August 12, 2008

If the form-book has anything to do with it then the fate of the 2008 Olympic Jumping medals is already decided and most of them are hanging around German necks.

Still smarting from their surprise defeat at the 2007 FEI European Championships on their home turf in Mannheim last August the Germans are hungry to re-stamp their authority on the sport in which they have been so effective for so long. But, as even the best of the best know only too well, Olympic Games have a way of throwing up some unusual results, and over-confidence would be big mistake.

• 28 nations

• 79 horses and riders + 14 reserves

• 16


These four will be hard to beat: 2006 World Champion Jos Lansink (Belgium) with Beezie Madden (USA, silver), bronze medallist Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum (Ger, bronze) and Edwina Alexander, (Aust) 4th. © Kit Houghton


Canada's Ian Millar will become the only person to ride in nine Olympic Games. © Cealy Tetley


Reigning individual gold medalist Rodrigo Pessoa will ride new mouth Rufus in Hong Kong.

Their great rivals from The Netherlands may have suffered some cripplingly bad fortune in recent weeks leading to a seemingly weaker line-up, but they will be coming out in Hong Kong with all guns blazing and driven by a team manager who is both inspirational and focused. It is never easy to be a leader of men, but in just the same way that Jean-Maurice Bonneau lifted French spirits to achieve great things for his country in the early part of the new millennium, Rob Ehrens has taken a firm hold of Dutch ambitions and created an atmosphere in which his riders are thriving. At Aachen two years ago they won the World Championship and at Mannheim last summer they seized European gold. They should have been coming to the Olympic Games on the crest of a wave and firm favourites but accidents happen, and the Dutch have had more than their fair share in recent months. And then, of course, there are the reigning champions from the USA.

Riders from 28 nations will compete in the Olympic show jumping discipline and a total of 16 countries will battle it out for the team honours including Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Great Britain, Germany, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, The Netherlands, Norway, New Zealand, Switzerland, Sweden, The Ukraine and the USA. Hong Kong will also be represented by Kenneth Cheng (Can Do), Samantha Lam (Tresor), Patrick Lam (Urban) and Jennifer Lee (Mr Burns).

Part of the fascination of the Olympic contest is the opportunity to see competitors from places where the sport is less well-established, and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has continued to build its strength since Khaled Al Eid took individual bronze in Sydney in 2000. The United Arab Emirates will be represented by Latifa Al Maktoum (Kalaska de Semilly) and another of the new nations to join the Olympic Jumping party this time around is Azerbaijan whose flag will be flown by Jamal Rahimov (Ionesco de Brekka).

Ljubov Kochetova (Ilion) and Mikhail Safronov (Common Sense) will line out for Russia while the Australian effort is bolstered by the presence of Edwina Alexander whose experience at top level in Europe counts for a great deal. Brazil is led by the reigning individual gold medallist Rodrigo Pessoa - this time riding the relatively inexperienced Rufus but always a formidable talent.

Every team has its own super-star and the Canadians can boast a very special one indeed. At 61 years of age Ian Millar will be making history when becoming the first person to ride in nine Olympic Games - an extraordinary achievement by any measure. "Captain Canada" as he is widely known is as competitive as ever and has earned his place with some convincing performances from the 13-year old Dutch-bred gelding In Style. He will, of course, be best remembered for his fantastic partnership with the great Big Ben - a legend of a horse who earned the adoration and respect of not just his own nation, but of Jumping fans world-wide. Millar went to the top of the world jumping rankings with Big Ben with whom he was twice winner, and first back-to-back title-holder, of the World Cup series when coming out on top in 1988 and 1989. The stylish horseman also twice claimed the coveted Du Maurier trophy, which is now known as the CN International, at Spruce Meadows in Calgary and he has three Pan-American gold medals under his belt but Olympic glory has always proved elusive. In Los Angeles in 1984 and at Seoul in 1988 he just missed out on team honours when Canada finished fourth - can his team-mates Eric Lamaze (Hickstead), Jill Henselwood (Special Ed) and Mac Cone (Ole) provide the back-up that could clinch a medal for the master this time around?

British hero John Whitaker has just celebrated his 53rd birthday (on August 5) so Olympic honours would make a nice gift for this wonderful horseman too. He has twice taken Olympic team silver but the last time was back in 1988, and with a strong British selection that also includes his younger brother Michael Whitaker (Portofino), the rising talent of Ben Maher (Rolette) and stalwart Tim Stockdale (Corlato), the birthday boy may well have cause for further celebration. John's bronze medal-clinching ride on Peppermill at Mannheim last summer was a breath-taking exhibition from one of the all-time greats.


Belgium's Jos Lansink and Cavalor Cumano.


