Tag Archive: Olympics

  1. Who will be in the British equestrian team for the Rio Olympics?

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    The waiting game for riders, owners and supporters will finally end next Tuesday when the Great Britain equestrian team for the Rio Olympics is announced.

    A yet-to-be-confirmed venue in Wiltshire will temporarily be British equestrian sport’s epicentre as the dressage, eventing and showjumping groups are revealed.

    Already confirmed as absent from a Rio Olympics return, four years after medal-winning performances in London, are former world champion eventer Zara Phillips and ex-world number one showjumper Scott Brash.

    But the long-list of selected riders seem set to provide a fascinating blend of youth and experience as Britain’s equestrian stars look to challenge high standards set in London when five medals were collected – three gold, one silver and one bronze.

    Dressage set a high bar in 2012, with the team of Charlotte Dujardin, Carl Hester and Laura Bechtolsheimer (now Tomlinson) winning Britain’s first team gold in that discipline, while Dujardin, who holds Olympic, World and European titles — plus all of the sport’s world records — was crowned individual champion.

    I expect those three riders to be reunited in Rio, with the fourth team member either being Michael Eilberg or Fiona Bigwood, both of whom have performed well at European Championship level since London.

    Much of the eventing team dynamics will hinge around William Fox-Pitt, and whether or not he makes the Rio Olympics cut-off.

    Fox-Pitt, who has won numerous major championship medals, is almost nine months on from a terrible cross-country fall suffered during last year’s World Young Horse Championships in Le Lion d’Angers. He has been back competing since late March, but it remains to be seen whether the British selectors feel he is ready for such a challenge as an Olympics.

    If selected, Fox-Pitt is likely to be joined by his 2008 and 2012 Olympic medal-winning colleague Tina Cook, with first-time Olympians Gemma Tattersall, who was highest-placed British rider in third spot at this year’s Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials, and Kitty King completing the quartet. Should Fox-Pitt not be included, then it would appear to be a choice between Nicola Wilson and Izzy Taylor.

    The showjumpers provided unforgettable scenes at Greenwich Park four years ago when they beat the Netherlands after a thrilling jump-off, and it is expected that two of that team will be going to Rio.

    Nick Skelton and Big Star are proven star performers, and their display in jumping double clear at the La Baule Nations Cup in May showed without doubt that they are ready for Rio. Ben Maher will also be on board for his third Olympics.

    If John Whitaker is available for selection, then I expect him to make the group along with his brother Michael, meaning both riders will go to Rio 32 years after they helped Britain win an Olympic team silver medal in Los Angeles.

    But do not rule out 20-year-old Jessica Mendoza for a potential Olympic debut on her mother Sarah’s Spirit T. Great Britain showjumping team boss Di Lampard is a huge fan of Mendoza’s ability to thrive under pressure, and is also keen to give youth its chance, as happened with Maher in Beijing eight years ago.

    Predicted Great Britain teams for the Rio Olympics: Dressage – Charlotte Dujardin, Carl Hester, Laura Tomlinson, Michael Eilberg; eventing – Gemma Tattersall, Kitty King, William Fox-Pitt, Tina Cook; showjumping – Nick Skelton, Ben Maher, Michael Whitaker, Jessica Mendoza.

    Image: Charlotte Dujardin by Kevin Sparrow, courtesy of British Dressage

  2. Equestrian sports may change format at the Olympics

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    Changes to the Olympic equestrian competitions in time for Tokyo 2020 moved a step nearer during the recent FEI General Assembly in Puerto Rico, where potential future formats for showjumping, dressage and eventing were put forward.

    As FEI President Ingmar De Vos commented; “Olympic agenda 2020 is a driving force, but we already knew that changes needed to be made because we want to remain relevant in today’s ever changing sporting landscape and gain the exposure and visibility our sport deserves. We need to make it easier to understand, attract young and larger audiences, be broadcast friendly and see more nations represented in our sport.”

    More nations — or flags, as they are referred to — means greater coverage for the sport and in order to accommodate greater participation it is proposed that all equestrian teams will cap at three riders, with no drop score. In eventing — or, as proposed, Equestrian Triathlon, a new name that better relates to the sport and incidentally is already being used on the Rio 2016 website — all competitors will complete a short dressage test in one day. Cross-country remains the same although it is suggested that just the top six or seven teams will take part in the team jumping, with team members jumping one after another, to provide an instant team result.

    Two formats have been put forward for dressage but, sadly for purists of the sport, both have seemingly axed the grand prix special — despite it being considered the ultimate dressage test. Format A will use the grand prix — possibly a shorter version — to select the top 18 riders to go forward to the freestyle and decide medals. A spectator-friendly freestyle would also decide the team competition. The more straightforward Format B would use the grand prix for the team competition and the freestyle for the top 18 to decide medals.

    A jump-off would determine first place in both individual and team showjumping competitions. If team gold is decided by a jump-off, all three horse and rider combinations would compete against the clock with the best score to count. Another option for the team competition is that top 10 teams start with zero penalties, in the medal-decider final.

    In the first instance these changes enable more nations to take part and take less time to reach a conclusion, which is seen as a good thing as the audience can follow the competition more easily and not have to sit around for too long. And more importantly they are not taking up large chunks of the TV schedule.

    It would seem that, ultimately, if equestrian sports want to be part of the Olympics then accepting change to the format looks to be inevitable. But ‘what about the tradition of our sport’ — the first argument often used against change. Well, realistically, what we might think of as tradition has in fact been relatively short-lived throughout the history of equestrian competition.

    Change is nothing new, as equestrian sports and their formats have been evolving ever since the first Olympic competitions in 1900. In the first dressage competition, in 1912, horses performed three tests, one of which included jumping and another ‘obedience’. Teams were originally for three riders and, for those who can remember, and after some tutting from traditionalists, it was only in 1996 that the freestyle to music was included for the first time. And no-one can deny how much freestyle has widened the appeal of dressage. Even comedian Eddie Izzard has a routine based on it, Strictly Come Dancing judge Craig Revel Horwood recently commented that Jeremy Vine looked like he ‘should have been at the dressage championships’ and historian Lucy Worsley recently produced a TV programme on the history of dressage, although it was rather irritatingly called ‘the art of horse dancing’ (no, that is not a suggestion). I am convinced that none of those would have been cited ten years ago.

    Meanwhile, the first eventing competitions — or military as it was then called and still is by some nations — took five days and started with an endurance test of 34 miles of roads. The dressage test took place on the final day! The present format, without steeplechase, was only adopted in 2004, while the rules for Olympic showjumping have changed and been simplified many times over the years.

    Of course, equestrians want to be part of the Olympic movement just like they have been since the first Olympics in 1900. If that means accepting change then so be it.

    What the governing bodies of the different disciplines now really need to work out is what changes are acceptable and what really aren’t. But what is patently obviously looking at the history of equestrian sport in the Olympic movement is that there really isn’t much that could be described as traditional apart from the fact that horses have always been included. We need to keep it that way.

    The FEI will present more detailed format change proposals based on feedback from The General Assembly at the FEI Sports Forum 2016 in Lausanne (SUI) on 4-5 April 2016.

    Image: FEI President Ingmar De Vos speaks to the FEI General Assembly in Puerto Rico, by Richard Juilliart, courtesy of the FEI