Charlotte Dujardin has cemented her place in the history books as the most decorated British female Olympian of all time, winning a bronze in the individual dressage – the double champion’s sixth Olympic medal.
Dujardin and her horse Gio, riding together in their first Olympics, danced their way to legendary status in the grand prix freestyle at Tokyo Equestrian Park, with Dujardin having won gold at London 2012 and in Rio 2016 on her horse Valegro.
On Tuesday Dujardin won a record-equalling fifth Olympic medal as Great Britain took bronze in the team dressage final – with the 36-year-old joined in the team by the Olympic veteran Carl Hester, 54, and the 25-year-old newcomer Charlotte Fry, whose late mother, Laura, competed for Great Britain at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.
Dujardin’s collection of three gold medals, one silver and two bronze moves her ahead of the five medals won by the British rower Katherine Grainger and the tennis player Kathleen McKane Godfree.
Dujardin finished her performance on Wednesday – which she later revealed was a brand new freestyle she was riding for the first time – with a million-watt smile that suggested she was determined to savour the experience. But the title of most decorated female British Olympian may be one she does not hold for long, with the cyclist Laura Kenny, who already has four gold medals, competing in three events next week.
It was perhaps too much to ask for the double Olympic champion to win a third gold on a new horse, but she looked as delighted as if she had topped the podium after finding out she had taken bronze. Dujardin said taking on the mantle from Grainger was “absolutely mind blowing”.
She told the BBC: “I’m a bit speechless because there are so many incredible sports people, women that have achieved so much and now […] I’ve done that and more. I mean, you only dream of these things happening and it’s actually happened so I can’t believe it.”
Coming into the Games with Gio was a big “unknown”, but she said the “pocket-rocket” horse with a heart of gold had given everything.
“Even if I hadn’t even medalled, to me it was like winning anyway because he’d given me the ride of my life. The fact I’ve got two medals, obviously the team, and now an individual I just … I cried and I never cry but I got really emotional because it means so much and I’m just so, so proud.”
It was a tense final few minutes of the competition, as she waited for the scores to come in for Germany’s Dorothee Schneider’s final performance – but Dujardin could not be unseated.
In a fiercely impressive display from the German team, Jessica von Bredow-Werndl scored 91.732% to take gold on TSF Dalera on her Olympic debut ahead of compatriot Isabell Werth, who holds the record for the most Olympic medals won by any equestrian athlete and took silver with 89.657% on Bella Rose II.
In soaring temperatures, Dujardin gave a near faultless display on the relatively inexperienced Gio, also known by his significantly less formal name of Pumpkin, because he arrived at her stables around Halloween. She scored 88.543% with a series of tight and energetic piaffes – the term for when the horse is in a collected and high-footed trot – and canter pirouettes, where the horse performs a tight circle.
Dujardin, who was once told by the Queen that no one rode like her, started riding when she was two years old, after pestering her mother to allow her to sit aside a horse. By her own estimation she was “terrible” when she started dressage, at the relatively advanced age of 20, but used sports psychology to help her control her nerves.
But since entering the highest level of dressage in 2011, she has won the Olympics and world and European championships, and has become a household name in a sport that rarely gets a moment in the spotlight outside the Olympics.
Gio, who Dujardin co-owns with Renai Hart and Hester, had just three international grand prix starts before travelling to Tokyo and was not the original choice to compete in an Olympic Games, but Equestrian GB felt he would be best suited to the hot and humid conditions.
“There is so much more to come,” said Dujardin. “[In] three years’ time we have Paris, and I know this [medal] is not going be this colour. It is going to be another colour, it’s so exciting.”