German showjumping legend Hans Günter Winkler dies at 91

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Hans Günter Winkler with Halla, who carried him to team and individual gold at the 1956 Olympic Games.
Hans Günter Winkler with Halla, who carried him to team and individual gold at the 1956 Olympic Games. © Alban Poudret/Oscar Cornaz

Five-time Olympic gold medalist Hans Günter Winkler has died in Germany after a long illness, only two weeks before his 92nd birthday.

Hans Günter Winkler
Hans Günter Winkler

Winkler is the only equestrian in any discipline to compete and win medals in six different Olympic Games. He is best known for his partnership with the great mare, Halla. His first Olympics were in 1956 in Sweden during the Melbourne games. Horses were not allowed to travel to the host country for the games, so an alternative venue in Stockholm was found. Winkler sustained an injury in the competition but rode through the pain to take both team and individual gold with Halla. His last Olympic Games were in 1976.

He went on to win team gold at the 1960 Olympics in Rome (ITA) and the 1964 Games in Tokyo (JPN) and led Germany to team bronze in 1968 in Mexico City. He claimed team gold again at the 1972 Olympics in Munich (GER) and team silver in Montreal (CAN) in 1976.

Just before his 60th birthday, in July 1986, Winkler rode his last lap of honour at his favourite venue in Aachen, Germany. But his relationship with the spectators at the iconic Soers arena never diminished and their cheers were as loud as ever during his 90th birthday celebrations there in 2016.

Hans Günter Winkler and Halla on their way to individual and team gold at the 1956 Olympic Games.
Hans Günter Winkler and Halla on their way to individual and team gold at the 1956 Olympic Games.

Following his retirement from competition Winkler became a popular trainer and set up a successful event marketing and management company. He was a member of the German Equestrian Federation’s Jumping Committee, a great supporter of youth development in the sport and was awarded the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany.

“Hans Günter Winkler has been a great sportsman during his career, and likewise, after he had retired from his active time, he did a tremendous lot for our sport, in particular for the juniors”, German Equestrian Federation President, Breido Graf zu Rantzau said.

“My memories of Hans Günter Winkler are inextricably associated with the Olympic victories of himself and his team mates Fritz Thiedemann, Alfons Lütke-Westhues and Alwin Schockemöhle and how through these victories in the post-war era, they have led equestrian sport back to the top of the world.“

FEI President Ingmar De Vos said Winkler was one of the greatest equestrian Olympians of all time, and his tally of seven Olympic medals — five gold — had been beaten in the modern era only by his compatriot Isabell Werth. “He was the most gifted horseman of his day and a great ambassador for our sport. His loss will be deeply felt, not just in Germany but throughout the equestrian community and beyond. The word legend is so often overused, but it is the most fitting description of a man and an athlete who really was a true legend.”

Hans Günter Winkler, right, is congratulated after winning double gold at the World Championships in Aachen in 1955, by Raimondo d'Inzeo.
Hans Günter Winkler, right, is congratulated after winning double gold at the World Championships in Aachen in 1955, by Raimondo d’Inzeo. © Archiv ALRV

IOC President Thomas Bach said described Winkler as a personal role model. “I will always remember the moment he led our Olympic team as the flag bearer at the Opening Ceremony of the Olympic Games Montreal 1976. He inspired us young athletes then and he continues to be an idol for generations of equestrians to this day.”

Hans Günter Winkler in 1966.
Hans Günter Winkler in 1966. © Ron Kroon / Anefo – [1] Dutch National Archives
Days before the opening of the CHIO Aachen World Equestrian Festival, ALVR president Carl Meulenbergh paid tribute to Winkler. “The stadium in Aachen was his living-room, we will sincerely miss this great sportsman.”

Winkler’s fourth wife Debbie Malloy Winkler, died in 2011 following a riding accident. He is survived by a daughter and son from a previous marriage.

Hans Günter Winkler
(July 24, 1926, Barmen – July 8, 2018, Warendorf)

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