Meredith Michaels Beerbaum and Shutterfly are hot favourites. © Kit Houghton/Rolex


Albert Zoer and Oki Doki. © Luca Di Stefano

Mexico sends out Antonio Chedraui (Don Portfirio), Federico Fernandez (Zorro), Enrique Gonzalez (Frida) and Alberto Michan Halbinger (Lavita) while the Norwegian line-up includes Morton Djupvik (Casino), Stein Endresen (Le Beau), Geir Gulliksen (Cattani) and Tony Andre Hansen (Camiro). The latter side has to be taken seriously having produced an exceptional result when slotting into sixth place in Mannheim last year. With the help of team manager Sylve Soderstrand they have been honed into a force to be reckoned with and Djupvik and Casino claimed 10th place individually at those Europeans. Another team that made the cut on the same occasion was from The Ukraine and team patron Aleksander Onishchenko (Codar) will see his dream realised when he rides into the ring alongside Bjorn Nagel (Magic Bengtsson), Katharina Offel (Lord Spezi) and Jean-Claude Vangeenberghe (Quintus).

The inclusion of Katie McVean in the New Zealand side has created some excitement. The 22 year is daughter of triple-Olympian Jeff McVean and is the first New Zealand-based show jumping rider to earn Olympic selection in 16 years. The Kiwi squad is trained by Greg Best who, riding the legendary Gem Twist, took individual and team silver for the USA in Seoul in 1988. Best believes his team, which also include Swedish-based Bruce Goodin, Belgium-based Daniel Meech and relative newcomer Sharn Wordley who is based in Florida, will give a credible account of themselves.

The Swiss and Swedes have been going through some unsteady times of late but can be expected to pull themselves together under pressure. Steve Guerdat (Jalisca Solier), Christina Liebherr (LB No Mercy), Beat Mandli (Ideo du Thot), Niklaus Schurtenber (Cantus) and Pius Schwizer (Nobless M) have talent to burn but there has been a lack of assuredness about Swiss performances in the 2008 Samsung Super League with FEI series in which Sweden is struggling hard to avoid relegation. The Swedes however began to look more convincing in Hickstead recently where they finished joint-second and Rolf-Goran Bengtsson (Ninja la Silla), Peter Eriksson (Jaguar Mail), Helena Lundback (Madick) and Lotta Schultz (Calibra) will be hoping to restore Swedish pride with a good Olympic showing for the country which claimed team silver in Athens four years ago.

The American side includes two veterans from their Athens Olympic victory - Beezie Madden and McLain Ward - and if Madden's top ride Authentic and Ward's brilliant mare Sapphire can pull out their best performances then, joined by Laura Kraut and Cedric along with Will Simpson and the big-jumpng Carlsson Vom Dach it will be difficult to hold them down. The US competitive gene is quite unique - they always come into the ring on a forward stride and gunning for glory - and back-to-back Olympic gold would be very nice indeed.

But they will have to see of the challenge of the Germans and Dutch and that is likely to be a tough call. The Dutch want this gold - a lot - and not even the loss of two of their top team contenders is trimming their ambition. The entire show jumping world was looking forward to seeing the great partnership of Albert Zoer and Okidoki taking Olympic honours but things began to go wrong for them when the gelding suffered an apparently severe injury to his mouth during Rotterdam show in June when his teeth were almost wrenched from his jaw. He recovered remarkably quickly however only for his rider to suffer a broken leg a few weeks later. And team manager Ehrens was already monitoring the painfully slow return of Olympic champion Jeroen Dubbeldam who won his own struggle for fitness after a nasty leg-break only to find that his horse, Up and Down, was not ready for the Olympic challenge. The Dutch are made of hardy stuff however and Gerco Schroder (Berlin), Leon Thijssen (Olaf), Marc Houtzager (Opium VS) and Angelique Hoorn (O'Brien) will not have taken their eye off the big prize.

They will need to be in great shape if they are to see off the mighty Germans however. Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum's gelding Shutterfly is widely recognised as one of the greatest show jumping horses the world has ever seen and continues to maintain spectacular form. On top of that, Meredith's brother-in-law Ludger Beerbaum seems to have found another horse truly equal to his own talent in the shape of All Inclusive NRW. We have seen vintage Ludger performances again since All Inclusive burst onto the international scene last December and with Christian Ahlmann with the ever-reliable Coster and Marco Kutscher with the up-and-coming Cornet Obolensky, the Germans present a formidable force.

On an individual level Meredith and Shutterfly look sure-fire bets for major honours if everything goes according to plan while Ludger is also well-fancied, but not all horses may produce the form that might be expected in the hot, humid Hong Kong climate while others may thrive in it, so only time will tell. And of course there are always those who take the world by surprise.

It may be a long-shot to expect the much-loved Cumano to come right enough for Belgium's Jos Lansink to be in the frame in the closing stages, but there will be many who will be hoping that the stallion has recovered sufficiently from the leg injury suffered last autumn to make an impact once more. He has been competing quietly again over the last few weeks and his rider believes he should be up to the challenge. Few can forget how kindly the gentle grey giant treated his lady-riders during the closing stages of the FEI World Equestrian Games in Aachen two years ago when he won himself a legion of fans as his rider earned individual silver.

And Ireland's sole performer, Denis Lynch, should not go unnoticed either. Thanks to the remarkable Lantinus, the formerly unknown German-based rider has rocketed from 90th on the Rolex World Rankings list to 24th since April of this year.

It may be a long, long way from Tipperary to Hong Kong, but Lynch is in fighting form and could prove the darkest horse of all.