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