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Last chance for dressage teams to make Olympics

October 28, 2011

The last dressage team qualifying event for the London 2012 Olympic Games begins today, with the qualifier split between Australia and The Netherlands.

The qualifier is open to teams from the FEI Olympic Groups F (Africa and Middle East) and G (South East Asia and Oceania).

Because of quarantine restrictions, the qualifier will be held in two parts, one in each hemisphere, as riders and horses from Olympic Groups F and G are based in both Australasia and Europe. The first part will take place in Sydney, Australia, today; the second part will be held in Ermelo in The Netherlands on November 2.

New Zealand and half of the Australian team will compete in Sydney, with South Africa and the remaining two riders from Australia going head to head in the Netherlands.

The two best-placed teams out of Australia, New Zealand and South Africa will qualify team positions for London. Japan was a surprise late withdrawal from the qualifier.

The same judges will be used at both legs of the regional qualifier. The panel will be FEI 5* judges Stephen Clarke (GBR), who will also be the President of the Ground Jury at the London 2012 Olympic Games, Gotthilf Riexinger (GER) and Susan Hoevenaars (AUS), plus FEI 4* judges Mariëtte Sanders-van Gansewinkel (NED) and Raphaël Saleh (FRA).

Three nations - Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa - will be seeking Olympic qualification. The two best placed teams overall will join Canada, Colombia, Denmark, Germany, Great Britain, The Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, and the USA, which have already qualified.

Four New Zealand combinations are taking part in the Australian qualifier, and if successful it would be the first time New Zealand has achieved team qualification for an Olympic Games.

Eventing has already qualified a New Zealand team for the 2012 London Olympics and this will be the only chance for a dressage team to get there.

If the bid is unsuccessful, there is an opportunity for New Zealand to qualify an individual position in April next year.

Athens Olympian Louisa Hill (Auckland) aboard Bates Antonello heads a strong New Zealand team alongside the in-form Vanessa Way (Taranaki) on KH Arvan, Shiwon Green (Cambridge) on Gosh and Nicola Pope (Auckland) on Fabarchie. Travelling reserve Kieryn Walton (Taumarunui) and Saraceni will compete as individuals in toay's grand prix, which has attracted around 39 combinations.

Equestrian Sports New Zealand chief executive Jim Ellis has every confidence in the team being successful.

"The quality of our team reflects a major improvement in New Zealand dressage standards over the last 18 months," he says.

"Qualifying a team position would be a huge achievement for New Zealand, and looks to be a real possibility as we go into this all-important event."

But Ellis cautions it is a long way to go to London, as success in qualifying a team position is only part of the process in having dressage representation at the Olympics. Any combination which wishes to compete at the Olympics needs to meet tough selection standards, which are set by ESNZ and the New Zealand Olympic Committee.

ESNZ high performance director Sarah Harris reiterates Ellis' comments, but adds she is expecting great things from Way, who has been preparing for the event with top Australian dressage coach Clements Dierks.

"I am confident she can produce her best performance in Sydney," says Harris. "Louisa should also perform well but is still recovering from a broken hand, so her lead-up has been less than ideal. I am sure the other two will post solid team marks."

Three of the four marks count towards the team total.

Because the qualifier is being held in two parts, the final result will not be known until after the European leg.



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