The girl from Motueka jubilant at medal
TONY SMITH, TRACY NEAL AND HELEN MURDOCH
Nelson's latest Olympic Games medallist Jonelle Richards has hailed hometown Motueka for “a crazy amount" of support as she nailed her Olympic dream.
The 32-year-old today celebrated a bronze medal at her first Olympic Games when she linked with seven-time Olympians Mark Todd and Andrew Nicholson, expat Cantabrian Carolyn Powell and fellow rookie Jock Paget to win the three-day eventing teams bronze medal.
“It's pretty much a dream to come home from your first Games with a medal," she said before joining her team-mates in celebration.
Richards is Nelson's first Olympic medallist in 24 years.
Richards now lives in Marlborough - the English town, not that district on the other side of the Whangamoas.
She and partner Tim Price moved there in 2005.
But she will “always" regard herself as a Motueka local.
“I was born and bred there and lived there for 18 years, I did all my schooling there.
“I've had a crazy amount of support from Motueka, it really has been absurd, both from Motueka and Nelson . . . I've been totally blown away by the amount of people who've got in touch. [They're] just genuinely happy to see someone succeeding.
"It's been quite overwhelming, really."
Richards “lived pretty much on the Motueka Beach and spent my early days playing on the beach and the quay there".
She got the riding bug at the Moutere Pony Club and became a serious equestrienne at Motueka High School.
“I always try to get back there for a couple of weeks when I get home.
"It's still home and it always will be."
Richards, who has a law degree from Canterbury University, left Motueka for the brighter lights when she left school.
But she still has “aunties and uncles" in Motueka.
Richards got her riding bug in 1987 as a 7-year-old and continued her sporting career at Motueka High School.
But she could never have dreamed then she would one day be sharing a podium at the London Olympics with Todd.
“Obviously, we did come in with quite high hopes.
"We felt we had a good team and a good chance.
"But it's another thing to come and actually perform.
“It's a bit of a relief to have the medal, in a sense.
"If we had gone away empty-handed, I think we would have been disappointed."
Richards led off the showjumping phase on her horse, Flintstar, in the “trailblazer" role as the first of the five New Zealand riders. Under international equestrian rules, only the top three scores by each team count. But all five riders receive medals provided they complete the dressage, crosscountry and showjumping phases.
Flintstar and Richards did just that.
Her job was to be a “pathfinder", to test the course and “collect data", bringing back vital information for Paget, Nicholson and Todd to enhance their rounds and the team's chances of success.
“From that perspective, I think we've done our job."
Richards, Powell and team manager Sarah Harris then had an anxious wait in the team compound, “watching the boys".
“I was way more nervous watching them, than riding myself," Richards said.
“As soon as Mark finished we knew we had it in the bag.
“There were no tears, but it was a pretty big moment."
Richards and Price run a farm business and stable about 30 horses.
She said Flintstar would have “an easy end" to the year but she felt horse and rider had learned a lot from the Olympic experience and she would be keen to be in Rio in 2016.
Family backing spurs rider on
Jonelle Richards was spurred on last night by the wishes of family and former pony club friends in Nelson and Motueka and throughout the South Island, but older brother Darren Richards confessed to falling asleep before last night's medal ceremony.
"I saw her in the showjumping but not getting the medal, but I've got it recorded," the Nelson TV and Video Services business owner said.
He said her success as part of the Kiwi equestrian team was a remarkable step in what was "just one of those little girl dreams to own a horse".
He said she was always very involved in local pony club, but her interest in the big time took off when the family moved to Christchurch.
"Mum bought a farm and built a big arena and Jonelle started giving lessons. She got to the stage if she was going to go any further then she'd have to move to England."
Cousin Jason Richards, of Motueka, remembers her love of horses from "day one", and despite his own view horses were a "waste of space" when motorbikes provided more thrills, he was hugely proud of his cousin's achievement.
"That was her ambition and she's achieved it. We're all really proud of her," he said today.
Darren Richards said the family, including brother Nyle in Nelson, sister Danette in Geraldine and father Paul in Ashburton had been in regular contact throughout the "nail-biting" Olympic event.
Nyle Richards said today his sister's achievement was "awesome" and "amazing", but he never doubted she would succeed.
"I'm not really surprised because I know how good she is, I know her confidence - it's just the way she's always been."
Richards' mother Lesley was in England with her daughter.
Moutere Pony Club instructor Annette McFadgen said the medal win left her speechless. It showed Richards never grew out of her love of riding horses which she first developed riding the Moutere hills.
"I think that all those years galloping around the firebreaks has paid off as far as the cross-country goes." She said she was thrilled for Richards and that her medal win was great for Motueka.
Moutere Pony Club secretary Karen Rhind said she was rapt for Richards and the local equestrian community. "It shows that with determination, passion and a lot of luck you can achieve."
She said Richards had done herself proud.
"A huge amount of effort would have gone into that. It's been brilliant watching her and the team - it was such a treat."
Richards' photo was this morning being held high at Motueka High School, where she was once a student. Deputy principal Stacey Fry said Richards' success was inspirational.
"It's fantastic for our Motueka High School equestrian team and indeed all of our athletes to have someone to aspire to who attended this school. There will be many bleary-eyed students and staff here today who followed Jonelle's progress well into the night."
- © Fairfax NZ News