Gold medallist gallops back to Bristol to collect honorary degree
Press release issued: 19 July 2013
Olympic gold medallist Laura Tomlinson has collected another accolade to add to her burgeoning collection this week – an honorary degree from her old university.The horse riding star, who was triumphant in the team dressage competition at London 2012, was recognised by the University of Bristol yesterday [18 July] and received a Doctor of Laws degree six years after she first graduated with a BSc in Philosophy and Politics.
Laura, whose surname was Bechtolsheimer before she married polo player Mark Tomlinson in March, was also awarded an MBE for services to equestrianism in the New Year Honours which she will collect today.
The 28-year-old said: “I was very surprised when I found out about the honorary degree. It’s a very big honour and it’s been lovely to come back to Bristol and reminisce about my time here.
“I’ve got so many fond memories of being a student. I needed to fit in training and competitions while studying and the University was really supportive and understanding in helping me to achieve both. I really got the best of both worlds – I managed to keep up my sport and get a really good university experience at the same time.”
Laura captured the nation’s heart when she rode her trusted horse Mistral Hojris – known as Alf – and scored 77.873 per cent to keep the Brits ahead of their nearest rivals Germany, who have been reigning Olympic dressage champions since 1976.
In winning team gold at Greenwich Park in front of a home crowd of 20,000 spectators, Laura joined teammates Carl Hester and Charlotte Dujardin on the top of the podium to collect Britain’s 20th gold of the Games and Great Britain’s first ever Olympic dressage medal.
Laura also scored 84.339 to take bronze in the individual event, playing an integral part in helping GB's equestrian team end with three Olympic titles - two in dressage and a showjumping team gold.
Professor Julian Rivers, the warden at Wills Hall, delivered a speech at the graduation ceremony and said: “The training required to compete at the highest level in any sport is extremely arduous. Throughout her time at university, Laura was driving home six days a week to train. In equestrianism, there is the additional challenge of learning teamwork with a particular animal. The successful partnerships which Laura has developed with Alf and other horses are rare indeed.
“Laura has grasped the opportunities presented to her, leading the recent revival of British Dressage, which has brought the sport up to the highest international standards. In doing so, she has been a role model and an inspiration for a whole new generation of young equestrians.”
Laura’s riding aspirations began at the age of three, when she was placed upon her first pony, called Peacock, by her parents Wilfried and Ursula. The family moved from Mainz to Gloucestershire in 1986 to set up a breeding and training business when Laura was one.
On her application form to join Bristol University’s Wills Hall as a resident, she mentioned that riding was her ‘main hobby’, having already won two silver medals at European championships.
During her time at University she was a member of the High Performance Squad of athletes – a group of talented student athletes who receive support to continue with their sporting careers without compromising their academic progress. Members receive advice on everything from nutrition to sports psychology, not to mention training from top coaches, sports medicine services and financial support.
Past and present University of Bristol students won a total of five medals at London 2012, an achievement which puts the University among the most successful in the country.
Only four institutions across the UK had alumni who managed to win so many medals according to Podium, the further and higher education unit for the 2012 Olympic Games.