Aussie eventing hero Gill Rolton dies at 61

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Two-time gold medal winning Australian Olympic eventer Gillian Rolton has died at the age of 61, following a battle with endometrial cancer.

Diagnosed with endometrial cancer two years ago, doctors later found metastatic cancer in her groin.

After chemotherapy they told her there was nothing else they could do and she was admitted to hospital in Adelaide in September.

But she continued to work on organising this weekend’s Adelaide International from her hospital bed. She died at 3pm on Saturday, while the event’s cross-country was running. This year’s event is being supported by the Cancer Council to raise awareness about cancers such as Rolton’s in the hope of saving the lives of young women.

Gillian Rolton and Peppermint Grove at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona.
Gillian Rolton and Peppermint Grove at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona. © Bob Martin /Allsport; Australian Olympic Committee

Only last month Rolton was awarded the Key to the City from her hometown of Adelaide.

Rolton won team gold at Barcelona in 1992 and in 1996 in Atlanta. She achieved much notoriety at Atlanta after slipping on the flat at the half-way mark of the cross-country course and falling from her horse. She broke her collarbone and ribs but soldiered on and remounted only to fall again at the next water jump. Despite her injuries, she completed the 6000m course and posted a team score.  This helped the Australian team of Andrew Hoy, Wendy Schaeffer and Phillip Dutton to win the prized gold medal.

“You don’t go to the Games to be a wuss, you don’t go to the Games to be a wimp,” she told Australian Story.

She was a late inclusion in the Barcelona team after beating all male members of the team in the final selection trial at Savernake, England.

“It was a trip full of heartache and hard work,” Rolton told the Adelaide Advertiser last month.

“In those days you had to pay for your own way to get over there with the horse, with the gear and yourself and if you did well enough and you won enough and your horse was still around and you made the team, the big carrot at the end was the Equestrian Federation would bring the horse home so it was a really big gamble.”

At both Olympics, she rode Peppermint Grove (Freddie), a horse she’d purchased as a gangly, barely broken in four-year-old. She brought him up through the grades to reach Olympic level.

Rolton was one of the eight flag-bearers of the Olympic flag at the opening ceremony of the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, New South Wales, and that same year was inducted into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame.

She has been the director of the Australian International Three-Day-Event for the past 10 years.

Rolton was inducted into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame in 2002 and received an OAM for services to sport in 1992. In 2016, she was awarded Legend status in the South Australian Sport Hall of Fame.

A schoolteacher from Adelaide, Gill Rolton’s first goal in life was to talk her non-horsey parents into buying her a horse. She succeeded at the age of 10, and so began a lifetime of passionate dedication to Equestrian sport.

Gillian Rolton and Peppermint Grove.
Gillian Rolton and Peppermint Grove.

A show and dressage rider and coach until her early 20s, Rolton trained and rode Royal Show Galloway and Hack Champions, and won Champion Equestrienne and Champion Lady Rider at the Royal Adelaide Show. She began eventing and jumping at the age of 21 and started competing successfully at international level in 1984.

She became the nation’s first female Equestrian Olympic medallist when she won gold at Barcelona in 1992 and Atlanta in 1996 as a member of the Australian Eventing team.

Rolton also worked her way through the EA National Coaching Accreditation System (NCAS) to become a level 3 Coach, Coach Educator/Assessor. She was a judge in both showing and dressage and made it through the EA National Officiating system and then onto the FEI officiating pathway for eventing.

Rolton held various key administrative positions in the sport, including four years on the FEI Eventing Committee, and she served on the Equestrian Australia Board from May 9, 2013 until her passing.

From 2001 to 2007 Rolton initiated, co-ordinated and coached the Mitsubishi National Young Rider Squad to support talented young eventing riders in their transition to senior level. She also helped form what is now the highly successful National Interschools Program.

Rolton stood down as a National selector in 2007 to continue judging at FEI 4* Level, and was one of the Eventing Ground Jury members at the London Olympic Games in 2012 and was President of the Ground Jury at the World Equestrian Games in Normandy in 2014.

Gillian Rolton
Gillian Rolton

Equestrian Australia Chair Judy Fasher paid tribute to Rolton, saying she was always motivated by a challenge and never gave up in the pursuit of success.

“Her riding career is a testament to that and she followed through by dedicating her efforts to Adelaide International Three Day Event. “Beloved by the riders and seen as the pinnacle event, Adelaide International has the distinction of being the only four-star event in the Southern Hemisphere.”

“Gill steered the event and brought to Adelaide a bright star to their sporting calendar.”

“Gill will always be remembered for her dedication and interest in young event riders, her service to the sport and her grit and determination to provide a foundation for Adelaide which would see its continued growth for many generations of riders to come,” Fasher said.

© Equestrian Australia
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