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Olympic legend Bill Roycroft has died, aged 96

30 May 2011

Five-time Olympian James (Bill) Roycroft OBE, patriarch of the legendary Australian equestrian family, has died aged 96. He was Australia’s oldest living Olympian and without doubt one of our greatest and toughest.

Roycroft was born on a dairy farm in central Victoria in 1915 and grew up during the Depression. He died in the Camperdown Hospital on Sunday morning and will be remembered as a pioneer of his sport.

Roycroft won a gold medal in the team three-day event at the 1960 Rome Games, riding in his first Olympics at the age of 45 and competing with a broken collarbone.

“Our riders in Rome won Australia’s first ever Olympic medals in equestrian but it was the courage of Bill Roycroft that made that feat so historic” said AOC President John Coates.

“Bill was badly injured during the cross country section and discharged himself from hospital in Rome to ride on the final day in the showjumping where he managed to clear twelve jumps despite the injuries and being full of pain killers and clinging to the reins with only one arm working” Coates said.

He competed in the three-day event at five consecutive Olympic Games, and competed alongside each of his sons Barry, Wayne and Clarke.

When Roycroft won bronze at the 1976 Games in Montreal he became Australia’s oldest medallist and oldest competitor at 61 years and 31 days.

Roycroft was awarded the AOC’s Order of Merit in 1978 and was one of eight of Australia’s greatest Olympians selected to carry the Olympic flag into the stadium as part of the Opening Ceremony for the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney. He also was the Australian Team Flag Bearer at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City.

AOC historian Harry Gordon when profiling Australia’s finest Olympians for olympics.com.au in 2005 wrote:

‘The deed for which Bill Roycroft will forever be renowned occurred at the Rome Olympics in 1960. On the last day of the three-day equestrian event, Australia faced a grim predicament. Two riders, Laurie Morgan and Neale Lavis, were doing well; Brian Crago’s horse had broken down, and the fourth member of the team, Bill Roycroft, was in hospital - concussed, sedated, with extensive bruising and muscle damage. Doctors refused to sanction his release from hospital. The problem was that, if Australia was to win the team event, it needed three finishers. Roycroft had fallen during the steeplechase phase the previous day after his horse, Our Solo, somersaulted over pipes and landed on him. He had climbed groggily back, finished the course, then been given oxygen (and whisky) and flown by helicopter to a hospital outside Rome.

Next morning, with the final phase, the show-jumping, due to start soon, Roycroft insisted on signing himself out of hospital. The doctors said no, and refused to give him his clothes; he then threatened to leave in his underpants. Finally, he signed a document taking responsibility for his safety, and was allowed to go. He was 45, laced heavily with pain-killers, unable to bend, and his comrades had to dress him for the last ride. He was virtually folded onto Our Solo, and the reins were placed in his hands. Stiffly, flawlessly, he completed the round of 12 jumps, ensuring team gold for Australia. (Morgan also won the individual event). Roycroft, patriarch of a legendary riding family, competed in four more Olympics, winning team bronze in 1968 and 1976. He also carried the flag at the Mexico Opening Ceremony in 1968.’

The Australian Olympic Committee sends its condolences to Bill Roycroft's family and friends on behalf of the Olympic Community.


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