Olympic champ Eric Lamaze pulls out of Tokyo running

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Eric Lamaze won his third Olympic medal for Canada riding Fine Lady 5 at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Eric Lamaze won his third Olympic medal for Canada riding Fine Lady 5 at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Photo by Arnd Bronkhorst, www.arnd.nl

Canada’s showjumping Olympic gold medalist from 2008 Eric Lamaze has withdrawn from consideration for the Tokyo Olympics, citing health concerns and a lack of team backing.

Lamaze was one of five riders named to the Canadian Olympic shortlist for showjumping and is currently the highest-ranked Canadian in the world standings. Canada is eligible to send one individual to contest showjumping events at this summer’s Olympics, scheduled to take place from July 23 to August 8, 2021, in Japan.

For the past three years, Lamaze has been undergoing treatment for a brain tumor and continues to battle the condition with the support of his medical teams in Brussels, Belgium, and Paris, France.

Tokyo is currently in a state of emergency because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“My health is something that I take very seriously, and I’ve decided that Tokyo is not the best venue for me,” said Lamaze, 53. “While my health is stable at the moment, there are several risk factors that have to be taken into consideration.”

Competing as an individual is also discouraging for Lamaze, who led Canada to the team silver medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics before going on to win the individual gold riding Hickstead. At the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Lamaze and his teammates jumped off against Germany for the bronze medal, ultimately placing fourth. Lamaze continued to the individual final where he claimed a bronze medal with Fine Lady 5.

“I’ve always associated the Olympics with riding for the Canadian team,” Lamaze said. “My success has been due to having my teammates there to pull together to be the best that we can be for our country. Having my owners there, my friends and fellow teammates, and all the fans are what makes the Olympics special for me. When you come into the stadium and hear the fans screaming and see the Canadian flags waving, it raises you up to another level. As a solo act, I cannot see myself finding the motivation to dig deep enough to pull off an individual medal.

“I cannot be a true competitor without my team,” he said.

Eric Lamaze and Hickstead at the 2010 Rolex Grand Prix at Aachen.
Eric Lamaze and Hickstead at the 2010 Rolex Grand Prix at Aachen. © Kit Houghton

With three Olympic medals to his credit – a gold, silver and bronze – Lamaze is the most successful Canadian equestrian athlete in Olympic history. In 2020, it was announced that he and his Olympic champion partner, Hickstead, would be inducted into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame.

Lamaze, whose training center is based near Brussels, Belgium, also noted that the world remains in a precarious position with equestrian events only now beginning to return on the European calendar.

“With all that we’ve lived through this past year, and what we are still seeing with so many people living through horrible situations both in Canada and around the world, I’m not sure I would even feel right winning a medal,” Lamaze said. “The Olympics are a celebration of the athletes and I don’t think we’re going to have a true celebration in Tokyo.

“It’s not the time to celebrate.”

Lamaze has turned his attention to next year’s World Championships in Herning, Denmark, where Canada is aiming to earn qualification for the Paris Olympics. “From there, I hope that our national federation, Equestrian Canada, will concentrate on putting together a fantastic program so our team can be at its best at the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris.”

Lamaze will also work on developing younger horses, along with his top horse Dieu Merci van T & L, owned by Mark and Tara Rein.

“With this difficult decision made, we can now concentrate on continuing to develop the fantastic young horses that we have in our training program,” Lamaze said.

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