Since equestrian sport was first officially embraced by the Olympic movement a century ago, jumping has always been the largest and most popular discipline, and the historical records tell of wonderful horse-and-rider partnerships whose names will never be forgotten.
Golden heroes such as Germany’s Hans Günter Winkler, Italy’s Raimondo d’Inzeo and Graziano Mancinelli, Pierre Jonqueres d’Oriola from France and the USA’s Bill Steinkraus are the stuff of legend, their names forever forged into the annals of their sport.
At the Beijing 2008 Olympic equestrian events in Hong Kong four years ago, the Canadians broke new ground as Eric Lamaze and the late, great stallion Hickstead helped earn the first-ever individual title for their country. It was an epic battle in which Sweden’s Rolf-Goran Bengtsson had to settle for silver with Ninja, while the USA’s Beezie Madden and Authentic took the bronze. All three of these riders will be in action once again at London 2012 where the US will be vying for a hat-trick of team titles. If they succeed, they will join Germany as the only other nation to clinch gold at three successive Olympic Games.
For one man however, the 30th Olympiad has another significance entirely. At the age of 65, and still at the top of his game, Ian Millar, the man affectionately known as “Captain Canada”, will be lining out for the 10th time – an extraordinary achievement by any measure and a record across all Olympic sports. Joining Lamaze, Jill Henselwood and Tiffany Foster, he will be aiming to make it another one to remember for the Canadian side.
With 15 countries in action it’s going to be a super-tough contest, and the result is harder than ever to predict. New nations have emerged to take their place at the top end of the sport in recent years. And they have done so with one major target in mind – Olympic glory. The Ukraine, currently leading the FEI Nations Cup Promotional League series, has become a force to be reckoned with, while Saudi Arabian riders flexed their muscles at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games in Kentucky (USA) in 2010 when finishing eighth in the team event before Abdullah Al Sharbatly went on to claim individual silver.
The Belgians have a rather longer history at Olympic level, taking their first individual medal at Stockholm in 1912 when Emmanuel de Blommaert and Clonmore claimed bronze, and their first team medal at Antwerp in 1920 when second to Sweden. According to Chef d’Equipe Philippe Guerdat, the Belgians took themselves by surprise when snatching team bronze in Kentucky two years ago, where Philippe Lejeune also came out to give a maste-class in horsemanship and claimed the individual world title. Any side with a man of his calibre joined by accomplished veterans Jos Lansink and Dirk Demeersman and the talented Gregory Wathelet cannot be overlooked. But the team jumping event in London really is a wide-open affair.
The French were inconsistent in the early stages of this season’s FEI Nations Cup series, but Penelope Leprevost produced a pivotal double-clear with Mylord Carthago to help clinch victory at the fifth round on the hallowed turf of Aachen (GER) two weeks ago and the French went into a thrilling third-round jump-off in Falsterbo (SWE) last Friday. As their Chef d’Equipe Henk Nooren said that day, they are finding form at just the right time, and both Leprevost and 2009 individual European champion Kevin Staut are hot contenders for individual Olympic honours.
The Netherlands’ side looks really competitive, and Gerco Schroder will be keen to show why he named his horse London. He will also be determined to put the deep disappointment of last year’s FEI European Championship behind him. He so nearly had the individual gold medal in his hand, but it slipped from his grasp in the very last round.
Instead it went to Sweden’s Rolf-Goran Bengtsson who has been on a roll ever since and has been world number one in the Rolex Rankings since the start of the year. And the Swedish victory on home turf last Friday has put them in just the right frame of mind. Jens Fredricson clinched it in the jump-off with a polished performance from his horse, Lunatic, who showed no sign of living up to his name.
The Swiss team is full of talent, and Paul Estermann, Steve Guerdat, Werner Muff and Pius Schwizer will be coming out with all guns blazing, but it’s difficult to look past the Germans and the US. Things didn’t quite go to plan for several of the leading German team candidates, but with such a deep pool of gifted horses and riders to choose from the line-up still looks absolutely formidable – Christian Ahlmann, Marcus Ehning, Janne Frederike Meyer and Philipp Weishaupt will be tough nuts to crack. Germany leads the individual medal table with five golds to their credit, the last taken by Ulrich Kirchhoff at Atlanta (USA) in 1996, and any of this German side could be in contention on that final afternoon.
And riders from the USA pose a huge threat. At 18 years of age, Reed Kessler is a full 35 years younger than team-mate Rich Fellers as both make their Olympic debut, but she earned her stripes with superb performances in the US Trials. Fellers has been a hot favourite for the team since securing the USA’s first victory in 25 years at the Rolex FEI World Cup Jumping Final at ‘s-Hertogenbosch (NED) in April with the aptly named stallion, Flexible. McLain Ward bounced back from a serious knee injury sustained in January to get the call-up along with Beijing individual bronze medallist Beezie Madden, and both Ward and Madden were on the gold medal team four years ago.
