Who is Charlotte Dujardin, Britain’s greatest female Olympian?

Charlotte Dujardin won bronze in the individual dressage (Danny Lawson/PA) (PA Wire)
14:13pm, Wed 28 Jul 2021
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Charlotte Dujardin has gone from being a sporting unknown outside the equestrian world 10 years ago to become Britain’s most prolific female Olympic medal winner.

Her sixth Games podium finish – a bronze in the Tokyo Olympics individual dressage final – means she stands alone, eclipsing rower Dame Katherine Grainger and tennis player Kitty Godfree.

Roll back to the summer of 2011 and an informal Great Britain dressage squad media day in Greenwich Park.

Multiple Olympian Carl Hester was the subject of assembled journalists’ interest, plus a few fringe London 2012 contenders, but no-one really took any notice of the rider stood alongside him.

That was until Hester advised that questions would be far better directed at Dujardin than him because she was “going to win gold in London”.

When Hester, who has now competed in six Olympics, talks dressage, it is advisable to listen, and barely nine months later Dujardin broke her first world record on the imperious Valegro before winning London double gold.

It signalled a period of dressage domination not previously witnessed in the sport, with the Dujardin-Valegro combination collecting 10 Olympic, world and European gold medals and setting new world records that still stand for grand prix, grand prix special and freestyle.

Carl Hester and Charlotte Dujardin with Valegro (Steve Parsons/PA) (PA Archive)

Hester has been a source of confidence and inspiration to Dujardin throughout her professional riding career.

Born in Enfield and brought up in Bedfordshire, she first sat on horses at the age of two, riding her sister’s charges back from the showjumping arena to the lorry for home, and it was the world of showing that attracted her.

Showing is an equestrian discipline all about highlighting the best qualities of a particular breed, and Dujardin was good enough at it by her mid-teens to be a prolific winner at the prestigious Horse of the Year Show.

In her early 20s, Dujardin’s riding prospects took a new turn when she concentrated on dressage, and she was encouraged to seek employment with Gloucestershire-based Hester, who duly offered her a job.

Charlotte Dujardin at the London 2012 Olympics (Steve Parsons/PA) (PA Archive)

Dujardin made enough of an impression to be offered some training work with Valegro, a horse that Hester co-owned, and it was a partnership that instantly hit it off.

Hester, one of the finest dressage trainers in the world, could see something special developing, not only in terms of Dujardin’s natural ability but a fierce competitive streak that has always surged through her.

She also possessed an extraordinary calmness under pressure, which was a priceless commodity in a sport like dressage where the tiniest mistake can cost medals and titles.

By 2011, Dujardin and Valegro were part of the British team that contested the European Championships in Rotterdam, winning gold, which set up a full-scale tilt at London 2012 and two golds – her second being in the music to freestyle when her routine suitably featured Land of Hope Glory, The Great Escape and the chimes of Big Ben.

World records continued to tumble for the girl on the dancing horse, and the Olympic individual title was successfully defended in Rio, in addition to collecting a team silver.

It had always been the intention to retire Valegro after those Games, which is what happened, and Dujardin – by this stage a world-renowned trainer and producer of horses – effectively took a year out from elite dressage to develop her next potential championship horses.

That next chapter is now being written with new equine talent like Gio, her ride in Tokyo, and Mount St John Freestyle looking capable of performing with the sport’s finest.

Dujardin will not stop in her pursuit of excellence – it is not in her nature – and come Paris 2024, no-one should be surprised to see her with another gold medal around her neck.

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