Showjumping at the Tokyo Olympics: Here’s what you need to know

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Japan's only Olympic showjumping medalist thus far: Los Angeles 1932 individual gold medallist Takeichi Nishi (Japan) and Uranus.
Japan’s only Olympic showjumping medalist thus far: Los Angeles 1932 individual gold medallist Takeichi Nishi and Uranus. © FEI

The three-rider no-drop-score format for showjumping at the Olympic Games is one of the big questions of Tokyo 2020, following a season bereft of team competitions thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic.

That aside, there are 73 horses and riders from 35 countries vying for honours.

Following a training day on August 2, the first individual competition takes place on Tuesday, August 3. This is a qualifier for the Individual Final the following day. It is not against the clock and there is no jump-off. Combinations will place according to their penalties and in case of a tie, they will be separated by the time of their round. If still tied, they will be placed equal.

The individual final is open to the 30 best-placed athletes and will be one round against the clock, with a jump-off for the medal placings if there is a tie on penalties. All athletes start on a zero score in the individual final and starting order will be in reverse order of merit following the first individual competition.

Teams will consist of three athlete/horse combinations with all three scores counting for the result. The first team competition is open to 19 teams of three athletes and all teams will start on a zero score. It will take place on August 6 and is a qualifier for the team final on August 7. Disqualification of one athlete will result in the disqualification of their entire team.

Team scores will be decided by adding the penalties incurred by all three team members. Athletes who withdraw, are eliminated or retire from the competition will not be given a score and their team will be placed according to the combined scores of the remaining two team-members. Three-member teams will be placed ahead of teams of two.

The best 10 teams, including those tied for 10th place, will qualify for the team final. Starting order will be in reverse order of merit from the first team competition.

One substitution of an athlete/horse combination is permitted per team. Substitutes are not permitted to compete in a jump-off.

London 2012 Showjumping gold medalist Steve Guerdat, pictured with his 2016 World Cup-winning mount Corbinian.
London 2012 Showjumping gold medalist Steve Guerdat, pictured with his 2016 World Cup-winning mount Corbinian. © FEI/Arnd Bronkhorst
Who are the favourites?

Two former Olympic Individual gold medallists will start at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games — Switzerland’s Steve Guerdat who reigned supreme in London in 2012 and Brazil’s Rodrigo Pessoa who took gold in Athens in 2004.

Former team gold medallists who will compete again in Tokyo are Penelope Leprevost (Rio 2016), Great Britain’s Ben Maher and Scott Brash (London 2012) and USA’s Laura Kraut with compatriot McLain Ward as reserve (Beijing 2008).

Nick Skelton, who won the individual title at Rio on Big Star, has retired, but Rio silver medalist Peder Fredricson (All In) is among the contenders and is joined on the Swedish team by Malin Baryard-Johnson (Indiana) and Henrik von Eckermann (King Edward).

Nick Skelton celebrates his gold medal win following a stunning performance at the Deodoro Equestrian Park claiming the Olympic Individual title at the Rio 2016 Games with Big Star.
Nick Skelton celebrates his gold medal win following a stunning performance at the Deodoro Equestrian Park claiming the Olympic Individual title at the Rio 2016 Games with Big Star. © FEI/Eric Knoll
Team contenders

With so few team competition opportunities in the lead-up to these Games, it’s difficult to make any predictions. But if the Division 1 Nations Cups that took place last month are anything to go by, then the on-form countries are Sweden, Switzerland, Germany and The Netherlands.

France is the defending champion, having clinched gold for only the second time in Olympic history at the Rio 2016 Games, and Penelope Leprevost is the only member of that victorious team to start again at Tokyo 2020 where she will be joined by Mathieu Billot and Nicolas Delmotte. Silver went to the USA five years ago, while Germany won out in a thrilling jump-off against Canada for the bronze.

The US team will be buoyed up by their victory at the FEI World Equestrian Games; Belgium has been bolstered by their success at the 2019 European Championships, and the Irish won the FEI Jumping Nations Cup Final later that year.

Scott Brash, the first rider ever to win the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping, with the Rolex Grand Slam Trophy.
London 2012 team gold medalist Scott Brash, who in 2015 was the first rider ever to win the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping, with the Rolex Grand Slam Trophy. © Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping/ Kit Houghton

The British have two of the team that secured Olympic gold for their country for the first time in 60 years in London in 2012, and both Scott Brash (Hello Jefferson) and Ben Maher (Explosion W) also look well set to challenge strongly for the individual medals.

