three and a half faults. Ocean Foam went out strongly but took a brick out of the wall. He tired considerably at the end of the round, pulling a rail at each element of the double, touching the water and knocking a rail out on the last fence for a total of twenty-four faults. This gave The Australian team a total of 109 faults.”
“France’s Pierre d’Oriola, riding Lutter, had jumped clear in the second round to secure the individual gold medal. Herman Shriddle from Germany on Dozent was second. His slightly slower clear round saw him penalised by 0 and a quarter points for a two-round total of thirteen and a half points. With Bonvale’s foot touching the tape when the saddlecloth unexpectedly flapped his rump, he would have had only twelve points – enough to secure them silver medal. Instead John and Bonvale were level with Peter Robeson and Firecrest”
After a jury deliberation it was decided that these two should jump off for the bronze medal. This had never happened before. John had already left the arena and had unsaddled Bonvale.
“I didn’t realise that I had to go again in a jump-off. I thought that they only jumped off for first place. I was up sitting the stands, watching the competition when I was called back for the jump-off. I had to rush then, to get the horse saddled and get ready again to compete for the last round. It was heavy going. I had to put the pressure on my little horse in the heavy track. That and the big fences were too much for him. By this time Bonvale was getting fairly tired and he had two rails down in the jump-off. Peter Robeson went clear, so he won the bronze medal. We ended up fourth.”
We thank John Fahey for not only his wonderful contribution to our sport but also for allowing us to use this fantastic recount of his experiences at the Tokyo Games in 1964. We will be doing a follow up History article (or two!) on John covering his full career in the sport. But for now, we will leave you with the quote from him below which we think says it all.
“The Tokyo Olympic Games are something that will just never, ever leave my mind. The experience of being there to represent your country, wearing the Australian emblem on your blazer, and to walk into that stadium for the official opening, it just sent cold shivers up your back. Winning wasn’t the thing. It just to be able to be there to represent your country with all the other teams and to do the march. That is something that will always be remembered treasured“.