Ireland's eventing team slip out of Olympic contention

Despite another superb display from Jonty Evans, Ireland’s hopes of eventing glory were dashed yesterday on a cross-country that lived up to predictions as being a true test of horse and rider.

Evans finished the day in a creditable 16th place, but the Irish team has slipped to ninth of the 13 countries, carrying 278.40 penalties to stand more than 117 off the bronze-medal position going into today’s show jumping phase.

The Irish quartet started yesterday’s cross-country bidding to build on the foundation of a dressage performance that saw them in fifth place and genuine medal contenders.

However, the course had been billed as the toughest since the 2000 Sydney Olympics and it lived proved so. 

Figures released by Irish-based eventing statistic providers Equi Ratings, showed the course delivered a clear jumping rate of just 40.6%, smashing the previous toughest scoring of 47.6% set in Sydney.

Ireland did not escape, with pathfinder Pádraig McCarthy parting company from his mount Simon Porloe, the gelding catching its hind legs on the 17th fence and McCarthy rolling away just in time to avoid being crushed.

The fall, however, left the team without a discard score. Clare Abbott was next up with Euro Prince and, while she completed, the Co Down rider picked up 40 jumping and 25.6 time penalties for a provisional total of 112.60pens. 

Evans followed, producing a relatively fluid round on Cooley Rorkes Drift. 

The gelding tired near the end, but 44-year-old rider called on all his ability to urge him over the final water jump, picking up 22.80 time penalties for a total of 64.60.

Mark Kyle and Jemilla then took up the cause and, though a lapse in concentration saw him shaking his head after the 10-year-old bay mare ran out of the second part of a combination to pick up 20 penalties, he pulled it together to cross the finish line, adding 30.80 time penalties for a total of 101.20.

Evans said he was confident he could build on the experience gained in Rio.

“I’m delighted with the horse. He got tired at the end but dug deep and kept jumping. He will have learnt a lot from this and I firmly believe he can win a medal at some point.”

Ireland manager Nick Turner said: “We are of course disappointed not to improve on our position after dressage. 

“Padraig’s horse got a bit of a fright at fence six and was never really going well after that. Clare’s horse was a bit fresh and a handful, and they unfortunately had two jumping mistakes. 

“Jonty did a great job under team orders to get round and make sure we had a team score and it was a brilliant clear from him. 

“Mark dug deep and was very unlucky to have that one jumping error, but at least we have a team score going forward into show jumping.

Turner continued, “We knew this was never going to be just a dressage competition, but we gave it our best shot, which unfortunately on the day just wasn’t enough. 

“The course was very tough and technical and the competitiveness worked against a lot of teams. The big positive is that Jonty is still inside the top 20 and if he could go well again tomorrow morning and make it into the individual final [of 25 riders] that would be fantastic. 

“I would like to say a special thanks to our reserve rider Camilla Speirs, who played a massive role here helping the team today during the cross country.”

Australia (150.30pens) head the leaderboard ahead of today’s show jumping decider, but have just a fence in hand on New Zealand (154.80pens), with France (161pens) and defending champions Germany (172.80pens) also still in the hunt for gold.

The individuals are headed by Australian Christopher Burton on Santano II, with the 2012 gold medalist Michael Jung (SAM FBW) in second place, followed by France’s Astier Nicolas (Piaf De B’Neville). 

Sixty-year-old Kiwi legend Mark Todd (Leonidas II), a double individual gold medalist and contesting his eighth Olympics, lies in fourth place.

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