Dastardly Doings at the 1936 Olympic Cross Country Event

Courtesy of Lucinda Green who loaded this video onto her Facebook page and set me Googling. Cross-country at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, and there appears to be a bit of a problem at fence four, The Pond.  I’ve found some images of the posters for the Olympics here, and here on Ponybox is the story of “Tommy” Thomson’s mare, Jenny Camp, and the controversial water jump (written by “Mosquito”):

In the eventing, after the dressage the US team was in second place behind the Germans, and Jenny Camp was in contention for a medal. But … fence four, The Pond, … was causing the problems. It appeared straightforward – a three foot post and rail fence into water, cross the pond, and jump out again. But as the horses started going round the course, something seemed suspicious. The first US rider around, Captain Raguse riding Trailolka, popped into the water, taking the straightest, shortest route. What they found though was that the water was suddenly deeper than it had been on the course inspection, and the surface underneath was soft and boggy. They took a bad tumble, Trailolka injuring her shoulder, but they managed to remount and finish the course.

In those days there was no way to send messages back to waiting riders, and one by one the riders fell at The Pond. The second US rider, Captain Willems on Slippery Slim, followed the same route, but this time there were tragic consequences. Slippery Slim landed heavily in the mud, became trapped, and broke a foreleg. He was immediately destroyed. Not only was the death of Slippery Slim a great blow to the US team, it also took away any chance of a team medal. … Only 15 of 48 starters successfully negotiated The Pond. … 3 horses were destroyed because of injuries at the obstacle. Oddly, the Germans had no problems and their horses all negotiated the fence safely, taking a wider and much longer line to the left side of the fence.

By being second after the dressage, Jenny Camp was lucky to be late in the starting order. By the time she started, the rumors about fence four were filtering back to the waiting riders. Tommy sensed that something was suspicious about the fence, and even though he hadn’t inspected the longer left-hand route, he took it anyway, taking a chance that he and Jenny would figure it out as they went through. His plan worked, and Jenny Camp completed the course without penalties, and followed up with a clear round in the show jumping arena to take home the individual silver medal. …”

How very odd that every last man of the German team should take an elaborate route through such an innocuous jump… and win.

Published by Susanna Forrest

Writer Amazons of Paris, The Age of the Horse and If Wishes Were Horses.

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  1. Incredible footage – and yes, that left hand side was shallower and had a better footing. I talked to Olympic eventer Michael Bullen who rode in Rome 1960 who said one of the jumps there – it sounded like a large cement tube – took out a lot of horses. So the ridiculous level of risk carried on for some years…

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