Canada will be looking for a change in luck later this week when its showjumpers take to the Olympic arena at Greenwich.
The country has had perhaps the most unfortunate Olympic games of any team so far at London 2012, with injuries and eliminations in its eventing and dressage teams put paid to medal hopes.
Having won the team jumping silver at the 2008 Beijing Games, Canada will once again be looking to bring home the hardware from London.
Competing on Thursday during a heavy downpour of rain, dressage rider David Marcus, 31, was mid-way through his test when his mount, Capital, spooked and went off course. Marcus was not able to regain his horse’s attention within the 10 seconds allowed, and was eliminated from competition by the head of the ground jury, Stephen Clarke of Great Britain.
“He was trying so hard in the first half of the test but, at that moment, something triggered him,” said Marcus of Capital, a 12-year-old Danish Warmblood owned by Deborah Miculinic.
“I don’t blame him at all. It is just an unfortunate circumstance, and it is unfortunate that it was here at the Olympics. I feel terrible for Canada, for my team, and for everyone who has been so supportive of me. This is life with horses, and we can put it all in perspective by knowing that both Capital and I are going home healthy. He is going to have a long career ahead of him.”
Earlier in the week, only two of Canada’s five-strong eventing team completed the cross-country, with leading rider Hawley Bennett-Awad taken to hospital after a nasty fall.
But the country’s jumpers were in flying form on Thursday morning and looking forward to defending their individual gold and team silver medals won at the Beijing Games in Hong Kong.
Ten-time Olympian Ian Millar reflected on the changes in the sport since he competed at his first Olympic Games at Munich in Germany.
Competing in his 10th Olympic Games, Millar, 65, of Perth, ONntario, is setting a world record in London with the most Olympic appearances by any athlete in any sport.
“The whole thing is such an interesting journey,” said Millar, who made his Olympic debut in 1972 riding Shoeman at the Munich Olympics, marred by what is now referred to as the ‘Munich massacre’. “What I notice the most is the evolution of the sport. It is not at all what it was in the 1970s.
“We have different type of horses and the style of riding has evolved as well as the courses, the fence material – everything – so it’s been an interesting challenge for me to stay with all that change. I’ve enjoyed the challenge of changing with it though and I work with my son and daughter and they keep me young – as does this annoying team!” he added, nodding at defending individual Olympic champion Eric Lamaze, Tiffany Foster and Yann Candele.
Lamaze, 44, enters the London Olympics as the defending champion. In 2008, he claimed the individual gold medal in a dramatic jump-off against Rolf-Goran Bengtsson of Sweden. Lamaze then suffered an incredible loss that stunned the sporting world when his Olympic partner, Hickstead, collapsed and died of an aortic rupture during a world cup qualifying event in Verona, Italy, on November 6, 2011.
“With the tragedy that happened, I don’t feel like I am coming to London to defend my title,” said Lamaze, who is competing in his second Olympic Games. “If I still had Hickstead, I feel that he would have been in good shape and we would have had a good chance to defend.
Lamaze said his horse, Derly Chin de Muze, a nine-year-old Belgian Warmblood mare, lacked experience, “but has quality and is careful. We expect a nice friendly start to the Games, we have a few rounds to get going and by then I hope she’ll be at her best. She’s lacking a little mileage but I think she’s ready,” he said.
Of the Canadian team’s chances, Lamaze said, “The team is very strong. Any time you have Ian on the team, it’s a great team. Jill was part of our team in Beijing and you can always count on her. Tiffany and Yann are both on good young horses, but I would say that every team here has a younger rider or horse. I am happy to be here, and to be a part of this team.”
Millar was asked how he thought his legendary horse, Big Ben, would cope with the sport today. “One of his greatest characteristics was learning how to adapt,” he said.
“People said at first he was just a big, strong Championship horse but too slow for anything else and no good indoors, but he won two back-to-back World Cup titles and I would think he could have learned to adapt to the challenges of the sport,” he said.
Lamaze’s 2008 Olympic champion horse, Hickstead, died suddenly last year. “It was a very sad day, a tragedy, and there was a lot of emotion afterwards,” lamaze said.
“It takes time to get through the hard time but I made the decision to carry on and get a few new horses. I was overwhelmed by the number of letters, notes, pictures and drawings sent to me after Hickstead’s death. Back in Florida I keep a big trunk full of books and papers signed by people who remember him. I was overwhelmed by the amount of affection from so many people.”
Asked to compare Hickstead with Big Ben, Millar said in tribute, “they both had the most important things – willingness, ability to learn, they stayed physically strong, they were good in heart and mind, and both had an innate feeling for when the moment was important and rose to the occasion.”
On a lighter note, when asked how it felt to over-take Austria’s Hubert Raudaschl who, until now has held the record for most Olympic appearances, Millar seemed to think he had the edge, replying with a big smile, “oh yeah, the yachtsman, well I think that’s a lot easier than sitting on our furry friends to be honest – it’s a bit like apples and oranges!”
And in four years the world might see Millar, now 65, at Rio in 2016. “It depends on the horse. This whole job is more fun and rewarding when you’re riding a good horse. Star Power is 11 now and will be 14 in four years time so it’s still within reach. If he’s willing, I’m willing!”
The showjumping competition opens with the first team and individual qualifier on Saturday, August 4, and continues on Sunday and Monday, August 5 and 6, after which team medals will be awarded. The top 35 athletes from the original starting field of 75 then advance to the two-round individual final on Wednesday, August 8.