There were dramatic exits for several of the 19 teams in Friday night’s qualifying round for the team showjumping final at Tokyo 2020.
Sweden leads the pack after another impressive effort: Since the action began on the first day of the Individual competition last Tuesday, Henrik von Eckermann’s King Edward, Malin Baryard-Johnsson’s Indiana and Peder Fredricson’s All In have not lowered a single pole.
Belgium and Germany both finished on four faults, Switzerland finished with 10 on the board, the USA with 13, the defending champions from France with 15, and Great Britain racked up 17. The final three teams to make the cut were Brazil who collected 25 faults, The Netherlands who picked up 26 and Argentina who finished with 27 and squeezed Egypt out of the top 10.
The 10 teams will start on a zero score in tonight’s showdown at the Baji Koen Equestrian Park.
Several countries made a dramatic exit, including the home side. Daisuke Fukushima and Chanyon, who finished sixth individually, picked up eight faults when first to go for the host nation, but when Koki Saito and Chilensky were withdrawn that dashed their chances.
Then Irish pathfinder Shane Sweetnam and Alejandro fell at the water-tray vertical at fence 10. The grey gelding had been jumping erratically after paddling the first element of the triple combination at fence five. They left the arena unscathed, but Sweetnam was devastated for his team and for the horse who is normally so reliable.
When the second rotation of riders got underway Israel’s Teddy Vlock took a fall at the previous liverpool oxer. His 11-year-old mare had already refused at the second fence and had two fences down along the way. Vlock was examined by medics after walking out of the arena and was cleared to go back to his hotel, but knowing that his country was now also out of the medal race.
Also on the sidelines tonight will be the teams from China, Morocco, New Zealand, Czech Republic and Mexico.
Fresh legs for Britain
Having sat out of the individual competition, Holly Smith and 13-year-old Denver had their first turn around the stadium outside of training. The former advanced eventer dropped just one pol, and Smith was delighted with the performance. “Believe it or not, he’s not got a lot of experience jumping at this level and, with us not having competed in the individual competition, it was quite something to go in there. Just really, really pleased with him – he answered every question.”
The withdrawal of Scott Brash and Hello Jefferson as a precautionary measure after the horse picked up a minor sprain in the individual competition brought Harry Charles and Romeo 88 into Britain’s line-up. Having retired in the individual final, the call-up offered Charles a chance to rebuild the confidence of the 12-year-old gelding and, while three down might not have been what they were hoping for, Romeo 88 finished his round full of go.
Solid performances of Smith and Charles, and the impact of a tricky course on the rest of the field, meant that qualification for Team GB appeared secure in the hands of individual gold medallists Ben Maher and Explosion W. The only hairy moment in an otherwise smooth round came when Explosion W chipped in an extra stride coming into the middle element of the treble and rubbed a pole, sending it falling. Despite that, they completed within the time allowed and adding just four penalties to the team total of 16.
Irish hopes dashed
Ireland began the team qualifier without their most experienced rider, Cian O’Connor, after Kilkenny was ruled out following a nose bleed in the individual final, where they finished seventh equal.
Shane Sweetnam made his Olympic debut with Alejandro but the 12-year-old gelding lost a shoe in the early part of their round when first of the Irish to jump. Under the controversial new Olympic format, where teams were reduced to just three horses and riders and with no discard score on offer, riders were under severe pressure to complete their rounds regardless of faults. Alejandro appeared to lose confidence after losing his shoe and despite Sweetnam’s best efforts, the pair failed to complete the course following a fall.
On the new Olympic team format, Sweetnam said: “I think the riders have always been against it because in these situations you are forced to have to keep going on when your horse maybe got a bit nervous which shouldn’t be the case. It has always been a Nations Cup style, if you have a drop score you know, horses can go lame between rounds, all this sort of thing. It just gives a little bit of cushion and also horsemanship that you can look after your horses on a team and not force them if they don’t need to do it, or they aren’t in the mood for it at that time.”
With no hope of qualifying a team for the final, Ireland took the decision not to jump their remain two horses and to save them for another day. Ireland was one of three teams who withdrew during the competition, with China and hosts Japan also not completing.