Tales from Tokyo: ‘I’ve never let numbers hold me back’

  • Irish event rider Sam Watson, currently competing at the Tokyo Olympics, combines his riding career with being the co-founder and chief strategist at EquiRatings – the performance analysis and data company for eventing. So when it comes to an event as huge as the Games, does his in-depth knowledge of the sport play to his advantage, or does he find his head swimming with distracting statistics?

    “Sometimes I use it to help me; other times I park it,” he says. “I don’t need to know I’m 20th in the probability of who’s going to win this competition. Sometimes it’s good to believe that today could be the day you hit the top form.

    “But although everyone hopes for a medal, you can put too much pressure on yourself. Everyone knows where they are subconsciously, and if you’re coming in here trying to get a personal best, of course it’s going to be disappointing getting a 34.3 when the horse is averaging 30 at the moment,” said Sam, referring to his own performance in the Olympic eventing dressage riding the attractive buckskin gelding Flamenco.

    “But that’s championships, and I know [the judges] are probably looking for a higher standard than at home, so I don’t get worried about it and I stay focused on the job. A lot of people would come out of that test and feel downbeat, but I know if I finish [the competition] below 40 I’m going to put a potentially medal winning team score on the board,” said the Irish rider.

    “Understanding the sport helps me and I don’t get nervous anymore because I know that mistakes happen in this game – it’s not like the 100m where you’re probably going to perform very close to how you’ve always been performing. This is a game of chance.

    “But I have completed every long four-star and five-star that I have done in the past 12 years. Knowing that statistic gives me confidence to think to myself, ‘Sam, what you do in the heat of the moment is good. You are a good team rider, you get round, you get home.’ That’s where it’s good to have some evidence, otherwise you can get here and start questioning yourself.

    “I’ve never let numbers hold me back. But I do let them sometimes prop me up if I’m ever doubting myself.”

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