RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Nick Skelton of Britain has a metal left hip, once broke his neck and his back aches so much that he needs a stepladder to mount his horse, Big Star.
On Friday, all the pain and years finally paid off in gold in his seventh Olympics.
Skelton, 58, survived a six-man jump-off to become equestrian's oldest gold medalist, riding a third clean round in 42.82 seconds on his stallion Big Star to hold off two past champions in this event. Skelton appeared on the verge of tears at the culmination of so many years and injuries finally landing him on top of the medal podium.
"I'm so happy," said Skelton, who turns 59 in December. "I've had a long, long career and to do it now is like unbelievable for me," Skelton said. "I've always wanted to do this. Nearly did it in London ... To actually win this at my age, lucky enough to get this horse here, it's pretty emotional for all concerned on my team."
Skelton, also the oldest gold medalist at the Rio Games so far, topped Klaus Balkenhol of Germany who was 56 when he won a gold in team dressage at the 1996 Atlanta Games. Skelton also became Britain's second-oldest gold-medal winner, just behind Joshua Millner who won a shooting gold in 1908 at the age of 61.
"I think this really for me finishes, caps my career to be honest," Skelton said. "I've been in the sport a long, long time and to win this now at my age, I'm so happy and it's amazing. It's amazing."
Peder Fredricson of Sweden won the silver medal with a clean ride but finished the Olympic Equestrian Course in 43.35 seconds.
Eric Lamaze of Canada took bronze. The 2008 gold medalist caught a post late in his round but finished in 42.09 to earn a medal.
"Nick was very quick and forced us, forced all the riders, to go at a speed that was a little uncomfortable," Lamaze said. "Having jumped so many rounds already, the horses are a little tired, and he put the pressure. He made us chase him, and that's where the faults came from the other riders as well."
Defending champ Steve Guerdat of Switzerland finished fourth followed by Kent Harrington of the U.S. and Sheik Ali Al Thani of Qatar.
Not only has Skelton dealt with his own list of injuries, his horse hadn't won since a grand prix event in Aachen in 2013. Skelton and his race team had been nursing the stallion through lingering injuries since then and has raced so little that Skelton isn't ranked high enough to qualify for other big events.
But Skelton, who finished fifth in this event after winning a team gold medal in the 2012 London Games, had Big Star ready to go Friday. Together, they turned in three clean rounds and set the pace on a course Skelton said he thought would be more technically challenging.
That led to 13 riders finishing with clean rounds in the morning, and six stayed clean through the afternoon to force the jump-off.
Skelton was the first rider on the course, and he decided to go as fast as he could go safely to pressure the other five riders, especially Lamaze and Steve Guerdat of Switzerland who won gold in 2012 with the same horse, Nino Des Buissonets. Skelton's gamble worked to give him a second gold to go with the medal he won in 2012 once he fishes it out of his sock drawer.
"Now I can get two in one frame," Skelton said.