But for all their strength, they may all watch out for the British. On home soil their determination will be second to none, even though gold has eluded them on all but one occasion – and you have to go a long way back for that to 1952 in Helsinki where Wilfred White (Nizefela), Douglas Stewart (Aherlow) and Harry Llewellyn (Foxhunter) claimed the team title. Scott Brash, Peter Charles, Ben Maher and Nick Skelton will be trying to bridge that 50-year gap, and with Skelton, who was awarded the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the Queen’s birthday honours list last month, showing the form of his life, anything is possible.
Marion Coakes and the pony Stroller took individual silver in Mexico in 1968, Ann Moore and Psalm followed suit four years later in Munich and the team took silver at Los Angeles in 1984. Another British gold medal is long overdue – and London would be the perfect place to win it.
The horses will be first inspected on August 2 and checked over again the following day when a training session also takes place. The first individual competition, on August 4, serves as a qualifier for the individual competition and decides the starting order for the team event. It is a one-round Table A, not against the clock, and the scores of the best three from each team are added together. If there is an equality of penalties between teams, then the teams retain the same starting place as in the first competition. There are 12 fences varying from 1.40m to 1.50 in height, with at least two standing at 1.60m, and it is not compulsory to include a water jump. A maximum of four horse/rider combinations per nation are permitted to compete in this class. The starting places are decided by a draw held in the presence of the Ground Jury, which consists of Stephan Ellenbruch (GER), President, and members Freddy Smeets (BEL), Jon Doney (GBR) and Kim Morrison (CAN), Foreign Technical Delegate Frank Rothenberger (GER) and the Chefs d’Equipe. Individuals are drawn first, followed by a draw for the teams.
The team competition runs over two days, August 5 and 6, and also embraces the second and third individual qualifying competitions. All teams start on a zero score in the first round of the team event. There are different courses each day, with up to 13 fences, including a double and one treble or three doubles, and spreads up to 2m, or 2.20m for a triple bar. Two verticals standing at 1.60m will be included, along with an open water up to 4.5m wide. The best three scores on each team decide the result.
If, after two rounds, there is an equality of faults for first, second or third place, there will be a jump-off against the clock with all team members competing. Jump-off courses consist of at least six obstacles including a combination, and the result will be decided by combining the three best scores from each team, with time as the deciding factor if there is still a tie. The result of the jump-off determines the final placings of teams but does not count toward qualification for the final individual competition.
The individual final, which will take place on August 8, will run over two rounds. The top 35 riders qualify, and no more than three from each nation are permitted to take part. All riders start the final day on a zero score. The top 20 go through to the second round, including ties for 20th place, and riders compete in reverse order of merit based on their penalties from the first round. If there is a jump-off then the starting order remains the same as it was in the second round.
Facts and Figures:
11 countries represented by individuals only
Germany’s Hans Günter Winkler holds the record for most Olympic Jumping medals – he claimed 7 during his long and illustrious career, three of those with the great mare, Halla.
The USA’s Beezie Madden and Brazil’s Rodrigo Pessoa hold the greatest number of Olympic Jumping medals coming to the London 2012 Games – 3 in total. Madden took team gold at Athens in 2004, and team gold and individual bronze at the Beijing 2008 Olympic equestrian events in Hong Kong – each time partnering Authentic. Pessoa took team bronze at Atlanta in 1996, riding Tomboy, and with the great stallion Baloubet du Rouet, claimed another team bronze at Sydney 2000 and individual gold at Athens in 2004.
Canada’s Ian Millar, already leading the list of equestrian competitors with most appearances at the Olympic Games with 9 to date, brings that number to 10 when lining out with Star Power this time around.
Millar celebrated his 65th birthday in January, and is the oldest rider competing in jumping but is not the most senior competitor at the equestrian events at London 2012. That distinction goes to 71-year-old Hiroshi Hoketsu from Japan who will compete as an individual in dressage.
Jumping at the Olympic Games goes back to 1900 when Alme Haegeman from Belgium took the individual title with Benton II in Paris.
Mexican riders dominated in Jumping at the London Olympic Games in 1948. The Mexican team took gold, Humberto Mariles (Arete) claimed the individual title and Ruben Uriza (Harvey) took individual silver.
Germany leads the medal tables in Jumping, with 5 individual and 8 team titles since 1912.
