The Tokyo Olympics are approaching at what feels like breakneck speed, and with less than two weeks to go before the British dressage team is set to be announced, the excitement is starting to set in.
I’m acutely aware that my long-awaited debut Olympics experience is set to be vastly different to how I imagined it back in 2019 when I got probably the most exciting call of my career, to tell me I would be heading out to Japan to report alongside my editor Pippa Roome. And of course, that’s if the Olympics happens at all – something Pippa and I have firmly decided we won’t fully believe until we are on the plane or even, given the endless Covid tests required at both ends, until we are watching the first horse trot down the centre line on 24 July.
But I’m trying not to focus on the inevitable stress and difficulties we will encounter – such as not being allowed to use public transport to cross the largest city in the world every day, and being limited on where we can eat – but instead to think about the sport. On that front, these Olympics are shaping up to be VERY exciting.
Having started this role in 2017, I have always felt a little sad that I was not H&H dressage editor during the Valegro era. How lucky my predecessor, Alice Collins, was to have been able to witness his gold medal performances close-up, and report on all Valegro’s world records. But – and I say this very quietly – I wonder whether we could be looking at a fresh world record by the end of this year.
In early June, Germany’s newly crowned national champion Jessica von Bredow-Werndl thrilled dressage fans with her sublime freestyle on TSF Dalera BB that earned 93% – just 1% off Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro’s all-time record from Olympia 2014. It helps that I’m a sucker for the La La Land soundtrack, but I could watch Jessica’s performance over and over again – just as with Valegro’s.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Jessica, over Zoom, earlier this year and found her absolutely delightful: friendly, funny, incredibly down-to-earth and full of love and passion when speaking about her horses. As we hung up, I found myself wondering whether I had just spoken to the next Olympic champion.
But as Carl Hester very rightly points out in his excellent H&H column this week, nothing is set in stone, and there is all to play for. After all, even dressage can be unpredictable. Germany’s queen of dressage Isabell Werth is sure to come roaring back with all her might, and of course I’d be a huge fool to underestimate Charlotte Dujardin. Her top horse Mount St John Freestyle is on absolutely super form and, if all goes well, I’d fully expect her be in serious contention for another individual Olympic medal.
Carl Hester’s most recent performance on En Vogue – at Somerford Premier League rather than Compiegne CDIO5* as planned – has filled me with confidence about Britain’s chances too. Then there’s Lottie Fry, whom I would expect to join Carl and Charlotte on the three-person team. What a season she is having with her Olympic contender Everdale, and direct reserve Dark Legend, who are both getting better and better with every outing.
I have to admit to a tinge of disappointment when it was announced that her younger grand prix stallion, Glamourdale, would focus on breeding duties rather than Olympic contention in 2021 – he is one of those horses I simply cannot take my eyes off – but there will be plenty of opportunity ahead for him to come to the fore.
There are also a host of other top British combinations among the nominated entries for Tokyo contributing to the buzz of excitement I’m feeling right now, even after the sad withdrawal of Sonnar Murray-Brown and Erlentanz from Olympic contention: there is Laura Tomlinson and Rose Of Bavaria, Gareth Hughes and Sintano Van Hof Olympia, Emile Faurie and Dono Di Maggio, just to name a few.
Thank goodness we also have the European Championships in Hagen to look forward to!
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