The new format means anything could happen, but Britain should be strong, says H&H eventing editor Pippa Roome
THIS is the most unpredictable Olympic eventing contest of our time, for two reasons.
The first is Covid-19, which has meant that riders’ competition patterns have been disturbed, horses have had a quiet time and most people have stayed national for events, so we haven’t seen pairs from different countries head-to-head as much as usual. There are notably more older horses at these Games and fewer younger ones; not many people have had the opportunity to push a fast-developing nine-year-old on to Tokyo.
The second is the new Olympic eventing format, which pits teams of three against one another with all to count, accompanied by a raft of confusing substitution rules. One mistake will take a team down and it’s very possible that three mediocre performances will propel a surprising nation to the podium, while one of the big guns steps aside because their two excellent scores are marred by a slip-up from the third pair.
Against that backdrop, Britain start as favourites. They field three potential individual medallists. In fact, it’s a mark of Team GB’s extraordinary strength in depth that alternate Piggy March (Brookfield Inocent) could be on the podium individually if called in.
The riders – Laura Collett (London 52), Tom McEwen (Toledo De Kerser) and Oliver Townend (Ballaghmor Class) – are all Olympic debutants, but also all five-star winners on their Olympic mounts. They could well all be top 10 after dressage and none of them have an obvious weakness.
Data analytics company EquiRatings say the British squad is the second strongest Olympic team ever, beaten only by the Germans at Rio – it’s worth noting they finished second (to France), so ratings can’t always predict a result.
Germany will probably provide Britain’s closest competition for the spoils. Defending champion Michael Jung starts as individual favourite with European individual silver medallist Chipmunk FRH, and Sandra Auffarth is another potential individual medallist for Germany with Viamant Du Matz. Only Amande De B’Neville’s inexperience prevents me from saying she could be a podium finisher for Germany’s third rider Julia Krajewski.
The Australians were also looking particularly hot, but the withdrawal of Chris Burton and Quality Purdey is significant and hits their chances hard. They are probably now neck and neck with New Zealand as potential bronze medallists, with the next challengers grouped closely behind.
Andrew Hoy (Vassily De Lassos) will spearhead the Australian team, backed up by the Down Under-based pairs of Stuart Tinney on Leporis and Shane Rose on Virgil. The latter combination haven’t been up against European competition for nearly two years, but they were more than holding their own then, while Leporis is untested on the world stage.
For New Zealand, the Prices should never be discounted. Their performance is not the easiest to predict; Jonelle and Grovine De Reve made a significant step up at Kentucky and she will hope to repeat that, while Tim’s ride Vitali is very new to him but has impressed so far.
The next bunch of nations will be ready to pounce if the gilded quartet falter. World silver medallists Ireland, reigning Olympic champions France and the challengers from the US lead the pack, alongside Japan, who were fourth at the 2018 World Equestrian Games and enjoy a home advantage. This group holds a slight edge over Sweden, Switzerland and Italy, with Sweden probably the strongest of that trio.
In terms of teams, that leaves Poland, Brazil, Thailand and China at the bottom of the pack – although the latter does have a potential individual medallist in Alex Hua Tian on Don Geniro.
Prepare to chew your nails, scream at the TV and leap off your sofa – after more than a year in some kind of lockdown, you may want to get in training now for such excitement.
Who are the individual Olympic eventing medal contenders?
Oliver Townend: Ballaghmor Class and Oliver have an incredible five-star record that speaks for itself. Oliver admits he’s dreamt of representing Great Britain at the Olympics for a very long time. He says: “We will try to make everyone at home proud. Ballaghmor Class is a horse of a lifetime. I’m very grateful to his owners and all my team.”
Laura Collett: Laura and London 52 are enjoying a real purple patch at the moment, winning Pau CCI5* earlier this year and having claimed five four-star wins in 2018-2021. Laura describes being selected as feeling “surreal’, saying: “It’s an unbelievable feeling after years of working towards something and thinking you’ll never achieve it. To be selected in a year like this, with the combinations Team GB has, makes it extra special.”
Tom McEwen: Tom and Toledo De Kerser are an experienced and consistent pair who keep getting better. They are heading to Tokyo off the back of winning the CCI4*-S selection trial at Bicton. He says: “I don’t know if it’s relief I feel at being selected – it’s definitely happiness. It’s been a long road and we’ve got an incredible group of horses and riders. Toledo has been phenomenal everywhere.”
Sandra Auffarth: It looked like Sandra might have been a one-horse wonder after 2014 world champion Opgun Louvo retired, but in Viamant Du Matz she has a new star. He was 11th on his dressage score at the 2019 Europeans and his first phase has improved since then.
Andrew Hoy: Andrew extends his own record as the Australian with the most Olympic starts, with Tokyo making it eight. He’s a three-time team gold medallist and took individual silver in Sydney and at 62, he’s as hungry as ever. His ride Vassily De Lassos is a double-clear machine.
Michael Jung: Starts as favourite, having won individual gold at the past two Olympics. In Chipmunk FRH, Michael has probably the classiest horse he has ever ridden. Could lead the dressage, but don’t rule them out if not because in London and Rio, Michael was the only rider to finish on his dressage score.
Boyd Martin: The 2019 Kentucky five-star runner-up Tsetserleg TSF fell near the end of the course at that event this year, which initially led to him being selected as reserve to his stable-mate Luke 140. Assuming he can put that behind him, he should lead the US effort.
Jonelle Price: Jonelle’s ride Grovine De Reve was produced by Rodney Powell and her fellow New Zealander Dan Jocelyn and joined her in 2019. He sprang to prominence when he was third at Kentucky this year. This pair are likely to be off the pace after dressage but should rise thereafter.
Tim Price: Tim has only had a handful of eventing starts on Vitali since taking over the ride this season. However, he was sixth in the hot CCI4*-S at Luhmühlen and has beaten off three strong horses in Tim’s other nominated entries, so we’d be foolish to write him off.
Tom Carlile: Olympic debutant Tom and the 10-year-old mare Birmane are quite inexperienced compared to the rest of this bunch, but the French team members have excellent four-star form, including second at Saumur. If they can repeat their customary mid-20s dressage score, they are in with a chance.
Horse & Hound’s Olympic eventing medal predictions
For more key stats, plus other riders to look out for, don’t miss Horse & Hound’s ultimate guide to Tokyo, on sale Thursday 15 July
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