Germany holds the record for the greatest number of Olympic gold medals, with five Individual and eight team titles since Jumping joined the Olympic programme in 1900. And with world No.1 Daniel Deusser (Killer Queen), Christian Kukuk (Mumbai) and Andre Thieme (DSP Chakaria) showing fantastic form they are going to be mighty competitive once again.

The Swiss are also looking good, with world No.2 Marcus Fuchs (Clooney), joined by world No.3 and London 2012 individual medalist Steve Guerdat (Venard de Cerisy), and FEI World Cup Final 2007 winner Beat Mandli (Dsarie).

But it might be a mistake to overlook the host team. Japan finished sixth in Olympic-level company at the last of the four legs of the FEI Nations Cup a month ago.

 The individual Jumping medallists at the Los Angeles Olympics in 1932: Gold went to Takeichi Nishi (JPN), pictured at right with Uranus, silver to Harry D. Chamberlin (USA) riding Show Girl and bronze to Clarence von Rosen (SWE) on Empire.
The individual Jumping medallists at the Los Angeles Olympics in 1932: Gold went to Takeichi Nishi (JPN), pictured at right with Uranus, silver to Harry D. Chamberlin (USA) riding Show Girl and bronze to Clarence von Rosen (SWE) on Empire. © FEI
The history

Japan has only ever taken one Olympic medal, when Takeichi Nishi came out on top with Uranus in Los Angeles in 1932. That was an interesting Games because it was staged in the throes of a worldwide depression. Only three teams showed up — Mexico, the USA which  was considered the big favourite, and a Swedish side made up of their eventing squad. And not one of them finished.

There were three riders on each team and US chances were dashed when Lt John Wofford was eliminated. So when Sweden’s Lt Arne Francke suffered the same fate along with all of the Mexicans no team medals were awarded. But Japanese Baron, Takeichi Nishi, produced a brilliant ride with his French-bred horse to take the Individual honours.

Los Angeles 1932 individual jumping gold medallists Takeichi Nishi (Japan) and Uranus.
Los Angeles 1932 individual jumping gold medallists Takeichi Nishi (Japan) and Uranus. © FEI

At the Tokyo Olympic Games in 1964 Germany won team gold by a considerable margin and Pierre Jonqueres d’Oriola from France, also Individual champion in Helsinki in 1952, became the first Olympic Individual Jumping double-gold medallist — a record that still stands today.

No female athlete has ever won Olympic individual gold in Jumping, but Great Britain’s Marion Coakes and the amazing pony, Stroller, claimed Individual silver in Mexico in 1968 while in Munich in 1982 her compatriot, Ann Moore, took silver with Psalm.

1968 individual Olympic silver medalist Marion Coakes (GBR) and Stroller.
1968 individual Olympic silver medalist Marion Coakes (GBR) and Stroller. © FEI

Holly Smith is the first female athlete to compete for Great Britain in 45 years. The last British female was Debbie Johnsey who partnered Moxy in the side that finished seventh at the Montreal Games in 1976.

Three female athletes have won Individual jumping bronze – Heidi Robbiani (SUI) at Los Angeles in 1984 riding Jessica V, Alexandra Ledermann (FRA) in Atlanta in 1996 riding Rochet M and Beezie Madden (USA) in Beijing in 2008 riding Authentic.

Mario Deslauriers will compete as an individual for Canada, 37 years after he won the FEI World Cup Final in Gothenburg (SWE) in 1984 at the age of 19.

The rules

There will be three riders per team this time around as well, so just like back in 1932 when mistakes proved more than costly, there will be no room for error in the team competition, and Individual glory will go to only the best of the best.

Jumping is an equestrian sport in which horse-and-athlete combinations jump knockable fences inside an arena, with penalties for knock-downs, refusals, horse or athlete falls and for going over the time limit. There are a variety of competitions including speed events, and some will conclude with a jump-off which can be compared to a penalty shoot-out in soccer, and the result is just as unpredictable.

The jumping course design for Tokyo is Spain’s Santiago Varela. His first course will be for the jumping phase of the eventing competition on August 2, and the last day he builds will be August 7 for the individual showjumping final.

The teams

Argentina: Matias Albarracin (Cannavaro 9), Jose Maria Larocca (Finn Lente), Fabian Sejanes (Emir). Alternate: Martin Dooazo (Quintino 9).

Belgium: Niels Bruynseels (Delux van T&L), Jerome Guery (Quel Homme de Hus), Gregory Wathelet (Nevados). Alternate: Yves Vanderhasselt (Jeunesse).

