The image remains vivid in the mind of Leslie Law: the instant in Athens when he completed his round on the 12-year-old grey Shear L'Eau, and departed the showjumping ring aware that an Olympic eventing medal of some hue was his. "It was pay-back day - thank God," he declares, the emotion of it still resonant in his voice.
The payback, he explains, was for all those who had supported him so patiently. "You know, we are quite single-minded in this sport. It's quite hard for those around you," he explains. "The great thing about Athens is that I was able to reward those who had put up with me, and put so much into what I achieved: Trina [Lightwood, his fiancée and fellow event rider]; my parents; Yogi Breisner [the Great Britain performance director]; Tracie Robinson, who works so hard with my dressage; and Kenneth Clawson, who works with me on the showjumping and is a great friend.
"To see their faces when I cantered out of that show-jumping ring... I'll never forget that. For me, that was the moment of the Olympics."
You can forgive the Oscar-night recitation from a character who had travelled to Greece as essentially a team player. What neither Law nor his assembled supporters could have known is the intri-gue which was to follow the completion of the three-day event, which ultimately led to an individual gold for him, and a team silver for Great Britain.
First the initial winner, the German rider Bettina Hoy, was penalised for crossing the start line twice, then she was reinstated as gold medallist, and the medal ceremony proceeded; the British, French and American teams appealed and finally, three days later, the Court of Arbitration for Sport upheld the appeal. Law's silver was upgraded to gold, the team's bronze to silver. Hoy was out of the medals.
A year on, and Law, 40, has been preparing for the European Championships which start at Blenheim Palace near Oxford on Thursday. He is reunited with his now 13-year-old gold-medal partner rather than his intended mount, Coup de Coeur, who has sustained an injury.
Together with William Fox-Pitt, Jeanette Brakewell and Zara Phillips, he aspires to win a sixth consecutive European team title for Britain. Fifteen nations are in opposition, including Germany, who are strongly fancied, along with France.
The Germans include Hoy in their quartet, and something convinces you that she will require no motivation at all. "I've seen Bettina since, of course, and all you can do is say to her, 'Bad luck'," says Law. "Because it was. I don't know why she went through the start line twice. Only she knows that. She's a world-class rider, but on the day I believe I won the gold fair and square. It wasn't easy for her - but things like that happen in sport. I suppose it's like the golfer playing a perfect round, and then forgetting to put in his scorecard correctly."
In the intervening 12 months, that swivel of fate has transformed his life. "I've been out to America and Canada, taking teaching clinics out there, and I've done lots of things I wouldn't have otherwise, like being invited to Wimbledon and asked to appear onThe Weakest Link." He has also had his autobiography published, and, it can hardly go unmentioned, had his head shaved. It is not a style statement but his response to alopecia. "I've told Zara it's my Go-Fast cut, so she'd better watch out for me at Blenheim!"
Phillips is effectively a substitute for the 1999 and 2001 European individual cham-pion, Pippa Funnell, whose horse Primmore's Pride has had to be withdrawn with an injury. The Queen's grand-daughter, silver medallist in the European Young Riders Championship in 2002, who is making her senior international debut with her partner, Toytown, has a clear incentive - to emulate her mother. Princess Anne was the individual European champion on Doublet in 1971 at Burghley.
Lest there is any presumption from the uninitiated that it's "Jobs for the Royals", Law insists: "Zara's there on merit. She's a great rider, has got a fabulous horse, and deserves to be in the team. I don't care whether it's Zara Phillips or Josephine Bloggs - anyone who had put in the kind of performances she has recently would be representing Great Britain."
That said, Gatcombe Park represents a considerable contrast to the terraced council house in Herefordshire where Law was raised. "My father was a grafter, and built up his own transport business through sheer hard work," says Law. "That's what saw me through to the top of this sport as well, quite honestly.
"I hope I've shown that, if you want it bad enough, it's achievable from wherever you come from. It may be a little bit harder, may be a bit more difficult, may take a bit longer, but if you're in it for the long run, it's there for you."Reuse content