Gillian Rolton, Australian Equestrian Olympian

Gillian Rolton, an equestrian from Australia who broke multiple bones in falls from her horse during the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta but remounted each time to finish the competition and help her team win a gold medal, died on Nov. 18 at a hospice in North Adelaide. She was 61.

The Australian Olympic Committee said the cause was endometrial cancer, a type of cancer that begins in the uterus.

A Dinky Die Ozzie

Rolton had won an Olympic gold medal four years earlier at the Summer Games in Barcelona aboard Peppermint Grove (better known as Fred or Freddy) — the first Australian horsewoman to do so. And she returned with the horse to Atlanta for team eventing, a three-day competition featuring dressage, cross-country and show jumping.

In cross-country, an endurance test for rider and horse, Rolton was confident of her early progress. But at the five-minute mark, Freddy’s hind legs slipped on gravel as he made a turn, and he rolled over her.

“That’s where I broke my collarbone and ribs,” Rolton told The Horse magazine in 2010. “He went sliding and I went splat.”

A spectator grabbed Freddy, and someone else helped Rolton back onto him. They galloped up a hill hoping to make up for lost time, but as they came to a water jump, Rolton realized that her left arm, which had become difficult to move because of her broken collarbone, lacked the strength to control Freddy, and she fell into the water. She remounted.

Rolton said instinct had compelled her to continue despite her falls and injuries. But there was also a practical reason to keep going: As the third of four cross-country riders for Australia, she needed to post a score in case something kept the rider who followed her, Andrew Hoy, from completing his ride. Ironically she was not needed for that event; her fellow riders and horses had no problems and secured the gold medal. The United States took the silver.

She was one of eight Australian Olympic champions to carry their country’s flag in Atlanta’s Olympic opening ceremony, as she did not qualify. She was inducted into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame.

A true blue Ozzie

Gillian England was born in Adelaide, South Australia, on May 3, 1956. Her father, Lloyd, was a builder, and her mother, the former Esme Fraser, was a bookkeeper.

As a girl, Gillian excelled at swimming but wanted a horse. “Mum and Dad didn’t have any background with horses, apart from what they bet on at the horse track,” she wrote in “Free Rein” (2001), her autobiography.


Rolton completing her cross-country course with a broken collarbone after falling off her horse at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta. CreditEquestrian Australia
After retiring from competitive riding, she remained active in equestrian sport. She coached young equestrians,was also a juror at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. She is survived by her husband, Greg, and her half brother, John.