Charlotte Dujardin could only manage one sentence to the media before the tears rolled down her cheeks at the Rio Equestrian Centre.
In defending her individual dressage title on board Valegro, she became just the second British woman to win three Olympic titles alongside Laura Trott, while also joining Richard Meade at the summit of British equestrian achievements by matching the eventer’s feat across the 1968 and 1972 Games in Mexico and Munich.
Dujardin and Valegro are head and shoulders above the rest but with the 14-year-old mount approaching retirement, yesterday’s triumph represented more than just another win, with the emotion of competing at an Olympic Games with Valegro for the very last time plain to see.
“It’s a bit emotional,” Dujardin said. “He’s going to be retired. I was thinking this could be the last time. He is so magical. He has a heart of gold. He is the horse of a lifetime.”
The British rider is the first to hold the complete set of individual elite dressage titles at one time – the individual Olympic freestyle, World freestyle and Grand Prix Special, World Cup individual dressage and European freestyle and Grand Prix Special titles. Yet she admitted to pre-competition nerves.
However, she pushed them to one side, with a routine of poise and elegance which scored 93.857 per cent.
Aged just 31, it’s conceivable that Dujardin could become Britain’s greatest female Olympian ever. But so much depends on the right horse.Dujardin knows replacing Valegro was a tall order.
“I owe it to him to finish at the top. I’ve been there at Olympic Games and lived it but I’m going to make sure it happens again,” she added.
“It’s another huge challenge. There will never be another Valegro. I don’t want anyone to ever compare a horse that I ride to Valegro because there will never be another.
“But it will be a huge achievement to get to another Olympic Games. Whether you win or not, just getting here is a huge achievement.
“I did feel the nerves a little for the first time ever because I did know it could be one of the last times ever with Valegro. But he gave me a look before and then I knew everything was going to be fine.”
Replacing Valegro will not be Dujardin’s only priority now, with a much overdue wedding to plan.
Long-term partner Dean Wyatt Golding held up a sign post medal ceremony with ‘can we get married now?’ written on it, although the pair were already engaged.
“He’s such a banana,” joked Dujardin. “I’ve already got a ring on my finger. He asked me before London and I said yes, but I don’t think he thought it would happen so he’s done it publicly now.
“With competitions after London we just never found time. I’ll make sure it happens now.”
Perhaps there will be a special invite for a certain four-legged friend.
l Aldi is the first Official Supermarket partner of Team GB and has been championing our nation’s extraordinary athletes on their Road to Rio and encouraging the public to tuck into fresh, affordable, Great British food. For more information visit aldi.co.uk