This man stands in the history books as one of Australia's most determined Olympians. James William "Bill" George Roycroft, now 95, lived through the first World War as a civilian, and lived through the second World War as a soldier. As a young man, Roycroft battled to keep his struggling dairy farm just out of Cobden in Southwestern Victoria making ends meet. With just enough money to get by, he put family responsibilities first, and delayed starting a potentially highly successful sporting career until he was 45.
Our Solo, a gelding of just 15 hands, was bred to be a pony racer, but after being deemed too jumpy was sold to Roycroft for £300 for polocrosse. Roycroft and Our Solo were making an almost perfect run in the 1960 Olympic cross country event until his steed fell at the 31st obstacle. Although Roycroft is reluctant to talk about exactly what happened, he admits he was possibly taking the jump too fast. The jump ended with horse on top of rider, and rider with bruised ribs and broken right shoulder. Roycroft was airlifted immediately to hospital in a helicopter standing by at the Games.
In order to qualify for medals, the Australian team, including Dawn Fraser, Herb Elliot, Murray Rose and Brian Crago, needed at least three entrants. On the final day, they were down a horse disqualified by vets, and a rider with serious injuries. After arguing with doctors for some time Roycroft convinced them to release him "in his underpants if necessary" so he could get back on his mount. The 45 year old signed that he was discharging himself strictly against advice, and bandaged and stuffed with painkillers, clambered onto Our Solo with the help of his teammates.
Our Solo's polocrosse experience paid off in the twelve jump event to carry his virtually paralysed rider to golden victory in under the time. The feat in Rome that day still stands unmatched. Now, after sixty-five years of farming and two Olympic bronzes, Bill is retiring, to leave the next generation of Roycrofts to continue the tradition both in dairying and equestrienne.
Written on location
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