After keeping Team Germany cantering along nicely for 16 years, Chris Bartle has now taken up the reins with Team GB. Lee Sobot reports.
IN Yorkshireman Chris Bartle, Great Britain has produced one of the best eventing coaches in the world over the past 20 years.
The trouble is that 15 of those have been spent coaching the opposite side – the arch enemy in many respects – Germany.
But 20 years after first coaching the British eventing team, Bartle has ‘come back home’ with him hailing it a “dream come true” in his new role for Team GB and showing absolutely no signs of stopping at 64 years old.
Born in Harrogate and residing at the family’s Yorkshire Riding Centre in Markington, Bartle was named the new performance coach for British eventing at the end of November, with the ultimate aim of excelling at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics in four years’ time.
In boarding the plane to Japan, Bartle will be stepping out at his ninth Games with the Olympic journey beginning in 1984 when competing as a dressage rider in Los Angeles.
The rider then turned his hand to coaching – helping Britain in their exploits at Barcelona 1992, Atlanta 1996 and Sydney 2000 before switching to coach the German national team.
Under his expert eye, the Germans scooped team eventing gold at both Beijing 2008 and at London 2012 – with Britain back in third in 2008 and pipped by the Germans into second in 2012.
France stole Bartle and Germany’s thunder in Rio this summer but the German team still finished runners-up with Team GB failing to make the podium – a place that has become familiar for the Harrogate-born coach.
There would now be no sweeter feeling than taking his home country to the podium in Tokyo in four years’ time – by which time Bartle will be 68 – but even the 2020 Olympics is not envisaged as being the evergreen coach’s swan song.
“You are as young as you feel,” said Bartle. “I’m as fit as a lop I reckon. I’m up for it, I don’t see an end to it and, as far as I am concerned, I’ve done 16 years for Team Germany and I will do 16 years for Team GB and then I will be ready for hanging my boots up I think! I am just going to take it one year at a time.
“There was certainly a slightly uncomfortable feeling at the beginning with the German team – to be batting, as it were, for the other side or coaching the other side.
“But I was with them for 16 years and I developed some very strong and close friendships and so on with all the team and the support team and my colleagues over there.
“To be honest, I would say it became more my family than a national team.
“I suppose it was a strange feeling particularly at the London Olympics where I was very proud that London and GB were hosting the Olympics but, at the same time, I was aware that I was on the opposite side.
“As a coach, it was a motivation and I was very keen to give my best for my team and for my team to give their best in London at what was, you could say, an away Olympics.
“It was a mixed feeling but certainly now in many ways it is a dream come true to be the high performance coach for the British team.”
Before his double golden exploits with Germany, Bartle also helped Team GB to the team evening podium at the Sydney Games in 2000 – as runners-up behind Australia.
The task now is to significantly improve Team GB’s Rio finish of fourth in Tokyo and Bartle may even be calling on fellow White Rose influences with Huddersfield rider Oliver Townend and Northallerton star Nicola Wilson both inside the world’s top 10.
At just 21, York rider Holly Woodhead is also shooting up the rankings and is on the cusp of the top 100.
“Yorkshire has always been a strong equestrian county,” said Bartle.
“There are some very famous names from the past – Harvey Smith and Graham Fletcher and so on have been heroes of mine and the Whitaker brothers are obviously still there.
“There’s so many big names from Yorkshire in the eventing world, Nicola, Ollie and Holly as well coming up – a very talented young rider.
“It’s great that they do have a strong chance.
“But, of course, even though I may be the coach for the team now and I may come from Yorkshire, there’s only one way a rider will get into a team and that is by delivering performances.
“It doesn’t matter where you come from.”
That, though, is not to say that Bartle is not fiercely proud of his Yorkshire roots.
Even in spite of his new role with Team GB, his family’s Yorkshire Riding Centre in Markington will remain an integral part of his life.
Bartle explained: “A third of my year is for the team as high performance coach but two-thirds of the year is still for Yorkshire Riding Centre and that’s what I call my Yorkshire team.
“The Yorkshire Riding Centre has been on the scene for a long time since my mother set it up and it has become a very important part of my life and my work and so on.
“It’s split roles between Yorkshire Riding Centre and Team GB.”
The new role for Team GB began at the turn of the year – with all roads immediately leading to the European Championship in the middle of August in Poland.
Five riders will represent Team GB – four in the team event and one individual. Then it is the World Championships in 2018 before Tokyo. He adds: “A lot of people have very kindly congratulated me but I reply: ‘Actually wait until we win the first competition.’
“First of all they should just say ‘good luck’. At the end of the day, it is a really exciting new challenge.”