Showjumping is, essentially, a very simple sport. You jump clear, you ride fast against the clock, you win.
But, at championship level, spectators, commentators — and even riders — are left frantically scanning the rulebook, reaching for the calculator and then sobbing gently at the unfathomable complexities of the format.
So why is it so difficult to follow?
Part of the problem lies in the fact you’ve got team riders, also competing as individuals, alongside individual riders from countries unable to field a full team. Both sets need to jump equal numbers of rounds so nobody has an unfair advantage but it all becomes a bit of a muddle.
Saturday’s opening round in Greenwich was billed as the “first individual qualifier” but followers were left asking: “What was the point?”
Essentially, this round is designed to separate the wheat from the proverbial chaff. As an aside, it also dictates the running order for round two. Of the 75 starters on day one, only the top 60 riders can progress to the more difficult round two on Sunday. The bottom 15 individuals, sadly, see their Olympic dreams disappear. Surprisingly, there were three shock exits at this early stage in Greenwich — USA’s Beezie Madden, Germany’s Christian Ahlmann and Team GB’s Peter Charles.
However, the rules dictate that this trio can return on Sunday as team riders. And, because the teams all start on a zero score for the start of this two-round “Nations Cup” competition, all three could yet prove to be anything but the discard score for their respective teams.
For those of you scratching your heads, here it is in as easy terms as I can manage. Every rider has his or her own rolling tally of faults throughout. After each round the highest scoring individuals are eliminated until only 35 riders remain for Wednesday’s two-round final where they all start again on a clean sheet.
The team competition runs over Sunday and Monday and the best three of the four team riders’ scores decide the medals.
As of Sunday, there will be three types of competitors: those competing solely as individuals, those contributing only to their team’s scores and those jumping for both team and individual honours.
Still with me?
For those of you wishing to examine the finer points of the rulebook, you’ll find it here but I would only recommend it for insomniacs, code-breakers and anyone broadcasting live to the nation.
Showjumping needs to be attractive, simple and exciting to stand out from all the action happening in the Olympic Park, Aquatic Centre and Velodrome this week. Saturday’s action was gripping, but only because the unexpected happened.
It’s going to be a smashing competition from here on in and already we’ve seen some wonderful combinations perform beautifully. So let’s not let the format detract from the greatest horses and riders in the world bidding for Olympic glory — stay tuned, it’s about to get very, very exciting.