After Sunday’s clinching of an Olympic place in show jumping in Barcelona, Irish equestrian sport has moved to a place it’s never been before. The country will have eventing, dressage, and show jumping teams at next year’s Olympics - the first time ever that the sport in this country has been able to say that.
Only six other nations have qualified their three disciplines to compete in Tokyo - Australia, Brazil, France, Germany, Sweden and USA. Japan will have the total package too, but as hosts they didn’t have to qualify.
It’s worth taking a glance at where Irish riders stand in the latest world rankings, which were updated just ahead of the past weekend, and include performances over the 12 months to September 30. The rankings are for individual riders — there is no team rankings list — though performances in team events count towards each rider’s tally.
In show jumping, the biggest Irish story was Darragh Kenny’s move up to number nine in the world, the first time for several years that Ireland has had a rider inside the top 10 (Bertram Allen was the last).
It was a climb of two places for the Offaly rider, and another rise next month is a possibility, since his performances in Barcelona will kick into the rankings when the end of October stats are complied.
The only other Irish rider inside the top 30 is Shane Sweetnam who is 29th in the standings, with Bertram Allen next-highest at 33rd. Only Belgium, Germany, France, Switzerland, and USA have more riders in the top 30, while, like Ireland, Great Britain, Netherlands, and Sweden have two. Ireland has five other riders inside the top 50 — Paul O’Shea, Denis Lynch, Shane Breen, Daniel Coyle, and Mark McAuley.
The dressage rankings have seen Judy Reynolds climb to number 12, equalling the highest position ever for an Irish dressage rider achieved by her current teammate, Anna Merveldt in 1993.
Heike Holstein is next-best of the Irish, moving closer to the top 100 at 103rd. Germany, Denmark, Sweden, USA and Great Britain are the dominant countries as far as the top 30 is concerned, with the Germans really out on their own.
European bronze medalist Cathal Daniels is 10th in the eventing rankings, up two places from the previous month. Daniels is the only Irish rider in the top 30, with Sam Watson next at 41st. Australia, Germany, Great Britain, New Zealand, Sweden and USA all have healthy presences in the top 30.
A number of countries are thus seen to be showing up well across all rankings, but nothing conclusive can be derived from the individual figures. Often, riders who appear to be down the list for a while, have just eased back on their appearances.
Teams whose members might not show up so well in the individual standings can sometimes fare well against teams which include top-ranked riders. A case in point would be Australia. Their show jumpers qualified for Tokyo at the first attempt at the world championships last year, yet, they have no riders inside the top 60.
While Ireland’s show jumpers were late in clinching the Olympic place, the fact that they went on to win the Nations Cup final that day was a huge result and augurs well for their Tokyo prospects. Incidentally, it’s more than likely there were a few Norwegians happy about it also. They were in Barcelona too, yet, didn’t progress from the opening day on Thursday, but it then suited them that it was Ireland that got the Tokyo place.
Both are in the same grouping for individual rider qualification for Tokyo, and since Ireland no longer need to contest that aspect, it means the Norwegians are now almost certain to qualify one rider for the Games.
This weekend, the Irish eventing team go into action in the Netherlands at the Military Boekelo meeting. The top-level fixture is being used to test the new three-rider Olympic format. Cathal Daniels and Padriag McCarthy from the world championship team are on board with OLS King Aragon and Leonidas respectively, and there is another call-up for Brian Morrison (Global Orchid).
Sally Corscadden’s team will have Joseph Murphy (Cesar V) as reserve.