Interview with Olympic medallist Tina Cook
PUBLISHED: 11:28 20 September 2012 | UPDATED: 21:55 20 February 2013
Findon equestrian Tina Cook on bringing home a silver medal
My street cred went up quite considerably with my children, says Tina Cook, of winning an Olympic silver at the Team Eventing at Greenwich.
Isabelle (seven and a half) and Harry (five and a half) both attend Findon Primary. They were too young to appreciate Tinas bronze medal triumph at Beijing: I went and did a talk at their school . When they realised that other children looked at me and thought Wow, shes won a medal they thought I was obviously quite important. Now when my son says, Oh, youre not going off to ride another horse? I can say, Well I have to ride the horse if you want to see me on telly!
The horse, Miners Frolic or Henry to his friends famously dodged death last year after a near-fatal bout of colitis. Tina acknowledges that she too has suffered something of an annus horribilis after losing her father Josh Gifford in February. Mr Gifford was a four times champion National Hunt jockey and trainer of Aldaniti, winner of the 1981 Grand National. Now Tina is working hard in her brother Nick Giffords business, using her eventing experience to train racehorses: Its important to get the family business going full steam ahead. Dad worked so hard for this place and we want to make a success of it.
As we talk at her Findon stables, with her black lab Biscuit pottering genially about our feet, Tina points out Henry, grazing contentedly in a nearby field. The horse, owned by Sussex-based Nick and Valda Embiricos and Sarah Pelham, is currently having a bit of a holiday after his Olympic extertions, unlike his energetic rider, who celebrated her medal by haring off to Gloucestershire to compete in another event. Its lovely to talk about the Olympics because everything has gone back to normal very quickly. I would love to say it had changed more, but not as yet!
As one of Team GBs earliest medals and with our only Royal competitor the Eventing team had to cope with a high degree of press interest. Tina confesses to feeling protective of her team-mate Zara Phillips: Its wonderful for me personally, being on a team with Zara. When I was 20 I got a scholarship to be trained by her father, Mark Phillips, at Gatcombe. Zara was only 10, so I lived at Gatcombe for a year when she was a little child. We do get on and it was lovely to be on the team together.
Of course there was going to be added interest. Zara herself really deserved that place so there was no question that she was there for any reason other than as a competitor. Zara is a normal, hard-working girl and she works like the rest of us. Theres no point getting cross with the intrusion, shes had the press following her around all her life so shes used to it. She gets a bit grumpy and she worries that shes getting all the attention and were not, but we know its a way of life. If anything we get more protective over her.
The team elected to stay in the Olympic Village after being somewhat removed from the heart of the action in Beijing. To have people like Vicky Pendleton, Usain Bolt and Andy Murray wandering past you in the food hall is unique. You can seriously people watch.
As you can imagine, everyone is fit but they come in absolutely different shapes and sizes, from women that look like they are about 6 foot 6 that you wouldnt ever normally see to little tiny gymnasts and skinny runnersit is quite extraordinary. All of the athletes relished talking to each other about their sports, and the realities of a lifestyle dedicated to that discipline, reflects Tina.
There was no opening ceremony for the team, as their event commenced the next morning, but a little party gathered in Team GB House to watch the action on the television. From the house we could actually see the fireworks going on we saw more of it watching it on telly than people who were there!
After a night out in London, the team went back to their homes and families: We did a lot of media the following day and then we could go out in our civilian clothes [the athletes were contracted to wear Adidas clothes whenever they were in the public eye during the competition].
Our new silver medallists travelled back to London for the closing ceremony. The ceremonies are very much set up for television, not for athletes. We were stood outside for an hour and a half like cattle. We were outside while it was all going on. We thought, we really want to come in this is slightly about us and were outside! But then we all went back to the Olympic Village which was very relaxed. There were some beers and wines brought in and the party continued until the very early hours of the morning. Everyone wanted to let their hair down and enjoy.
Tinas triumphant homecoming was marked by a party in one of Findons pubs, The Gun Inn, reflecting the high level of local respect for the horsewoman and her family. A lot of the villagers have known me all my life, and Ive got a lot of friends here. People are genuinely proud about these Olympics and to me that means a huge amount. It has been a difficult year for me in many ways so the support of the village has been invaluable.
There was some controversy about the equestrian arena its temporary nature means there is no structural legacy for future generations to enjoy. I have to admit I was quite disappointed, says Tina. But having it in London meant a lot of people probably came to our sports that wouldnt normally have done. There were many positives to Greenwich. Its really about getting young people to realise its not for the ultra-rich and you can make a career out of it.
She herself might not have sustained a career at the highest level of her discipline without means and performance-tested lottery funding, says Tina. As an athlete it allows her to pay for extra training, and as a single mother, it enables her to employ childcare when shes away competing.
This busy, energetic and very funny woman is still in the middle of her season, and clearly itching to get back to her daily six hours in the saddle. Miners Frolic is still recovering from the Olympics, but hes come out of it very well, says his rider. He has, she says a fantastic brain. Hes a very kind horse, very keen and willing to please me. Thats what has taken him through to top level. His 14 years mean his career may be drawing to a close, but Tina and Henry are still a formidable partnership.