Last Friday, the Ukrainian show jumping team contested a Tokyo 2020 qualifier in Budapest and amassed a total of 41 faults. That was a bad day at the office, one might think. On the contrary, that performance has secured them their place at the next Olympic Games.
Other countries, like Ireland, would have no chance of making Tokyo with a score like that, or even half of that, but it’s all down to the vagaries of regional groupings. Ukraine were fortunate enough to jump in a grouping that the FEI has designated as Olympic Group C, which consists of countries from Central and Eastern Europe and Central Asia, none of them show jumping powerhouses.
What’s more, this group was split into two sections C1 and C2 with a Tokyo place allotted to each group. Ukraine’s 41-fault score was enough to win againstthe Czech Republic, Hungary, Greece, Lithuania and Bulgaria. The other of the two groups battled it out on Sunday in Moscow, with Israel winning with 16 faults, edging out Poland who were just a fault behind despite having only three riders. The other countries involved were Russia, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan and Kyrgyzstan.
Over the above two qualifiers one country had picked up 79 faults by halfway and withdrew, another finished with a total of 119 faults and three countries were eliminated. Clearly, apart from a handful of nations across the C1 and C2 qualifiers, the remainder were way out of their depth.
While it is of course laudable that every country should get a shot at Olympic qualification, the awarding of two places to this region is surely questionable, considering that only three slots are up for grabs among the countries assigned to FEI Groups A and B where a host of Europe’s top show jumping nations lie. Therein you have Ireland, Netherlands, Germany, France, Italy, Great Britain, Sweden, Belgium and Switzerland, and you also have Spain, Portugal, Austria, and a few others on the periphery.
They must battle it out at the European Championships in Rotterdam next month for one of those three places, though four countries (Sweden, Netherlands, Germany and Switzerland) are already qualified through the world championships last September, at which Ireland missed the cut by one place. That leaves Rodrigo Pessoa’a team having to sweat it out in tough company in Rotterdam, with the British, Italian, Belgian and French teams looking likely to be the pick of their opponents for one of those tickets to Japan.
One rider who is buoyed up for the challenge is Darragh Kenny who continued his excellent run of form on Sunday when winning the five-star Belgian Grand Prix at Knokke with Balou du Reventon.
“I really wanted to use this week to test a little bit ahead of the European Championships and just jump him three days here,” the Offaly rider said.
He jumped incredible today and answered every question I asked of him.
Kenny is one of five Irish riders who head to Paris this week for what is the 11th venue on the Longines Global Champions Tour (LGCT) calendar. Also competing will be Michael Duffy, Michael G. Duffy, Shane Breen and Cian O’Connor. Breen was at the Monaco round at the weekend hoping for a repeat of his LGCT Grand Prix win there last year with Ipswich van de Wolfsakker, but the pairing missed the jump-off with a time fault in the first round.
Five-star action continues this week at Spruce Meadows in Canada where last Sunday Capt. Brian Cournane was denied victory on Armik in the Pan-American Grand Prix. The Kerry rider saw the win disappear from his clutches when Swiss ace Steve Guerdat scooped it with the last round on Venard de Cerisy.
Ireland’s eventers have none of the above Olympic qualifying concerns, having secured their slot when winning silver at last year’s world championships.
One of the team, Cathal Daniels claimed last Sunday’s CCI4*-S at Kilguilkey International Horse Trials riding LEB Lias Jewel, while another, Sarah Ennis, took third with BLM Diamond Delux. Aofe Clark was runner-up on Fernhill Adventure. UK-based Australian Kevin McNab made the trip to the Cork venue worthwhile when winning the CCI3*-S event with Fernhill Tabasco.