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Tokyo 2020: The remarkable rise of GB equestrian star Laura Collett

Tokyo 2020: The remarkable rise of GB equestrian star Laura Collett
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The British rider helped Team GB win gold in Tokyo.

New Olympic eventing champion Laura Collett had already won her biggest battle before taking team gold at the Tokyo Games.

The 31-year-old helped Team GB top the podium alongside Oliver Townend and Tom McEwen in the team eventing at Tokyo Equestrian Park.

Just eight years ago last month, though, Collett was in a coma.

A terrible cross-country fall at an event in Hampshire left her unconscious for a week, in addition to suffering a punctured lung, lacerated liver, a fractured shoulder and two broken ribs.

She also lost the sight in one eye, but Gloucestershire-based Collett counts herself "very, very lucky" that it was not even worse.

Collett spent time at Oaksey House in Berkshire, flagship rehabilitation centre of the Injured Jockeys Fund, and it proved an odds-defying recovery as she was not only competing again seven weeks later, she won an open intermediate class on her comeback.

Like her fellow British Olympian, dressage star Charlotte Dujardin, Collett enjoyed success as a youngster at the Horse of the Year Show, winning the Supreme Pony Championship in 2003.

On moving to eventing, her main ride was a pony called Noble Springbok, and team gold and individual bronze proved an impressive return at the 2005 Pony European Championships in Pratoni, Italy.

London Olympic Games – Pre-Games Activity – Thursday
Former British eventing performance manager Yogi Breisner was an influential training figure for Laura Collett(Tony Marshall/PA

Her considerable talent had now been spotted by a wider audience, and she was selected for the Lottery-funded World Class Development (podium potential) Programme, aimed at identifying and nurturing young riding talent.

Yogi Breisner, former performance manager of the British equestrian team, was an influential training figure for Collett in those formative years, and by the age of 16, Collett had moved off ponies to horses, winning a three-day event at Weston Park in Shropshire aboard Fernhill Sox.

Her eventing career had lift-off, and there was a prolific consistency to Collett's results at headline venues on the circuit such as Belton Park and Hartpury.

More success followed at European young rider level, including a double gold, and in 2010 she completed her first elite four-star event at Burghley aboard Ginger May Killinghurst.

Equestrian – 2015 Longines FEI European Eventing Championships – Day Four – Blair Castle
Collett in action at the 2015 European Eventing Championships (Craig Watson/PA)

She was eighth on her Badminton debut the following year, riding Rayef, and then delivered a third place at Barbury three-star in Wiltshire, when she joined Pippa Funnell and Piggy March on the podium.

Such was Collett's pedigree as a trainer and expert across eventing's three phases that she additionally worked with National Hunt racing owners and trainers.

Double Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Kauto Star learnt dressage at Collett's base following his retirement, before he was put down after a freak accident at her stables in 2015.

"Halfway through the year, we had the tragic loss of Kauto Star which devastated the yard," Collett wrote on her official website. "It was an absolute privilege for myself and my team to be part of his retirement."

Horse Racing – 2013 William Hill Winter Festival – Day One – Kempton Park Racecourse
Collett with Kauto Star (Steve Parsons/PA)

Those were tough times for Collett, but her riding career continued to flourish, and she was among the group considered for Rio Olympic Games selection before ultimately missing out.

She continued to clock up one consistent result after another, and then a breakthrough elite win arrived at Pau in France late last year on London 52.

It put them firmly in the selection picture for Tokyo, and so it came to pass, with Collett thriving after achieving her "ultimate dream" of gaining Olympic Games selection.

And now she has gold, it is a truly remarkable comeback story.

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