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Pa. rider heads to Paris Olympics in equestrian

As Caroline Pamukcu and her equestrian team were preparing for the Pan American Games in Chile just over a year ago, there wasn’t a whole lot of confidence that winning a gold medal was a possibility in a star-studded field more 5,000 miles away.

The stunning individual win for the northern Bucks County native, which also secured a silver medal for the United States, sprung Pamukcu into the spotlight with the 2024 Summer Olympics right around the corner.

“The Pan Ams was a pretty big thrill for me and my family. We didn’t go there expecting to win because there was some very strong competition and we won and it wasn’t as difficult as I expected,” said Pamukcu, who lives in Springtown. “That was a pretty cool feeling to go there and give it our all and realize that was enough.”

That win also sparked a conversation with the U.S. Olympic coach who laid out a plan for Pamukcu and HSH Blake, her horse, that would set her up for a selection to the 2024 U.S. Olympic Eventing Team.

Part of that plan was winning the Tryon International Three-Day Event in Mill Spring, North Carolina, and after a wire-to-wire victory for Pamukcu and HSH Blake, Pamukcu’s dreams became a reality when the Olympic team was announced early this month.

“It’s a really special opportunity. I got selected for my first Pan-American games last year but the Olympics is such a different scale. Our sport is so unique and to represent the US is unbelievable,” she said. “I’ve done about 12 Nations Cup’s and world championships, but the Olympics is the pinnacle and we’re over the moon. My whole life goal was to go there and it’s been a whole life of working hard at it.”

The success started early for Pamukcu who started riding at 7 years old and became a Junior Olympian Gold Medalist at just 14. Three years later, she became the youngest equestrian to ever be named to the High Performance Team.

The country can thank her mom, Sherrie Martin, for planting the seed and inspiring her to become one of the world’s most talented equestrians.

“She just dragged me to the barn every day, so it’s all her fault,” Pamukcu said. “She probably regrets it now.”

Martin might be responsible for igniting the interest in horses but it’s Pamukcu’s father who she sees in herself when pressure starts to build up in the biggest spotlights.

Much like a closer in baseball or a kicker in football, eventing requires someone to shoulder much of the pressure in the latter stages of the competition and deliver with the score all but settled. As the most senior member on the majority of her teams, Pamukcu is oftentimes that closer for not only her team, but also the entire country.

There’s no other position she’d rather be in.

“I love having that sort of pressure. I definitely thrive the best at that. I honestly think I was born with it,” Pamukcu said. “I think I got it from my dad who is a very competitive businessman and I think it’s just something I was born with. I might be one of the most competitive people out there.

“Just walking down the street with my husband, I want to beat him.”

Seniority won’t be on her side when the team begins its Olympic journey on July 27 as she joins two former Olympians in Boyd Martin and Will Coleman. Coleman last competed in the 2012 London Olympics while Martin is in his fourth straight Summer Olympics for Team USA.

Martin is also ranked second in the world in the FEI Rankings with Pamukcu coming in at 21st and Coleman 41st.

“I’m lucky because I have really good relationships with both riders. Will Coleman and I go to the same gym during the winter months so that’s great,” Pamukcu said. “Boyd has been one of those really good mentors to me. He’s a really good guy, a hard worker and such an incredible athlete. It’s kind of a dream team.”

Joining such a talented and experienced team might cause problems for some athletes, but given Pamukcu’s familiarity with the pair, and her track record of performing under pressure, it’s safe to say that won’t be the case in Paris.

Especially with how well the United States Equestrian Federation (USEF) and United States Eventing Association (USEF) have designed events to replicate the format of the Olympics and prepare athletes for their eventual call-ups.

“They’ve done such a good job because they mimic how it feels at the Olympics with the Pan-Ams and Nations Cups,” Pamukcu said. “I’ve had practice 12 times kind of following the same formula, so I don’t think I’m going to feel too much like a fish out of the water. I think it’s going to be the same repetition over and over that I’ve been practicing my whole career.”

While there were certainly moments of celebration once Pamukcu realized she’d be representing her country on the biggest stage in sports, in one of the most beautiful cities in the world, you wouldn’t know it by talking to her. She isn’t just heading to Paris to soak in where two decades of hard work has brought her.

She’s going to work and she’s going to win.

“Everyone keeps asking me if I’m excited about the games and no I’m not because I’m super hyper focused and all I want to do is work. I don’t want to do anything else,” Pamukcu said. “I want to be a consistent team member for USA. I want to be able to win medal after medal, year after year, no matter what championships we do.”

“I want to be the person that when you know the sport of eventing, my name comes to mind and I want to make America great again.”

While the U.S. boasts the most all-time medals in eventing, it hasn’t returned home with a team medal since 2004 or an individual gold medal winner since David O’Connor in 2000.

With what Pamukcu considers a “dream team,” maybe this will be the year that changes. Regardless, the local Olympian’s story of success and perseverance is a testament to just how much one can do when they don’t give up on their dreams.

More than anything else, that’s how she wants to inspire the next generation.

“My big theory is don’t give up. It doesn’t matter how many setbacks there are. There’s no reason to give up,” Pamukcu said. “I’ve broken my fair share of bones and sat in hospital beds telling doctors, ‘there goes my Olympic dream.’

“You can always climb your way back and keep fighting for it.”

Derek Bast is a freelance sports reporter who can be found on Twitter/X at @derek_bast or reached by email at derekbast11@gmail.com.


Source: Berkshire mont

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