Brazil: Yuri Mansur (QH Alfons), Marlon Zanotelli (Edgar M), Rodrigo Pessoa (Carlito’s Way). Alternate: Pedro Veniss (Quabri de l’Isle).

China: Yaofena Li (Jericho Dwerse Hagen); Zhenglang Li (Uncas S), You Zhana (Caesar). Alternate: Zinqjia Zhang (For Passion d’Ive Z).

Czech Republic: Anna Kelinerova (Catch Me if You Can OLD); Ales Opatrny (Forewer), Kamil Papousek (Warness). Alternate: Ondrej Zvara (Cento Lano).

Egypt: Nayel Nassar (Igor van de Wittemoere), Abdel Said (Bandit Savoie), Mouda Zeyada (Galanthos SHK). Alternate: Mohamed Talaat (Darshan).

France: Mathieu Billot (Quel Filou 13), Nicolas Delmotte (Urvoso de Roch), Penelope Leprevost (Vancouver de Lanlore). Alternate: Simon Delestre (Berlux Z).

Germany: Daniel Deusser (Killer Queen VDM), Christian Kukuk (Mumbai), Andre Thieme (DSP Chakaria). Alternate: Maurice Tebbel (Don Diarado).

Great Britain: Scott Brash (Hello Jefferson), Ben Maher (Explosion W), Harry Charles (Romeo). (Alternate Harry Charles replaces Holly Smith [Denver]).

Ireland: Bertram Allen (Pacino Amiro), Darragh Kenny (VDL Cartello), Cian O’Connor (Kilkenny). Alternate: Shane Sweetnam (Karlin van’t Vennehof).

Israel: Ashlee Bond (Donatello 141), Alberto Michan (Cosa Nostra), Teddy Vlock (Amsterdam 27). Alternate: Dani Waldman (Queensland E).

Japan: Daisuke Fukushim (Chanyon), Koki Sato (Chilensky), Eiken Sato (Saphyr des Lacs). Mike Kawai (As de Mai).

Mexico: Eugenio Garza Perez (Armani SLZ), Enrique Gonzalez (Chacna), Manuel Gonzalez Dufrane (Hortensia van de Leeuwerk). Alternate: Patricio Pasquel (Babel).

Morocco: Ali Al Ahrach (USA de Riverland), Samy Colman (Davino Q), Abdelkebir Quaddar (Istanbul vh Oplevaarshof).

Netherlands: Marc Houtzager (Sterrehof’s Dante NOP), Maikel van der Vleuten (Beauville Z), Willem Greve (Zypris S). Alternate: Harrie Smolders (Bingo du Parc).

New Zealand: Bruce Goodin (Danny V), Daniel Meech (Circa 3), Uma O’Neill (Clockwise of Greenhill Z). Alternate: Tom Tarver-Priebe (Popeye).

Sweden: Malin Baryard-Johnsson (Indiana), Peder Fredricson (All In), Henrik von Eckermann (King Edward). Alternate: Rolf-Goran Bengtsson (Ermindo W).

Switzerland: Martin Fuchs (Clooney), Steve Guerdat (Venard de Cerisy), Beat Mandli (Dsarie). Alternate: Bryan Balsiger (Twentytwo des Biches).

USA: Kent Farrington (Gazelle), Laura Kraut (Baloutinue), Jessica Springsteen (Don Juan van de Donkhoeve). Alternate: McLain Ward (Contagious).

The Individuals:

Australia: Katie Laurie (Casebrooke Lomond), Edwina Tops-Alexander (Identity Vitseroel)

Canada: Mario Deslauriers (Bardolina 2).

Chile: Samuel Parot (Dubai).

Colombia: Roberto Teran Tafur (Dez Ooktoff).

Denmark: Andreas Schou (Darc de Lux).

Dominican Republic: Hector Florentina Roca (Carnaval).

Italy: Emanuele Gaudiano (Chalou).

Jordan: Ibrahim Hani Bisharat (Blushing).

Latvia: Kristaps Neretneks (Valour).

Norway: Geir Gulliksen (Quatro).

Portugal: Luciana Diniz (Vertigo du Desert).

Spain: Eduardo Alvarez Aznar (Legend).

Sri Lanka: Mathilda Karlsson (Chopin VA).

Syria: Ahmad Saber Hamcho (Deville).

Taipei: Jasmine Shao-Man Chen (Benitus di Vallerano).

Ukraine: Oleksndr Prodan (Casanova FZ).

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