In the standard packet of Olympic stories you tend to get every Games, you'll probably see the name Felix Carvajal, a Cuban marathon runner from St. Louis 1904. He raised money to pay his way to St. Louis, but lost the money gambling on a steamboat in New Orleans and had to hitchhike the rest of the way. Then he showed up at the starting line in wool pants, which some onlookers cut into shorts for him, because it was really really hot that day. He stopped to chat with spectators, ate some bad apples during the race, got stomach cramps, and still came in fourth.
You will also hear, in any given Olympics, about a number of athletes who similarly had to pay their own way to travel to the host city, probably a fraction of the actual number of such athletes. You've likely heard about several of them by now.
This is not about any of them. And this is not a story about raising the money to pay for the trip to the Olympics. For you see, when you are the Soviet equestrian team, you're getting some help getting yourself to Mexico City 1968. That's simply a given.
Ivan Kizimov was competing in the individual dressage event. Normally, this is among the most boring events according to popular opinion, in fact maybe THE most boring event on the entire program. This is because viewers are only watching the event. They did not get to see Kizimov's plane ride to Mexico City.
Because Kizimov also had to bring his horse, Ikhor.
Because of the high altitude of Mexico City and the long time it was discovered it would take the horses to acclimatize, athletes were asked to bring their horses several weeks in advance of the Games. The Soviets were among the first to arrive.
Horses are rather temperamental creatures. Plane rides can spook them easily, and long travel for the horses was still a relatively new thing in the Olympics. Most of the time, the majority of the horses were from Europe and got to remain there, and there weren't many horses called upon to fly to Los Angeles in 1932. But just in the Olympics prior to Mexico City, Tokyo 1964, three horses had to be destroyed in transport. Markham of the United States never even made it onto the plane in Newark. An unidentified Chilean horse had a heart attack on the flight to Tokyo. An unidentified Argentinian horse had to be destroyed on the flight home.
Kizimov and Ikhor had also made that flight to Tokyo, where they finished 10th in the individual dressage competition, and assisted in helping the Soviet Union win bronze in the team.
So it was a bit of a surprise when, according to David Wallechinsky's account, as the Soviet plane neared Mexico, the athletes heard loud noises coming from the cargo hold. It turned out to be Ikhor banging against the walls. The team vet, Anatoly Doilnev, managed to calm him down enough to get him on the ground and off the plane without having to destroy him. However, Ikhor still came off the plane with his legs covered in blood.
It was a lucky thing they had so much time on their hands before they had to actually compete. When it came time to do so, Ikhor had by then made a full recovery, and in fact, he won gold for Kizimov.
Another horse on the Soviet team wasn't so lucky. The cross-country course, used in the three-day event, would today be unsuitable for competition. Originally, a course at the city of Oaxtepec was selected for eventing, but it was moved away from there when the terrain was deemed to be too rough and the subtropical climate to be too much. The course was then moved to Avandaro Golf Club, which wasn't much better. It had a milder climate, but nobody realized that it rained there constantly in that time of the year, and a tropical rainfall swamped the course right on schedule. But Soviet horse Ballerina, ridden by Svetozar Glushov, didn't even last that long, collapsing of exhaustion on the course. Irish horse Loughlin, ridden by Penelope Moreton, suffered the same fate, and several other horses had cut it close themselves. In all, nine of the 48 horses that began the cross-country course didn't finish it, and two didn't survive it.
Maybe Ikhor knew what was coming.