Technical Delegate for Jumping at the Olympic Games is Germany’s Frank Rothenberger, Venezuela’s Leopolodo Palacios is Venue Technical Advisor and Great Britain’s Bob Ellis is course designer.
The Jumping Ground Jury consists of Stephan Ellenbruch (GER), President, and members Freddy Smeets (BEL), Jon Doney (GBR) and Kim Morrison (CAN).
Chief Steward is Hong Kong’s Nigel King, and his team of Jumping Stewards are America’s David Distler, Germany’s Stephan Hellwig, Sweden’s Maria Hernek and Frederick Reuterskiold, Ireland’s Kate Horgan, and Brazil’s Guilherme Jorge.
President of the Veterinary Commission is Dr Paul Farrington, and he is assisted by his British associate Dr Tim Randle and Germany’s Dr Willi Hanbuecken. Dr Kent Allen (USA) is Foreign Technical Delegate. The FEI MCP veterinary experts are Britain’s Colin Roberts and Sweden’s Peter Kallings, while the man in charge of Thermography Testing is Germany’s Gerit Matthesen.
The Appeal Committee is headed up by Israel’s Dr Ken Lalo with Norway’s Erik Elstad as Vice-President. The Jumping member of the Appeal Committee is Colombia’s Yolanda Matallana, Dressage member is Australia’s Mary Seefried and Eventing member is Michel Asseray from France. Jens Adolphsen from Germany is Chairman of the FEI Tribunal and Pierre Ketterer is FEI Tribunal member.
The FEI Medical Officer is Ireland’s Mary O’Flynn.
Australia: Julia Hargreaves (Vedor), James Paterson-Robinson (Lanosso), Edwina Tops-Alexander (Itot du Chateau), Matt Williams (Watch Me).
Belgium: Dirk Demeersman (Bufero van het Panishof), Jos Lansink (Valentina van ‘T Heike), Philippe Lejeune (Vigo d’Arsouilles), Gregory Wathelet (Cadjanine Z).
Brazil: Alvaro de Miranda Neto (Rahmannshof’s Bogeno), Luiz Francisco de Azevedo (Special), Rodrigo Pessoa (Rebozo), Jose Fernandez Filho (Maestro St Lois).
Canada: Tiffany Foster (Victor), Jill Henselwood (George), Eric Lamaze (Derly Chin de Muze), Ian Millar (Star Power).
Chile: Rodrigo Carrasco (Or De La Charboniere), Tomas Couve Correa (Underwraps), Carlos Morstadt (Talento), Samuel Parot (Al Calypso).
France: Simon Delestre (Napoli du Ry), Olivier Guillon (Lord de Theize), Penelope Leprevost (Mylord Carthago), Kevin Staut (Silvana).
Great Britain: Scott Brash (Hello Sanctos), Peter Charles (Vindicat), Ben Maher (Tripple X), Nick Skelton (Big Star).
Germany: Christian Ahlmann (Codex One), Marcus Ehning (Plot Blue), Janne Friederike Meyer (Lambrasco), Philipp Weishaupt (Monte Bellini).
Kingdom of Saudi Arabia: Ramzy Al Duhami (Bayard van de Villa There), HRH Prince Abdullah Al Saud (Davos), Kamal Bahamdan (Delphi), Abdullah Al Sharbatly (Sultan).
Mexico: Jaime Azcarraga (Gangster), Federico Fernandez (Victoria), Alberto Michan Halbinger (Rosalia La Silla), Nicolas Pizzaro (Crossing Jordan).
Netherlands: Marc Houtzager (Sterrehof’s Tamino), Gerco Schroder (London), Maikel van der Vleuten (Verdi), Jur Vrieling (Bubalu).
Switzerland: Paul Estermann (Castlefield Eclipse), Steve Guerdat (Nino des Buissonnets), Werner Muff (Kiamon), Pius Schwizer (Carlina).
Sweden: Jens Fredricson (Lunatic), Rolf-Goran Bengtsson (Casall), Henrik von Eckermann (Coupe de Coeur, Fourth Rider as yet unconfirmed.
Ukraine : Bjorn Nagel (Niack de L’Abbaye), Katharina Offel (Vivant), Aleksandr Onischenko (Comte d’Arsouilles), Cassio Rivetti (Temple Road).
USA: Rich Fellers (Flexible), Reed Kessler (Cylana), Beezie Madden (Via Volo), McLain Ward (Antares).
Argentina, Australia, Azerbaijan, Belgium, Bermuda, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Egypt, France, Great Britain, Germany, Ireland, Jordan, Japan, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Mexico, Netherlands, Portugal, Russia, Switzerland, Sweden, Syria, Ukraine, USA.