Charlotte Dujardin admitted to a “surreal” feeling after becoming Great Britain’s most decorated female Olympian with six medals.
While her nine-year reign as Olympic individual dressage champion ended at Tokyo Equestrian Park, a bronze medal saw her break the British record of five Olympic medals she jointly held with rower Dame Katherine Grainger and tennis player Kitty Godfree.
It was a remarkable performance by 36-year-old Dujardin, given that her horse Gio was contesting its first major championship.
“It’s just so surreal,” she said. “People say it, and I can’t quite believe it.
“Being level with Katherine Grainger was good enough, and now I have beaten her, it’s incredible. I can honestly say I am proud of myself.
“I am incredibly proud and a bit speechless. I just don’t know what to feel.”
Dujardin posted a score 88.543 per cent after a display that almost defied logic, given how little Gio had done in terms of his career at the sport’s elite level.
It was only the 10-year-old’s second freestyle competition, and Dujardin understandably lavished praise on her latest equine talent.
“If you think, he is 10-years-old doing this. He is going to be a superstar,” she added.
“The minute I clocked eyes on him, I instantly fell in love with him.
“I spoke to the girl who owned him, and asked her for a go. I knew if I rode him everyone would want to buy him, so I needed to make some sort of deal.
“I asked if she would be interested in selling him, and she said: ‘If I’m going to sell him to anyone, I’m going to sell him to you’.
“When you’ve had a horse like Valegro (her gold medal winner in London and Rio), it is a steep feat to find another one to do what he has done.
“In my head I knew I could do it again. To have a new horse here after what I’ve done with Valegro is a huge achievement in itself.”
The Tokyo gold medal went to Germany’s Jessica von Bredow-Werndl with TSF Dalera on 91.732 per cent, ahead of fellow German and silver medallist Isabell Werth, riding Bella Rose 2, on 89.657 per cent.
But the night belonged every bit as much to Dujardin, whose staggering display underlined her status as the finest dressage rider of her generation.
“The music for this freestyle got finished about three days ago, so we really didn’t know what to expect,” she said.
“I wanted to go out and enjoy it, and he gave me absolutely everything.
“To win medals individually and the team competition in the last three Games, I couldn’t be prouder. And to do it with a new dance partner, I couldn’t be prouder.
“Tonight was the first time I rode the whole combination of floor-plan and music together.
“I have always said to myself that when I get to a Games to have no regrets. I finished, and it was the biggest adrenaline rush ever. He didn’t make a mistake.
“I was literally throwing him from one thing to another thing, and he just keeps going. What he has done is phenomenal.
“It’s as good as (previous Olympics), it is as good as a gold medal. A horse that has such little experience – I feel so emotional.
“He had no idea what he was doing, but he just goes in there and does it. It’s asking the unknown from him, and he just keeps giving.”