By Louise Parkes
The Swedish contingent set the photographers alight as Olympic Eventing got underway with the first horse inspection at Deodoro Olympic Park in Rio de Janeiro (BRA) today. A total of 84 horses, including reserves, were trotted up in front of the Ground Jury which is headed up by USA’s Marilyn Payne, and all were passed fit to compete.
It was the eye-catching bright yellow dresses worn by Frida Andersen and Swedish sisters Sara Algotsson Ostholt and Linda Algotsson that got the shutters snapping. However reserve rider Linda Algotsson’s inclusion in the side has come about at the expense of Anna Nilsson whose 17-year-old gelding, Luron, was withdrawn. The fourth member of the Swedish team is the equally dashing Ludwig Svennerstal.
Another reserve partnership called up today was New Zealand’s Tim Price and Ringwood Sky Boy after Jock Paget’s Clifton Lush was also declared a non-runner. Tim joins his wife, Jonelle Price (Faerie Dianimo), Mark Todd (Leonidas ll) and Clarke Johnstone (Balmoral Sensation) in the New Zealand side.
There was a buoyant mood around the arena, with riders singing the praises of the facilities at Deodoro which British team-member, Pippa Funnell, described as “fantastic”. The 47-year-old, who is a double Olympic team silver medallist and who claimed individual bronze at the Athens Olympics in 2004, said “we didn’t know what to expect when we came here, but so far it’s just unbelievable! It’s really super for the horses, the stables are so spacious and so cool, they are really happy because where they are living is so quiet, and there’s no noise or fuss. They’re loving it!”
Dressage is first up tomorrow and first into the ring at 10.00 local time will be America’s Jessica Phoenix with A Little Romance, who will be followed by Frenchman Astier Nicolas (Piaf de B’Neville) and then Ireland’s Padraig McCarthy (Simon Porloe). A total of 33 horse/rider combinations will take their turn tomorrow, and the remaining 32 will do their tests on Sunday.
However riders are already thinking ahead to Monday’s cross-country challenge. Course designer, Pierre Michelet (FRA), has given them plenty to think about, particularly through his clever use of the terrain at the Brazilian army sports venue at Deodoro where the 2007 Pan-American Games were staged. “It’s quite tricky and big enough” said Funnell who will partner the home-bred Billy the Biz. “He (Michelet) has used the hills a lot, and this is definitely an Olympic track. The competition definitely won’t be a dressage test!”
She described the mood of her team, which also includes William Fox-Pitt (Chilli Morning), Kitty King (Ceylor LAN) and Gemma Tattersall (Quicklook V), as “quietly excited. We have a team of good young horses, three of the four are stepping up a level but if they can make that step up they are all very capable.”
Ireland’s Mark Kyle, also competing at his third Olympics, had plenty of good things to say about the organisation at these equestrian Games too. “Our horses all travelled brilliantly, they arrived last Saturday (six days ago) and we took them for a walk the following day and they felt great!” He also pointed out the feel-good factor for the horses who appeared to be glowing with good health in today’s bright sunlight. “The facility here is really good, lots of arenas and open exercise areas so the horses are very relaxed.”
Talking of relaxation, Germany’s Michael Jung was his usual cool self today having sailed through the horse inspection with his faithful 16-year-old gelding, the spring-heeled Sam. “He’s in brilliant form” said the man who has won all before him and who returns to defend Olympic team and individual gold with the horse he rode to glory in London (GBR) four years ago. Sam wasn’t his first choice for Rio, but when the nine-year-old Takinou was unable to compete, the 34-year-old rider had his older friend on call-up.
“He’s really ready. He won Badminton this year and he was always my second horse and did all the same training”, said the man who will lead Team Germany in chasing down a third consecutive team title here in Rio. Reserve rider Julia Krajewski (Samourai du Thot) has now been called up due to the withdrawal of Andreas Ostholt, and the remaining members of the German team are Ingrid Klimke (Bob OLD) and Sandra Auffarth (Opgun Louvo).
Jung can be expected to produce a stunning test when he enters the dressage arena tomorrow at 14.58, but he also had Monday’s cross-country run on his mind this morning. “This is a really tough course, not just because the fences are technical but because the hills will really test the condition of the horses. They will need to be very fit.”
And asked if he felt less pressure competing at his second Olympic Games with a horse he knows so well and which has brought him such extraordinary success, he replied wisely, “yes I can be a bit more relaxed, but I know I still need to concentrate fully. It’s easy to have a run-out, even at the simple fences, or to make a mistake if you don’t keep your mind on your job!”