As part of Metro's ongoing coverage leading up to the 2012 Olympic Games in London, we're introducing readers to the athletes who will be representing the United States. Previously: fencer Daryl Homer, gymnast Aly Raisman, swimmer Ryan Lochte and distance-runner Molly Huddle.
At age 54, equestrian Karen O'Connor is not only the most senior member of the U.S. Olympic Eventing Team, she is the oldest American athlete who will compete this summer for Team USA. With more than 30 years of eventing experience, she serves as a role model to young athletes who marvel at her five-time Olympic career.
"As the eldest Olympian — I mean, most senior Olympian," she jokes, "It's pretty cool. I’m more excited about this Olympic games as any that I’ve been apart of."
O'Connor won silver in Atlanta and bronze in Sydney. Though she is no stranger to the pressure of Olympic eventing, O'Connor admits this summer's games are particularly important to her because it could be her final shot at a medal.
"These games mean everything to me because, more than likely, it’s my last," O'Connor admits. "So I'm drawing on everything — the quality of my horse, my experience and the bonding of my team members and my coaches. I am going into these games on fire and I am really excited about it."
O'Connor has competed with a different horse for each Olympic Games. This year, she will ride with Mr. Medicott, an Irish-born, German-trained horse that O'Connor has been with for only seven months, though she is confidant that they make a winning pair.
"He is a very athletic horse," she enthused. "I know everything about German training and everything about Irish breeding, so it’s a real win-win for me. He's incredibly talented and I’m really looking forward to it."
O'Connor will find support during the games from her husband David, who will also be in London as a coach for the Canadian equestrian team. Next year, he will move into the role of coach for the U.S. team when current coach Mark Phillips retires, she said. According to O'Connor, her husband already plays a big role in coaching her.
"We have been married 18 years, he wants the very best for me and will have a huge influence on my performance," she says. "Some of it is without words and we will make eye contact, and I will know exactly what he is thinking and make the changes accordingly."
O'Connor is undeterred by the possibility of rain in London — something that could greatly effect outdoor sports like eventing.
"I lived here for five years," O'Connor says of England. "I know very well the courses and the terrains and am well aware of the rain and the impact of the rain on our horses."
She's confidant in the U.S. team's potential for a medal and says she feels at least two team members could win individual medals. Though she didn't say she is personally expecting to earn a medal, O'Connor makes it clear that she is ready for her most important Olympic experience yet.
"It is hard to stay on top, but I’m fit and I am ready to roll and my horse is fit and ready to roll," she says.