30 May 2011

Australia's Olympic legend Bill Roycroft passes away aged 96

Australian Olympic legend Bill Roycroft passed away early yesterday morning at age 96 at Camperdown in Victoria.

A legend of Equestrian sport in Australia, James William George Roycroft OBE, known as “Bill”, was one of Australia’s greatest Olympians and one of only five Australians to have competed in five consecutive Olympic Games. He represented Australia in Rome 1960, Tokyo 1964, Mexico City 1968, Munich 1972 and Montreal 1976 and became Australia’s oldest medallist and oldest competitor at 61 years and 31 days.  He was Australia’s oldest living Olympian.

It was at the 1960 Olympic Games that Roycroft together with his team mates won Australia’s first-ever Equestrian medal, a gold medal in Eventing.

Equestrian Australia’s Chairman, Paul Cargill, said Roycroft was a pioneer in the sport and paved the way for Australia’s Equestrian athletes.

“The Equestrian community is deeply saddened by the loss of Bill, a true legend of our sport.

“Our thoughts at this time are with Bill’s family and friends, especially Wayne, Barry and Clarke,” said Mr Cargill.

“Not only have we lost one of our most celebrated Olympians, but we’ve lost a man who was truly passionate about Equestrian and together with his family has given so much to our sport.

“His performance as part of the 1960 Rome team is legendary and inspired the next generation of Equestrian athletes.

“Their performance catapulted Australia’s reputation as one of the best Eventing teams in the world and his legacy will continue to be felt right throughout our sport for many years,” he said.

Bill riding OUR SOLO back in the 1960's
The story of 1960 Rome Team was one the captured the hearts of a nation. A team of outback horseman won two gold and one silver medal. Roycroft secured the team gold by defying doctor’s orders and leaving his hospital bed to ride in the show jumping phase. With the use of just with one arm he rode a perfect round to claim gold for Australia.

Lifetime friend and 1960 Olympic team mate Neale Lavis said, “Bill was just a great mate, he always stood beside you no matter what was happening.

“As a horseman he was second to none.  Bill was a character and life was never dull where he was.

“As a competitor he always kept you on your toes, and let you know it too,” added Neale.

Memorial details will be made available by the family in the coming days.

James William George “Bill” Roycroft OBE
Olympic Record:         
1960 Rome                               Gold Medal
1964 Tokyo                               
1968 Mexico City                       Bronze Medal (Australian Team Flag bearer)
1972 Munich                            
1976 Montreal                           Bronze Medal
Other achievements:
Roycroft became an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 1969 for his service to sport, and was awarded an Order of Merit by the Australian Olympic Committee in 1978 for his outstanding achievement in sport. He helped carry the official Olympic flag into the stadium at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games along with seven other Australian Olympians.

Bill, patriarch of a legendary riding family, competed at Olympic Games alongside each of his sons, Barry, Wayne and Clarke.

In May 2011, Bill was inducted in Equestrian Australia’s inaugural Hall of Fame.

Harry Gordon, AOC historian tells the story of the infamous 1960 Rome Team.

On the last day of the Three-Day Event, Australia faced a grim predicament. Two riders, Laurie Morgan and Neale Lavis, were doing well, however Brian Crago’s horse was out of the competition due to injury, 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 cross-country the previous day after his horse, Our Solo, somersaulted over 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 yet flawlessly, he completed the round, ensuring team gold for Australia.

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