Hans Günter Winkler, Olympic champion Equestrian, dies at 91
Winkler won five Olympic gold medals, one silver and one bronze, the most of any Olympic show jumper. He also won world championships in 1954 and 1955.
In Olympic show jumping, a rider must successfully guide a horse over a series of obstacles within a time limit. Events are scored by applying penalties, called faults, when a riders falls off the horse or when a horse strikes obstacles, refuses to jump or exceeds the allotted time to finish the course. The rider and horse with the cleanest run win.
Winkler’s most successful partnership was with Halla, a mare he once described as “a mixture of genius and crazy goat.” The German Olympic committee originally wanted to train her for eventing, as dressage, cross-country and show jumping are known collectively, but found her too fickle to compete in multiple equestrian events.
Winkler, who was already a seasoned horse trainer, began to work with Halla in the early 1950s, and she proved an adept jumper. He rode her to victories in riding contests around the world, including his back-to-back world championships.
“Halla was sired by a trotter, and Winkler considers her the best horse on the German team,” The New York Times said of Halla’s performance in an article about the National Horse Show at Madison Square Garden in 1954. “So far, she has been best of all the international horses.”
One of Winkler and Halla’s most dramatic competitions was in the 1956 Olympics, during which equestrian events were held in Stockholm, although the rest of the games were in Melbourne, because of Australian quarantine rules for horses. Winkler injured his groin in the first round after a rough landing and was in agony going into the second round.
But if Winkler did not ride he faced elimination, for himself and for the German team (composed of athletes from both East and West Germany). He managed to mount Halla, who negotiated the course without a fault, and won gold medals in the individual and team events.
Winkler’s next, and last, Olympics with Halla was the 1960 games in Rome, in which they came in fifth in the individual event but won another gold medal with the German team.
“With his miracle mare Halla, he formed an incomparable team, which impressively demonstrated what humans and animals can do together in sports,” Alfons Hörmann, president of the German Olympic Sports Confederation, wrote in a tribute on the German Equestrian Federation’s website.
Winkler went on to win gold medals in the team event at the 1964 and 1972 Olympic Games, a bronze in 1968 and a silver in 1976, when he was 50. He retired 10 years later.
Hans Günter Winkler was born on July 24, 1926, in Barmen, now part of Wuppertal, Germany. Before he became a teenager his family moved to Frankfurt, where his father managed a riding stable.
During World War II, Winkler served in an anti-aircraft unit. His father was killed and the family home was destroyed during the war.
After retiring from competition, Winkler organized tournaments, worked as a consultant and started a marketing firm, HGW Marketing. In 1994 he married Debbie Malloy, his fourth wife, and together they ran a stable of show jumping horses near their estate in Warendorf. She died in 2011.
His survivors include a son and daughter from an earlier marriage.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.
Daniel E. Slotnik © 2018 The New York Times
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