Last night, show jumping’s most decorated Olympian, Hans Günter Winkler of Germany, died after a long illness. He was 91.
From the FEI:
Born on 24 July 1926 in Barmen, Germany, [Hans Günter Winkler] was one of the most successful German Olympians of all time, and the only equestrian in any discipline to compete and win medals at six Olympic Games. He claimed five Olympic golds, a silver and a bronze, together with back-to-back World Championship titles in 1954 and 1955 during his extraordinary career. Hans Günter was best known for his partnership with the great mare, Halla, who, quite literally, carried him to team and individual Olympic glory in Stockholm (SWE) in 1956 against all the odds.
He sustained a painful groin injury in the first round of the individual competition but he didn’t want to let either his team or country down and persevered throughout the remainder of the competition, just managing to stay in the saddle thanks to the honesty of his great mare and his own immense courage and tenacity.
He went on to win team gold at the 1960 Olympics in Rome (ITA) and the 1964 Games in Tokyo (JPN) and led Germany to team bronze in 1968 in Mexico City. He claimed team gold again at the 1972 Olympics in Munich (GER) and team silver in Montreal (CAN) in 1976.
Just before his 60th birthday, in July 1986, Hans Günter rode his last lap of honour at his favourite venue in Aachen (GER). However, his relationship with the spectators at the iconic Soers arena never diminished and their cheers were as loud as ever during his 90th birthday celebrations there in 2016.
Following his retirement from competition Hans Günter became a popular trainer and set up a successful event marketing and management company. He was a member of the German Equestrian Federation’s Jumping Committee, a great supporter of youth development in the sport and was awarded the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany.
“Hans Günter Winkler has been a great sportsman during his career, and likewise, after he had retired from his active time, he did a tremendous lot for our sport, in particular for the juniors”, German Equestrian Federation President, Breido Graf zu Rantzau said.
“We are losing a man who has mastered his life with great discipline and passion. My memories of Hans Günter Winkler are inextricably associated with the Olympic victories of himself and his team mates Fritz Thiedemann, Alfons Lütke-Westhues and Alwin Schockemöhle and how through these victories in the post-war era, they have led equestrian sport back to the top of the world.“
“Hans Günter Winkler was one of the greatest equestrian Olympians of all time and his tally of seven Olympic medals, five of which were gold, has been beaten in the modern era only by his compatriot Isabell Werth”, FEI President Ingmar De Vos said. “He was the most gifted horseman of his day and a great ambassador for our sport. His loss will be deeply felt, not just in Germany but throughout the equestrian community and beyond. The word legend is so often overused, but it is the most fitting description of a man and an athlete who really was a true legend. May he rest in peace.”
“It is with great sadness that I learned of the death of Hans Günter Winkler,” IOC President Thomas Bach said. “As a five-time Olympic champion, he has a firm place in the history books of Olympic and equestrian sport. With his great competitive spirit, Hans Günter was also a role model for me personally. I will always remember the moment he led our Olympic team as the flag bearer at the Opening Ceremony of the Olympic Games Montreal 1976. He inspired us young athletes then and he continues to be an idol for generations of equestrians to this day.”
The FEI extends its deepest sympathy to his family, to the German equestrian community and to his wide circle of friends.