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Steve Guerdat and Martin Fuchs: A perpetual friendship

Wednesday, 18 November 2020
Interview

Photo © Rolex “Martin and I have a similar way of doing things, so we often don’t need to say a lot; it’s more the smaller details and knowing that you have someone who you can rely on. It is a very strong, real, true friendship," Steve Guerdat says. Photo © Rolex.

 

Edited interview by rEvolution London

 


 

Sweden’s golfing legend Annika Sörenstam used to talk of playing “with a target on my back” after she became the first player to top the official women’s world rankings in 2006. In showjumping, Switzerland’s Steve Guerdat knows that feeling intimately, having been the world’s no. 1 rider for much of the past decade. 

Guerdat is also an Olympic champion, clinching individual gold at the London 2012 Games, riding Nino de Buissonnets. It was Switzerland’s first showjumping gold medal in 88 years, achieved with style and perfection by Guerdat and Nino, the only rider and horse combination to record fault-free rides in the final two rounds. With the world watching, under the most intense pressure, and when every stride counted, their execution was flawless. 

Olympic gold pulled the modest and quietly spoken Guerdat into the spotlight, particularly in his home country. It was a situation his sporting idol and fellow Swiss Roger Federer could empathize with, accustomed as he was to the pressures of being the top-ranked player in men’s tennis. 

With his Olympic gold medal around his neck, Guerdat paid tribute to Federer’s inspiration in showing the Swiss people not to shy away from the world stage. Guerdat’s nod to Federer also served as a reminder that achievement at the highest level depends on so much more than pure physical ability; it requires discipline, perseverance, poise and a willingness to learn from those who have gone before. These are qualities that define athletes such as Federer, Guerdat and Sörenstam, and they help to explain how these athletes have achieved so much in their careers. 

During a period of sustained success, Guerdat has become one of only five riders to win the Rolex Grand Prix at CHI Geneva three times (2006, 2013 and 2015) while in 2019 he also won his third FEI Jumping World Cup™ Final title in 2019. His list of honours extends across the world’s most prestigious show jumping events. The man who idolized Federer has now become a role model himself. 

Photo © Ashley Neuhof/Rolex "Having someone as good as Martin to compete with, it makes sure that I don’t get complacent," Steve Guerdat says. Photo © Ashley Neuhof/Rolex.

Take it from Martin Fuchs, the Swiss showjumper who in January 2020 briefly succeeded Guerdat as world no. 1 before his countryman regained the mantle. 

“I have known Steve for such a long time, since our parents competed together,” says Fuchs, 27, who took silver behind Guerdat at the 2019 FEI Jumping World Cup™ Final before closing the year with his first Rolex Grand Prix victory at the Concours Hippique International de Genève. On that occasion he edged out Guerdat and Scott Brash from Great Britain.

“Steve is 10 years older than me. He has always been my role model and this has never changed,” adds Fuchs, who is also the reigning FEI European Champion. “I used to watch him ride and I would walk the courses with him. Then he asked my dad to train him and since then we have become really close. 

“To see how Steve trains and to see how he manages all of his horses is incredible. He has been in the Top 10 for so many years, winning with so many different horses and this is so inspiring for me.”

Fuchs could ride before he could run. His grandfather was a farmer who branched out into horses and built a riding school. Fuchs’ mother, father and uncle, Renata, Thomas and Markus, became international showjumpers, and both Thomas and Markus represented Switzerland at the Olympics. 

Photo © Ashley Neuhof/Rolex "To be able to support and help the Swiss team is great and we are able to spur each other on,” Martin Fuchs says. Photo © Ashley Neuhof/Rolex.

The Fuchs family operation is based in idyllic countryside outside Zurich, in Switzerland’s north-east, and is just eight kilometres from where Guerdat has established his own home, stables and headquarters. Thomas Fuchs mentors Guerdat, Guerdat influences Martin Fuchs, and Fuchs provides the competition to help keep Guerdat sharp. 

“Martin and I spend a lot of time together,” says Guerdat, who has been coached by Fuchs senior since 2007. “I have probably spent more time with the Fuchs family than my own in recent years. Spending so much time with Thomas and Martin has created a very strong relationship between us, both professionally and as friends."

“Martin and I have a similar way of doing things, so we often don’t need to say a lot; it’s more the smaller details and knowing that you have someone who you can rely on. It is a very strong, real, true friendship.” 

But Guerdat is also fully aware his close friend is also his nearest rival. 

“I always train hard and go into every competition trying my best, but I don’t think anything can push you as hard as having someone like Martin to compete with,” admits Guerdat. “Seeing him grow each day and winning so much already at such a young age, it pushes me every day to work even harder to try to get better. Having someone as good as Martin to compete with, it makes sure that I don’t get complacent. I see a lot of things already from Martin that he does much better than me, so it really motivates me to become a better rider.” 

Reflects Fuchs: “At the end of the day, you just go into the ring and you want to do the best that you can, you want to win, obviously you don’t want to be beaten by anyone, but we are always happy for each other, and it’s great to have Steve as a teammate for Switzerland. To be able to support and help the Swiss team is great and we are able to spur each other on.” 



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