Withdrawals, retirements and disrupted competition schedules have led to a late shake-up of nations and squads ahead of the Olympic dressage at Tokyo.
Sönke Rothenberger’s Olympic, World and European team gold medal-winning ride Cosmo 59 will not be campaigned for this year’s championships as the 14-year-old gelding “is not at the level of performance of previous years”.
The combination helped Germany to team gold at the 2016 Olympics, 2018 World Equestrian Games (WEG), the 2017 and 2019 European Championships, plus the 2014 young rider Europeans. They have also won multiple silver and bronze individual medals at the World Championships as well as youth and senior Europeans.
Sönke, 26, remains in contention for this championships with Santiano R.
Ireland will be without its leading combination of Judy Reynolds and Vancouver K at Tokyo, after Judy announced the retirement of her Rio 2016 ride.
“Tokyo of course made this decision harder. I would so love to be there, but I don’t want to just be there, I want to be competitive,” she told H&H on Thursday (3 June). “But I’ll aim for Paris 2024 – I have no intention of JP being my only good horse.”
Australia Lyndal Oatley has withdrawn her rides Elvive and Eros from Tokyo convention owing to the pandemic affecting her preparation.
“Although both horses have qualified for the Games, Elvive and Eros are inexperienced at international level,” she said.
“While they show great promise for the future I feel it’s too much to ask of both horses to be in the form I would want them to be in for the Games. My horses’ wellbeing will always come first, and we will instead look ahead to the World Equestrian Games in 2022.”
She added: “I will be cheering on our Australian team and all those competing at Tokyo 2020 from afar and wish all horses, athletes and teams a safe and successful Olympic Games.”
Other recent withdrawals from contention include Olympian Daniel Pinto and his ride Santurion De Massa, who represented Portugal at the 2015 and 2017 Europeans, owing to health reasons.
“Santurion de Massa is a horse of a lifetime that blessed us with many joyful moments and allowed important conquests in the dressage ring. The ultimate goal is to focus on bringing him back to a healthy condition,” said a statement from the rider.
“We don’t have enough words to express our gratitude to all the great support voiced by the equestrian community worldwide. We will keep on following the Olympic dream closely – we will be represented by an incredible team of talented riders and horses with great quality. We wish them the best of luck and we will be cheering for you every step of the way.”
The Dutch combination of Anne Meulendijks and MDH Avanti NOP, who helped the Netherlands to team silver at the 2019 Europeans as well as multiple medals at young rider and under-25 championships, are also out.
“Together with the head coach I chose to withdraw Avanti for the trajectory towards the Tokyo Olympics,” Anne announced on Sunday (6 June).
“Avanti is 16 years old of course and maybe that year later [owing to the Games’ postponement] is at our disadvantage now, but he is still a great fit and I still enjoy him every day. I would like to keep doing this for a while so we chose to only put it in for the fun and beautiful games.
“The circumstances in Tokyo are not easy and certainly for a little older horse this is quite a risk. We therefore choose Avanti’s wellbeing so that we can enjoy him for a long time and experience more beautiful moments together.”
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Reshuffle of nations
Norway and New Zealand have both let go of their Olympic spots, while Malaysia and Italy have received late invitations.
Norway’s qualified rider, Ellen Birgitte Farbrot, announced her withdrawal from the Olympic spot on Thursday (3 June) following consultation with her ride Tailormade Red Rebel’s owners.
“[The decision is] based on the fact that Tailormade Red Rebel is still new to this level and both Covid and EHV made it close to impossible to give him the show and travel experience needed,” she said.
“With that said my ‘athlete heart’ wants us to go, also knowing it might never happen again. If the travel was not that far, it would have been a different story.”
She added she is still “extremely happy” that their qualifying runs went well, for everyone’s support and is looking ahead to the European Championships and the 2022 World Championships.
“I’m delighted to learn that my withdrawal makes an opportunity for another country to send one of their candidates,” she said. “Sometimes the journey is the destination.”
New Zealand announced on Saturday (5 June) that “despite best endeavours”, it will not be sending combinations to either the Olympic or the Paralympic dressage.
Riders’ quests for qualification have been heavily impacted by pandemic and EHV-1 restrictions, meaning no combinations in either dressage or para dressage have been able to achieve the Equestrian Sport New Zealand (ESNZ) nomination criteria that indicates the possibility of a top-16 performance at the Games.
“I sympathise with the riders and applaud their efforts to exhaust all options,” said Jock Paget, ESNZ high performance general manager.
“We have worked closely with the New Zealand Olympic Committee to do everything we can to try and qualify combinations and we thank them for their flexibility but unfortunately it’s not to be this time. We will have to turn our attention for dressage and para dressage to the World Championships next year.”
Jock added: “There is so much skill, hard work, commitment and sacrifice that goes into qualifying and then actually lining up for an Olympic Games, let alone trying to do it in the middle of a global pandemic.
“I trust this will be good fuel to their WEG campaigns next year.”
The swings and roundabouts that is equestrian sport mean the disappointment of some nations spells opportunity for others.
The Italian equestrian federation confirmed it had been offered a place thanks to results obtained by Tatiana Miloserdova and Florento Fortuna.
Malaysian equestrian federation president Syed Omar Syed Abu Bakar Al Mohdzar shared his congratulations to rider Qabil Ambak, the nation’s top rider, on his spot at the Games.
“This is not only a milestone for the national sport but for our country, as it is the first time a Malaysian is represented in equestrian events at the Olympics Games,” he said.
“The Olympics provides us with a special occasion to unite in so many ways, especially given the global challenges faced amidst the Covid pandemic.
“We are grateful that all parties have worked together to make the Olympic Games in Tokyo possible. More so now than ever before, we hold on to the spirit of the Olympics, this is an opportunity to cheer on our athlete and fly our flag high.
“By being part of the Malaysian Olympic squad, Qabil Ambak is a role model for the equestrian sport and for all Malaysians. We wish him the greatest success and look forward to cheering him on.”
Qabil needs one final qualifying result to take up his Tokyo invitation, which he is hoping to achieve at Le Mans CDI4* (17 to 20 June).
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