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Opinion piece from The Evening Post



Todd still my sporting hero
30 JUNE 2000
By RACHEL SMALLEY

Last week when The Sunday Mirror ran the sex-and-drugs story on Mark Todd, I started writing a letter to the paper. It was a pretty nasty letter. I've written three pages, and I'm still not finished.

I was 12 when Todd first won Olympic gold in Los Angeles. I was watching the final show-jumping phase at my grandmother's house, and when Todd stood on the medal podium and the national anthem played, I remember wondering why my grandmother was crying. Four years later when Todd did it again in Seoul, my grandmother and I were both reaching for the tissues. I can still remember the commentary when Charisma cleared the final show-jumping fence - "It's Todd for two, and two for Todd."

Todd and Charisma were my heroes. As a pony club kid, my whole life revolved around Todd and his horse. As he continued to succeed against the odds, I continued to demand Olympic performances from my rather unobliging pony. And when I was finished with my pony, I'd build cross-country courses for my equally unobliging dog. I was horse-mad and as far as I was concerned, Todd was the best thing that had ever come out of New Zealand.

During a spell overseas, I was lucky enough to watch Todd ride at Badminton in 1993 and 94. I bought just about every piece of memorabilia on offer at the Badminton trade stalls, and rattled off a couple of films of Todd working his cross-country magic. To me, seeing the master craftsman in action and standing within metres of him was one of the highlights of my OE. I can't remember feeling so proud to be a New Zealander. It was the equivalent of a Brazilian soccer fan standing on the sideline watching Pele at his best.

A few years later, one of my early assignments as a radio reporter was to interview Todd at the Auckland international three-day event. I was incredibly nervous and forgot to make a few vital checks on my tape-deck. To my horror, I hadn't plugged the microphone in and my tape was blank. I eventually tracked Todd down again in the hospitality lounge and rather sheepishly had to ask him the same questions all over again. He answered, though, in his usual polite and gentlemanly manner.

I played the interview down the phone to my grandmother as soon as I got back to the office. Over the next month, she proudly told anyone who would listen and says, while most of her friends can no longer remember my name, they all remember who I spoke to that day. Since then, I've interviewed Todd on several occasions. I no longer get nervous, but I always know I'm in the presence of greatness.

In light of the recent allegations, I doubt I'll have the pleasure of interviewing Todd again. It seems he's already trying to put some distance between himself and the media, to ensure his private life remains just that. I don't blame him. Regardless of the allegations and any future developments, it won't change the way I view Mark Todd. He will always be my greatest sporting hero. Now if you'll excuse me, I've got a letter to finish.

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