CIAN O’CONNOR’S MORNING started with the faint hope that he might somehow land an 11th-hour golden ticket into the Olympic showjumping final.
By Wednesday afternoon the Meath-based rider was standing on the Greenwich Park podium with Ireland’s first official medal of London 2012 — a bronze — draped around his neck.
In between was the tale of a huge slice of luck, some outstanding jumping by Blue Loyd, and two-hundredths of a second which ended O’Connor’s shot at gold.
It was a final flourish perfectly in sync with a rollercoaster few weeks in which the 32-year-old, stripped of his Athens gold medal and banned for three months after his horse Waterford Crystal tested positive for a banned substance, was drafted into Ireland’s squad as a late replacement for Denis Lynch.
O’Connor’s place remained in doubt as Lynch appealed Horse Sport Ireland’s move to deselect him, taken after his horse Lantinus was found to be hypersensitive at a competition in Germany. If fortune shone on him once on that occasion, it was beaming down on him today.
As a first reserve following the qualifying rounds, O’Connor was one of three riders added to the start list for the medal decider when Sweden’s Rolf-Goran Bengtsson and his horse Casall were withdrawn late on.
Jumping second in the morning’s first session he set the standard with a faultless round, dipping inside the allotted time to lead the way as one of just six riders to come home with zero penalty points.
Only the best 20 scores progressed to contest the medals in the second round and when O’Connor again cleared every fence this afternoon, he left himself every chance of a podium finish.
A single time fault for finishing 0.02 seconds outside the allowed 80 was the only mark on his scorecard. In the end, it proved to be the decisive one as Switzerland’s Steve Guerdat went clear again on Nino des Buissonnets to take the gold.
Faults from the final riders, including Team GB’s Scott Brash and Nick Skelton, left O’Connor in a two-man jump-off with Gerco Schroder of Holland to decide who would take silver and who would take bronze. Gerco went first, setting the bar with a clear round in 49.79 seconds.
And though the silver was in O’Connor’s grasp as Blue Loyd approached the final fence with time to spare, it was not to be as the gelding clipped it and brought it down, taking four faults and the bronze medal.