Britain’s Ben Maher pulled off a sensational jump-off round to clinch individual glory at the Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan this afternoon — just 18 months after undergoing back surgery.

Riding Explosion W, the duo were fourth to contest the seven-fence jump-off track which saw six riders through to fight for three medals.

Ben pipped Sweden’s Peder Fredricson (All In) by a tiny 17 hundredths of a second.

The Netherlands’ Maikel van der Vleuten (Beauville Z) claimed the bronze.

“I don’t even remember what I was doing in the jump-off to be honest. I had my plan and just went out there and he gave me his all,” said Ben, 38, who was a part of the gold medal-winning British team at the London 2012 Games and is due to marry his girlfriend, Sophie, in a few weeks’ time.

“It’s been a nerve-wracking few weeks. Especially coming here with an incredible horse who has been on great form the last couple of years. With that comes pressure.”

When describing his quick jump-off round, Ben added that Explosion W is “like lightening”.

“The second and third jump wasn’t as fast as I wanted and then I really took a big risk across the middle [where they galloped on],” he said. “Normally we read each other’s minds — we’re very in sync — but he did question me at the brown oxer in the middle and I felt a moment of hesitation.

“He kind of grew wings. He can do that. That’s what sets him apart from the rest of the horses.”

‘I’m a new person now’

Ben’s form and Olympic victory are particularly poignant given that he underwent back surgery in January last year. He was back in the saddle nine weeks later.

“I struggled for a long time after a couple of falls in 2018/19,” he said. “I had to have a physio travelling with me all the time and I couldn’t walk very well. I actually felt more comfortable on a horse but life wasn’t much fun.

“So [the surgery] was planned six months in advance and I had it in London in January 2020. I’m a new person now.”

A photo wall of successful athletes at the American gym where he carried out rehabilitation and fitness work helped motivate him to get back to top-level competition.

“The beginning of last year was twice a day in the gym working with a guy called Ed for three months, and every day I’d walk out and I don’t feel good,” added Ben. “He has pictures on the wall of people that have won things and famous athletes. I’d look at that every day and it pushed me to try and get to this point.

“I was nervous for a while if being more healthy might make me worse in the ring, but it’s all good!”

Britain’s Scott Brash failed to qualify for the jump-off when Jefferson picked up a time-fault, while Harry Charles retired Romeo 88.

The team contest kicks off on Friday, 6 August, with the team medals being decided in Saturday’s final.

View the final leaderboard here.

Main photo: Ben Maher and Explosion W in action. Credit: FEI/Arnd Bronkhorst

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