July 24, 2009 -- Jack Le Goff, the man who defined the eventing program in the United States, died today in France at the age of 78. The legendary horseman revolutionized the United States equestrian program and defined an era with medals and championships.
Le Goff's coaching record at international championships was exemplary. His teams won medals at four consecutive Olympic Games and three consecutive World Championships. He brought some of the biggest names in the sport over the last three decades to fruition.
"He was about creating riders and horsemen," said Derek DiGrazia, who represented the U.S. at the 1986 World Championships and is one of the most renowned trainers and course designers in the U.S. today. "That was a big thing with Jack. He wanted us all to know what was going on with the training and management on a daily basis. He wanted us to be aware, that was another huge part of being with Jack, being a horseman."
Le Goff never missed winning a medal with any of the eventing teams that he coached in his 14-year tenure in the United States. Eighteen medals in eight international championships is an astounding accomplishment by which the U.S. team still measures itself. His teams won team gold medals at the Olympic Games in 1976 and 1984. His innovative, intensive training changed the U.S. eventing program forever.
"I'd say that in my run-in in the sport he's one of a very small handful of what I call genius," said George Morris, USEF show jumping chef d'equipe. "I first knew Jack in Rome as an accomplished competitor and later in the States. He's a very, very learned classical horseman in his methodology and background and intellect. He's a fantastic teacher and horse trainer. The icing on the cake is that he's a winner. You can't predict that in someone. You can't determine that. He's always been a winner. His success in the sport of eventing is unparalleled."
He started his career with horses in a racing stable. He then joined the French army and graduated at the top of his class, which allowed him to enter the Cadre Noir where he became one of the youngest "under-riding" masters ever. Eventually he became a "riding master", and performed with the Cadre Noir.
As a competitor, he was the French National Eventing Champion in 1956 and then placed sixth individually at the 1960 Rome Olympics, helping the French team win a bronze medal. He represented his country again in Tokyo four years later.
Le Goff was sent by the French army to fight in Algeria immediately following the Tokyo Olympics. He spent two years there and returned home to retire from the army and coach the French team. He coached his first individual gold medalist at the 1968 Mexico Olympic Games under the French flag.
He then moved to the U.S. and started an empire.
"Jack had the ideal job when he came to the USA--to create a program," said USEF President David O'Connor. "That program not only produced an unprecedented amount of medals but set a standard that has been unequaled. He was a horseman, friend, innovator and most of all, a mentor to so many of us that had the privilege to be educated by him."