April 18, 2008

Overall Kihikihi 3-star winner, Heelan Tompkins and Sugoi.
© Elizabeth Charleston

With a record sixth Olympic Games in his sights, double eventing gold medallist Mark Todd leaves for the UK on Sunday on the international comeback trail.

In a late bid for Games selection, Todd successfully completed the first leg of the Olympic qualifying criteria at the Puhinui three-day-event in March and needs to complete another three-star competition within the set guidelines to be considered.

The 1984 and 1988 gold medalist has pinned his hopes on reaching the target at the Saumur three-day-event in France next month aboard 10-year-old grey gelding Gandalf, who he bought in January.

Failing that, Todd, 52, has one other chance, at an event in Bramham, England, in June.

"I am very comfortable and happy with Gandalf," Todd said.

"We'll do another couple of competitions in the UK and again, I won't have a lot of time before Saumur and hopefully if that all goes well, then just concentrate on the build-up towards Beijing."

Competing with the shortlist of eight riders for five spots, Todd said he was excited by and looking forward to the challenge.

"I don't really know how I rate in form against some of the others but obviously when I go to Saumur I will need to put up a good performance to catch the selectors' eye," he said.

Todd and Heelan Tompkins were the last of the New Zealand-based riders to head to the UK.

Athens Olympian Tompkins left on April 12, days after winning the recent World Cup three star qualifier at Kihikihi on her 11-year-old bay gelding Sugoi.

Taranaki's Tompkins, 30, was the top-placed New Zealand rider in Athens, finishing seventh.

"I just want him to settle in when we get to England," Tompkins said.

"The big events that I wanted to do are done now and any events I enter over there will not be big, exciting ones of note. They are going to be events that are good training events for him."

"I think that I'm on an amazing horse and he's definitely a great team horse but as it always does, a lot depends on how everyone else performs at events between now and selection.

"My job is to do the best I can and be ready and fingers crossed that I'm one of the chosen ones. But I wouldn't be flying to England if I didn't think I had a good shot."

The final team of five riders (four team and one individual) for the Beijing Olympics where the equestrian events will be held in Hong Kong will be named in late June after all riders have competed in a series of events in the UK.