Todd finally gains deserved recognition

For equestrian star Mark Todd, his New Year honour is a case of better late than never.

Todd's knighthood comes a decade later than it might have, but will surely be applauded all the same.

In the late 1990s, Todd was about to become our next Edmund Hillary. He was a brilliant sportsman, good enough to win two Olympic gold medals and a string of other honours.

And, just as significantly, he was immensely popular. He had that mixture of modesty and humour that New Zealanders love in their sports heroes, the sort of characteristics that Hillary, Wilson Whineray, Brian Lochore, Colin Meads and Murray Halberg were noted for.

Then came the British Sunday Mirror scandal in June 2000, when the married Todd was caught in a tabloid sting operation and accused of snorting cocaine and having casual sex with a young male.

The story provoked immense controversy. The accusations were scandalous, but so was the newspaper, which was accused of entrapment in securing its story. Talkback callers debated the issue for weeks, and editorial writers offered weighty opinions from afar.

Todd did his best to ride out the storm. On the Holmes show he responded to some surprisingly gentle probing from the host with his famous "That's a curly one" comment. Otherwise he had little to say.

He won a bronze medal at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, surviving a bid by incoming New Zealand Olympic Committee president John Davies to have him kicked off the team, and then retired.

Todd remained heavily involved in the equestrian world, attending the 2004 Olympics as a coach, then returning to competition for the 2008 and 2012 Olympics.

Even though Todd is now 56, his feats since his comeback have been brilliant. They include another Badminton horse trials crown (his fourth) in 2011, and further Olympic and world championship medals.

He was at his best at the London Olympics, even if his preferred horse was injured.

Before the games he was funny and nostalgic at the equestrian team press conference, and then in the three-day event he coaxed his tired and inexperienced horse Campino through a trying final-day showjumping round to help New Zealand earn a team bronze medal.

In London, Todd became New Zealand's second-oldest Olympian and equalled the record of Hungarian fencer Aladar Gerevich for the longest gap between first and last Olympic medals - 28 years.

He has been at the top for an amazingly long time. How long?

When he won his first Badminton title, in 1980, Rob Muldoon had four years remaining as prime minister. He won his first Olympic gold, in Los Angeles in 1984, three years before the first Rugby World Cup.

Todd was named eventing rider of the century by the International Equestrian Federation, but that and other honours never seemed to turn his head.

His career, and his life, suffered a major glitch after the Sunday Mirror story, but he kept his head down and remained the dignified Mark Todd everyone knew, even if he did lose sponsors and became damaged goods for a long time.

Now he is being saluted as a New Zealander to be proud of.

It's an honour well deserved. Only the very churlish would say otherwise.

Waikato Times