Aussie Olympic gold medalist Neale Lavis dies at 89

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Neale Lavis, one of Australia’s eventing pioneers, died earlier this month at the age of 89.

Lavis, who died on October 6, was a member of the four-man Australian equestrian team that made history by winning gold in the three-day eventing team event at the 1960 Rome Olympic Games. He also won individual silver.

Neale Lavis in 2014
Neale Lavis in 2014, during the filming of a documentary if his Olympic story by the National Museum of Australia.

Lavis, 30 at the time, was the youngest of the Rome Olympic team. Riding Mirrabooka, he was almost faultless over the three days of competition. He bought the horse in Cooma for £100, and after the Olympics was offered £10,000 for him but refused to sell him.

Lavis won the inaugural Australian three-day event in Sydney in 1957 and the Great Auckland one-day event in 1960. He went to England in 1960 and competed successfully in jumping, fox-hunting and team events in Surrey, White City, and Badminton.

Lavis competed again at the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games. After those Olympics, he and his wife, Velma, bought a 2000-acre property at Braidwood, in the NSW Southern Highlands. In 1969, he took out a thoroughbred owner/trainers licence, but soon became a fully licenced trainer. In the 1970s he started breeding thoroughbreds. His first stallion was Kid Wilkes, and he was also part of a syndicate that imported the successful sire Whiskey Road, along with Bridget Woodford-Smith, of Huntworth Stud.

“Bridget sent me two mares, one for each stallion. I got them mixed up and put the wrong mare to Whiskey Road. The foal turned out to be the 1981 Melbourne Cup winner, Just A Dash. Not a bad mistake, eh?” Lavis recalled later.

The individual eventing medalists at the Rome Olympics: 1st Lawrence Morgan (AUS), 2nd Neale Lavis (AUS), 3rd Anton Bühler (SUI).
Individual silver medalist at the Rome Olympics, Neale Lavis is pictured at right on the podium, with fellow Australian Lawrence Morgan winning gold, and Swiss rider Anton Bühler taking out the bronze medal.

Lavis was inducted into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame in 1989, and was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) in 1999 for his service to the equestrian sports as a competitor, coach, and administrator, and to the community. He received an Australian Sports Medal in 2000.

Neale John Lavis is survived by his wife, Velma, and children Jill, Sandra, Ross, Robyn and their families.

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