Will Britain’s show jumpers FAIL to make it to Rio?

By Charles Taylor on |

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It is probably one of the least-known facts in British sport – and a question that would currently hold its own in any sports quiz.

Name the reigning Olympic champion team that has not qualified for the Olympics?

Amid the unfortgettable scenes of Greenwich Park in August 2012, it appears inconceivable that approaching three years later, there is a very real possibility that Great Britain will not have a showjumping team at Rio 2016.

It only seems like yesterday that Peter Charles and Vindicat W jumped London Bridge, Charles jubilantly punched the air, a sell-out crowd went bonkers and Britain’s showjumpers – Charles, Nick Skelton, Ben Maher and Scott Brash – had Olympic gold medals hanging around their necks. 

They made it mission accomplished against a back-drop of pure sporting theatre. A thrilling jump-off – showjumping’s equivalent of soccer’s penalty shoot-out – a captivated audience, both in Greenwich and on television, and a result that few could have imagined as Britain pipped the Netherlands to gold.

It was not apparent at the time, certainly not during prolonged celebrations inside and outside The Greenwich Tavern, that London glory did not translate to Rio qualification.

And now the chips are well and truly down, with Britain having one more chance – August’s European Championships in Aachen – to secure one of the few remaining qualifying places, or end up watching Rio from afar.

The Brits could have done it by now, but a spectacularly-poor World Equestrian Games in Normandy last September saw them finish a miserable 18th, way off the Rio-bound places filled by the Netherlands, France, United States, Germany, Sweden and Brazil as hosts.

Britain has still got it all to do when they arrive in Aachen, pursuing one of just three places.

There were, to a degree, mitigating circumstances for the Brits, with injuries and unavailability undermining the World Games campaign, but it also meant that they left Caen with the heat well and truly turned up.

The problem – and it is a sizeable one – centres around a few other teams with high expectations who have also not qualified, which means Britain has still got it all to do when they arrive in Aachen, pursuing one of just three places.

Ireland, led by boy wonder Bertram Allen, Switzerland, with reigning Olympic indivivual champion Steve Guerdat in their ranks, Belgium and the Ukraine have also yet to book flights for Rio, so Britain has much to contemplate.

It could well be a case of Games over before they have even started.

Now under the direction of new team boss Di Lampard, the overwhelming priority must be to identify the team she wants for Aachen – then do everything in her power to ensure she arrives in Germany with a line-up capable of setting off on the road to Rio, rather then being turned back to Blighty.

It will not be easy, but then neither should it be. If she is able to choose from strength, with the likes of Brash, Maher, Michael Whitaker, John Whitaker and the gifted young talents Spencer Roe and William Whitaker, then Britain ought to make it with something to spare.

Anything less, though, and it could well be a case of Games over before they have even started.

Should the latter scenario unfold, then the inquest will inevitably be a long and painful one. After the World Games flop, Britain has a second opportunity, and they must take it.

Their major championship record has been outstanding in recent years, and the rider quality and horse-power is not in question, but it is all about getting things to happen accurately and consistently over the space of a few highly-pressured days.

They did it spectacularly in London, now they must shine at Aachen. The stakes are high.

 

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