Borders’ greatest Olympian says five appearances the pinnacle of his career

Ian Stark returns from the 1988 Soeul olympics.
Ian Stark returns from the 1988 Soeul olympics.
Share this article

AS a 10-year-old schoolboy picking up the reins at his very first riding lesson, Ian Stark probably never dreamed that his talent for handling horses would eventually take him to five Olympic Games, world and European eventing titles and top spot in the Badminton Horse trials.

He is the Borders’ most successful Olympic athlete, appearing first at the Los Angeles games of 1984, followed by Seoul, Barcelona, Atlanta and Sydney.

Equestrian Ian Stark on his course at Hendersyde near Kelso.

Equestrian Ian Stark on his course at Hendersyde near Kelso.

Unsurprisingly, as a result, Ian features heavily in the new guide for schools on Borderers who have represented their country at the Olympics and Paralympics, as well as other Olympians with links to this region.

Entitled Border Olympians and Paralympians: A Learning Resource, the booklet has been compiled from original research by Henry Gray, with design work by the Heritage Hub.

From no family background in horses, Ian became one of the leading event riders in the world.

Born in Galashiels in 1954, Ian was working as a clerk in the local offices of the Department of Health and Social Security, when he started to really work hard at developing his riding skills.

He would eventually take Olympic silver four times. The first came in 1984 in Los Angeles as part of the Great Britain team that finished second in the three-day event.

Four years later at Seoul, he scooped another two silver medals, in show jumping and the three-day event.

Atlanta in 1996 was less fruitful, but in his fifth and final Olympics in 2000 in Sydney, Ian picked up another silver medal in the team show jumping event.

Ian also won the Badminton Horse Trials in 1986, 1988 and 1999.

Unquestionably Ian’s greatest Badminton success came in 1988, when he became the first rider to finish in both first and runner-up places in the same event, riding Sir Wattie and Glenburnie, respectively.

In World Championship and European competitions, Ian has also won gold medals in both individual and team events, competing on a variety of horses, including Jaybee, Glenburnie and Murphy Himself.

Today, Ian continues to compete at the Thirlestane Horse Trials and is a renowned coach working wi th Olympic teams.

He has received an honorary fellowship by the British Horse Society for his contribution to coaching.

Ian, who lives at Ashkirk, was awarded an MBE for his services to equestrianism in 1989 after his Olympic successes in Seoul, and two years later was honoured again, this time with an OBE.

In 2004, he was appointed coach to the Brazilian Olympic three-day event team and for the past 12 years has been a selector for the British team.

Speaking to TheSouthern this week, Ian, who will be in London for this summer’s Games where he will also double up as an expert commentator for the BBC, said his five appearances at the world’s greatest sporting gathering were the peak of his competitive career.

“Absolutely...way up there at the top. A place on an Olympic team has to be the pinnacle of any competitive sporting career,” he told us.

“Just to get the chance to go to an Olympics, never mind winning medals, is fantastic. I was also incredibly lucky to manage to go to five games and win a total of four silver medals.

“Taking part in the Olympics were very special moments for me.”

Asked if Los Angeles had been extra special, being his Olympic debut, Ian said the 1984 event had gone by in something of a haze.

“It was the first time I’d represented Great Britain, which was brilliant. But it went past in a bit of a big bang and a bit of a haze, because I didn’t really know what was happening.

“So I’d have to say my favourite games were the next ones, in 1988, in Seoul. I really enjoyed Seoul – I knew what the format was and what was happening better than the previous time, on top of which I won two silver medals.

“Also, when we went to LA, we weren’t staying in the Olympic Village. We were staying in a rented house to be near the horses. At Seoul, however, we did stay in the village and that was a fantastic experience.

“I made a number of friends from mixing with other athletes staying there – some who are still friends to this day.”

As a British team selector for London 2012, Ian was reluctant to risk jinxing the national three-day event team by naming them as favourites to win gold.

“Hopefully, they won’t be named as favourites, because it just puts you up there to be shot at. But if they are not favourites for the gold medal, then I think they’ll be second top and have every chance of a medal.”