In a dramatic move, HSI had requested that the Olympic Council of Ireland (OCI) suspend the rider’s ratification after his top horse, Lantinus, was disqualified from competition at Aachen, Germany, on Friday morning, after vets deemed its legs were hypersensitive.
The meeting, which begins early this morning, will be attended by Ireland team vet Marcus Swail, HSI chief executive Damian McDonald, and an independent veterinary advisor from the Irish Equine Centre. These are part of a monitoring group, along with OCI secretary general Dermot Sherlock and OCI chief executive officer Stephen Martin, who will not participate in the meeting, as Lynch could have the right to appeal to the OCI.
Following the meeting, HSI will decide whether to proceed with Lynch’s nomination or to select one of the reserve riders and it is expected to inform the OCI of its decision today.
Both organisations, however, will be conscious of possible legal ramifications. Lynch, who is backed by Swiss industrialist Thomas Straumann — owner of Lantinus and a number of his top mounts — has not been found guilty of any deliberate wrongdoing and would be within his rights to question any rejection of his nomination.
Lynch is required to attend the meeting under 2.8 of the HSI Olympic selection criteria, which states: “While the main objective is to select the best combination to represent Ireland, HSI must be satisfied that any combination selected for the Olympic Games will be disciplined and co-operative and will not bring the sport into disrepute. An athlete who is being considered for selection shall be required to attend a meeting of the OCI/HSI Monitoring Group to address any concerns in this regard, which the group may have or which are referred to it concerning the athlete. If the group is not satisfied with the explanation provided or commitments given by the athlete, they can deem the athlete ineligible for selection.”
OCI spokesman Jack McGouran yesterday said it was not unknown for it to reject nominations, but forcibly denied that any determination had already been made regarding Lynch’s participation in London.
“We are waiting on Horse Sport Ireland to come back to us on whether it is recommending Denis Lynch or another rider. The ultimate decision rests with the OCI and we have rejected athletes in the past, but not often. We close our nomination process on Monday at 5pm and we have to submit the 66 athletes of Team Ireland to the London Organising Committee first thing Tuesday morning, but could hold the show jumping place open for later in the week if HSI make a special case,” said Mr McGouran.
Lynch and Cork’s Billy Twomey earned the two show jumping places for Ireland in the Olympics and were subsequently selected by Ireland manager Robert Splaine to compete in London. Ironically, Cian O’Connor, who was stripped of his gold medal after the 2004 Athens Olympics, is one of the reserve riders tipped to replace Lynch, if he is rejected by HSI or the OCI, along with Corkman Shane Sweetnam. O’Connor and his new horse Blue Loyd have been producing some impressive performances, with one or two exception, including jumping clear in Thursday’s German Nations Cup in which Ireland placed third. However, it remains to be seen if the Meath-based rider would be acceptable to the OCI, despite not having infringed in the eight years since Athens.
US-based Sweetnam is currently ranked 45 in the world, the third Irish rider behind Lynch and Twomey. In 2011/2012, he lined out in eight of the 11 top tier nations cup contests, while he provided clear rounds in two of his three outings this year with Amaretto d’Arco.
Recently, at the five-star show in Calgary, Canada, he was second in the World Cup Qualifier. He placed 17th in last year’s European Championships.
Friday’s disqualification is the third time for a horse ridden by Lynch to come under the spotlight in terms of hypersensitivity in the past 12 months: In Aachen last year, Lord Luis was disqualified, but subsequently allowed to return to competition following re-examination, while at the Global Champions Tour final in Rio de Janeiro, All Inclusive was disqualified, along with Billy Twomey’s Romanov and the horse of a French rider. In each case there was no finding of wrongdoing on the part of any of the riders. In addition, it was Lantinus’s disqualification from the final round of the 2008 Olympics in Hong Kong that brought public attention on Lynch, who was on the cusp of winning a medal.
The world governing body, the FEI, acknowledges it is not unnatural for horses to be affected by hypersensitivity. However, it also concedes a rider can attempt to deliberately affect the performance of the horse by such means, which it terms hypersensitisation, a much more serious misdemeanour.
On Saturday, Lynch, arguably Ireland’s most successful riders in the past few years, issued a detailed statement.
“Following Lantinus disqualification, I’d like to take this opportunity to clarify a number of matters regarding the disqualification,” said the German-based rider, who placed 13th in yesterday’s grand prix at Aachen with Abbervail van het Dingeshof.
“Lantinus was examined two hours prior to competing in the nations cup on Thursday. While a small wound on the left fore leg and an abrasion on the right hind leg sustained in the previous days’ competition were identified, these were not associated with any hypersensitivity or abnormalities in the FEI thermographic examination. We were satisfied, therefore, for Lantinus to compete in the Nations Cup.
“The Nations Cup was held in very difficult weather and the ground conditions were extremely testing. I’ve always found Aachen to be one of the most enjoyable but competitive shows on circuit and Thursday certainly proved that to be the case. Lantinus was re-examined again after competing in both rounds on Thursday and again on Friday morning at 8.30am. In summary, the areas of sensitivity highlighted above on the left forelimb and on the hind limbs had increased after Lantinus had competed. We were advised that Lantinus was now considered hypersensitive within Annex XI of FEI Veterinary Regulations and on this advice; Lantinus was disqualified by the attending FEI vets.
“At no stage, was there any inference that the hypersensitivity was anything other than natural occurring. I feel this is very important to clarify and I would also like to state for the record that I fully support all measures regarding hypersensitivity implemented by the FEI.
“My only concern was Lantinus’ welfare and that Lantinus would receive the veterinary attention required. I did not take the opportunity to appeal as I had no intention of Lantinus competing in any other event at Aachen other than the Nations Cup. Consequently the veterinary commission responded by saying that the horse could now be treated effectively as it would not jump again at the event.
“It is very important to state that Lantinus received no further sanction and is free to compete at the next show, should I decide. I am free to compete in Aachen in the remainder of the events also.
“Unfortunate and incredibly disappointing as this disqualification of Lantinus has been for me, I am happy with the findings of the Veterinary Commission.”