Road to Tokyo Games is still clear as season approaches *H&H Plus*

  • As Covid has not only affected the Games themselves but also qualifying competitions, H&H finds out what work has been carried out to make sure elite riders can prepare

    THE road to Tokyo is on as eventing in Britain moves to ensure combinations can safely get the training and competition they need ahead of this summer’s Olympics.

    The pandemic and rescheduling of the Games has rejiggled the timeline of milestone dates for qualification, but time is ticking on.

    The British longlist meeting is due to be held around 11 May and the cut-off date for horse/rider combinations of any nationality to achieve minimum eligibility requirements (MERs) at CCI4*-L/S and/or CCI5*, is 21 June. The GBR squad of four (three competing, one travelling reserve) is likely to be selected around 15 or 21 June, and announced around 19 or 24 June.

    The Eventing Riders Association (International) has been working closely with British Eventing (BE) to ensure elite riders based here can get the right preparation.

    “We have been consulted all the way through and have been pushing especially towards the elite riders, not just the Brits but those based in Britain, to have access to the right events to get them ready,” ERA president Bruce Haskell told H&H.

    Mr Haskell shared his hopes for a “good season of sport” and praised BE and organisers for the level and detail in their plans, down to the possibility of increased demand for entries at domestic CCI4*-L/S events owing to Brexit transport concerns.

    There are four British events considered Olympic qualifiers in the calendar until 21 June: Burnham Market CCI4*-S (16-18 April), Chatsworth CCI4*-S (15-16 May), Houghton Hall CCI4*-S and Nations Cup leg (27-30 May), plus Bramham CCI4*-S/L and under-25s (10-13 June). There are further qualifying events in Europe and worldwide.

    In preparation for combinations targeting the Olympics and/or Kentucky, BE is running elite training at Aston-le-Walls (16-17 March), followed by elite-only competitions at Oasby (22 March), Cirencester Park (24 March) and Aston-le-Walls (31 March) in “strict accordance with Government regulations and Covid-19 protocols”.

    BE chief executive Jude Matthews told H&H the organisation has been working with performance managers to ensure combinations have an appropriate pathway.

    “Until [22 February], we didn’t know how long it was going to be ‘elite only’ sport, and the fact we can get going Easter weekend as it stands means that it’s a very much shorter period of ‘elite only’ now,” she said, adding much work has gone in to identify “elite status” for British riders.

    “We’ve also contacted all the other national federations to ensure they are aware of what we are planning, so they can make sure we have their elite riders on that list as well.

    “There’s almost like three ‘buckets’ riders fit into – the GBR domestic athletes, the foreign domestic athletes based in the UK and the foreign or GBR athletes who are based overseas and want to travel in and compete.”

    She added that the pathway is to help riders ensure their horses are prepared and fit before going to major competitions, and it complies with the elite return to sport guidance, covering cross-border international travel, so they can safely cater for all three relevant groups as mentioned above.

    In order for qualified nations to hold on to their Olympic tickets, they had to have enough competitors who had achieved minimum eligibility requirements (MERs) by 31 December 2019, which was then confirmed by early February 2020.

    An FEI spokesman told H&H that there have been no changes since then, with no nations advising them that they will not be taking up their places at the Games.

    This means the focus is now on which combinations will be selected to represent their country, rather than which nations will have riders at the Games.

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