Tina Cook’s Olympic bronze medal has already been put aside as her focus turns to racing’s Jump season, Clare Balding discovers
The equestrian star of the Olympic Games was Tina Cook, a woman steeped in racing history. Cook took the individual bronze medal for Eventing and was part of the bronze medal-winning British team on Miners Frolic. Together, they produced a career best dressage test, a clear cross country and crucially, two clear rounds over a tough show jumping course.
Tina’s father, Josh Gifford, was champion jockey four times and then, as a trainer, won the most emotional of all Grand Nationals when Bob Champion booted home Aldaniti in 1981. The connection goes further as the co-owners of Miners Frolic, Nick and Valda Embericos, were also the owners of Aldaniti.
Luckily for Tina, Nick and Valda, along with Sarah Pelham, are an international rider’s dream. Despite ridiculously generous financial offers for Miners Frolic, they are not tempted to sell and face the prospect of someone else riding ‘Henry’ at London 2012.
In theory, as a thoroughbred, Miners Frolic could have been directed towards Tina’s brother Nick, who has taken over the training licence from their father but he was sent to Tina, who immediately saw the potential in him as an eventer. The career path could not have been better chosen.
Time to celebrate her Olympic medal has been limited as Tina was straight back into work helping to prepare Nick’s team of jumpers for the season ahead. They train as a team in Findon, West Sussex. With Tina’s expertise in jumping and her experience with difficult horses (Miners Frolic was tricky as a youngster and is still easily spooked) it is a winning team determined to bring the best out of every horse.
As an achievement, Tina’s Olympic medal ranks highly but she has not got carried away,
“As you get older, you appreciate success more because you know how hard it is and how many disappointments there are along the way. My children are very special to me so I can’t say the Olympics was the best thing that has ever happened to me, but it was the best competitively, yes.”
When she returned to Findon, the villagers turned out in numbers to welcome their local heroine.
“I’ve had a brilliant reaction,” she told me. “I’ve lived in Findon for 36 years so to see everyone put up flags and banners was just lovely.”
At Burghley recently, she rode Miners Frolic in a ‘guinea pig’ test before the main competition started. She was surprised and delighted at the reaction he received.
“Everyone has been so supportive and I think genuinely happy for me. I had success when I was younger (she won multiple gold medals as a Junior and Young Rider), then I had a quieter time so I think they know I’ve been through it all. I’ve been very, very careful with how I’ve produced Miners Frolic and I think people in the horse world appreciate that.”
While the rest of the country was caught up in Olympic gold fever, Tina was busy riding her other horses, looking after her two children and getting the racehorses ready for the challenges ahead.
“I didn’t get a chance to see much of the rest of the Games,” she said, “I did watch the medallists return and I sensed the pride of the country. It was lovely to feel a part of that and I really have enjoyed every moment of it. I wasn’t expecting a medal and I was so pleased that Henry performed to his capabilities under so much pressure.
“I made sure that he was very, very fit so that he could cope with the heat but also so that he had plenty left in the tank at the end of the cross country. With two rounds of show jumping the next day, I knew he would have to recover quickly to leave the poles up. As it turned out he did, twice.”
With her busy schedule and down-to-earth attitude, there has been little danger of Tina being caught up in a post-Olympic media circus. Her only high profile appearance has been on the Chris Evans Show on Radio 2 but that only lasted “about 2 minutes” she said. Don’t expect her to pop up on Strictly Come Dancing – the winner’s enclosure at Cheltenham would be much higher up her priority list.
Photograph by Bob Langrish