Frank Chapot, six-time Olympian and USA Jumping coach, passed away peacefully on 20 June at the Somerset Valley Assisted Living Center in Bound Brook, NJ. He was 84.
For five decades, Frank Chapot played an instrumental role on the USA Jumping team, flying the flag for the USA at the top level of the sport, inspiring generations of riders and coaching multiple winning teams.
A winner of the renowned Maclay Championship at junior level in 1947, Frank Chapot went on to have a remarkable career as a professional, joining the United States Equestrian Team (USET) in 1956, a year after graduating from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton Business School.
He was the youngest member of the USA Olympic Jumping Team when he made his Olympic debut in 1956 with the one-eyed horse Belair, which his mother had bought for just $3,500. The Olympic equestrian events were held in Stockholm (SWE) that year because of quarantine issues in Melbourne.
He served in the Air Force for two years between the Korean and Vietnam wars, but still found the time to continue riding and competing.
Frank Chapot competed in five more Olympic Games, winning team silver in Rome 1960 and again in Munich 1972. He also claimed individual bronze in the 1974 World Championships. He participated on a record 46 winning FEI Nations Cup teams, three Pan American Games teams, and claimed victories in the President’s Cup, the Grand Prix of New York, and London’s King George V Gold Cup among many others.
After hanging up his competition boots, Frank Chapot succeeded Bertalan (Bert) de Némethy as the USA chef d’equipe, a role he held for 24 years until his retirement in 2005. Under his leadership, the USA Jumping team won nine Olympic medals and nine Pan American Games medals, including the first-ever team gold at Los Angeles 1984, gold again 20 years later at Athens 2004 and silver in Atlanta 1996. Team USA also won gold at the 1986 world championships in Aachen (GER).
Frank Chapot was also known for breeding and training the famous Gem Twist, the charismatic grey that won team and individual silver with Greg Best at the Seoul Olympics in 1988, a hugely poignant moment for Frank. Gem Twist was named Best Horse at the 1990 FEI World Equestrian Games™ in Stockholm after the four-way change-horse final.
Frank Chapot married his two-time Olympic team mate, the former Mary Mairs, in 1965. They had ridden together on the 1964 Olympic team in Tokyo, where the squad was sixth and Chapot was the highest-placed American, finishing seventh on San Lucas. The couple also rode together on the Olympic team in 1968 in Mexico City. Their two daughters, Wendy and Laura, both became successful equestrians, with Laura competing at the top of the sport, including winning team bronze at the 2007 Pan American Games.
Frank Chapot was a founding member of the Show Jumping Hall of Fame Board of Directors and served on the Board of Directors of the American Grandprix Association and a number of horse shows. He was honoured for his long list of achievements in 1994 when he was inducted into the Show Jumping Hall of Fame, two years after his wife Mary.
Frank Chapot remained active in the sport until recent years, when his health declined. He was a renowned course designer and judge and was very much involved in the governance of the sport. In 2001 he received the United States Equestrian Federation’s Lifetime Achievement Award for his contributions to the sport.
“Frank was a legend in his own life time”, John Roche, FEI Director of Jumping said. “He was a horseman through and through, with an amazing eye for a horse. Apart from having an outstanding career as a rider, he was a very accomplished trainer. He was a passionate supporter of the Nations Cup competition and was on 46 winning Nations Cup teams.
“For many years he played a very important role in establishing and managing the FEI World Cup Jumping series in North America. He was an accomplished course designer and a hugely respected FEI international Jumping judge. His passing marks the end of an era. He helped to shape equestrian sport in the United States and will be greatly missed by all those who were fortunate enough to have come in contact with him. Our deepest sympathies to his wife Mary and daughters Laura and Wendy.”
“Frank Chapot was one of my best friends, one of international Jumping’s best friends, one of the United States’ best friends and certainly one of the best friends of the horse”, FEI 1st Vice-President John Madden said.
“Frank knew more about friendship than most. He was fiercely loyal, honest and clear. He was a man of few words, a family man, tough as nails but full of compassion. These human qualities shaped show jumping in America and influenced it worldwide. Every US rider today has been influenced in a positive way by Frank. He made us all better. I will miss him. We will all miss him.”
Frank Chapot is survived by his wife of 51 years, Mary, daughters Laura Chapot and Wendy Nunn, an accountant who has been successful as an amateur-owner jumper, his son-in-law Edward Nunn, and grandchildren, Frank, Mary and Cathleen.
The FEI extends its sincere condolences to Frank Chapot’s family and many friends, to the United States Equestrian Federation and the global equestrian community.
Photo: ©Collection Poudret