Andrew Nicholson on Tokyo 2020 eventing: ‘It felt like a normal Olympics’


  • Five-time Burghley winner, Olympic medallist and cross-country coach to the Swiss eventing team, Andrew Nicholson reports on his Tokyo 2020 Games experience

    CONGRATULATIONS to the Japanese for putting on a very good Olympics under such difficult circumstances. The only thing it lacked were the crowds; in every other aspect, it felt just like a “normal” Olympic Games.

    From the moment I arrived, as part of a delegation from a nation – in my case the Swiss – you were made to feel part of it all. We were escorted through the Covid testing areas – it was a lot of walking, but I think that was deliberate as by the time we got to the end, the results were ready and we could get straight on the bus to the Olympic Village, which itself was very busy and well-organised.

    All we saw of Tokyo was through the bus windows, but that’s often the case anyway once you’re in the Olympic system.

    The Equestrian Park was beautiful, and the main stadium was one of the nicest I’ve seen. Even though the stands were empty, it felt like a very special arena. It was a shame there weren’t spectators there, but I did wonder, when we got to the cross-country, where the organisers would have put them anyway? It was a small area.

    I thought course-designer Derek di Grazia did an excellent job. He made it so that the five-star horses and riders had to work a bit, and that the four-star ones had to work a little harder, but everything was possible. It got a good result and was exciting right to the end.

    For me, the three-to-a-team format is a positive move, and made it a compelling competition. The subbing-in of the alternate riders made it quite interesting, as well.

    It was obvious, however, that it is very tough on the fourth rider. Some ended up doing all of it, some nothing, some one phase and, from the outside, it seemed to create a difficult atmosphere among the teams. It is hard to be on stand-by permanently; to do both of the trot-ups, and walk the courses as though you are about to ride them. It’s an odd situation, although I’m not sure how they can improve it.

    Eight riders got 11 penalties for breaking frangible pins. When I walked the course, I actually thought it would be more than that. It isn’t my idea of cross-country riding if you have to look behind you to see whether you’ve had the fence down or not, but that’s where we are with the sport and riders have to adapt accordingly.

    Very well done to the Brits. They were the only team of three CCI5* winners, and the only ones not to add any penalties on the cross-country. If Oliver Townend hadn’t been the second rider out on course, would the day have gone as well as it did? His round gave other nations the confidence to go out of the start box fast.

    I was very proud of all three Swiss riders. Felix Vogg set out quickly and got the job done, as did the less experienced Mélody Johner. And Robin Godel was doing very well, too, until Jet Set suffered the ligament injury that sadly meant he had to be put down. They had done all the hard jumping and were only 40 seconds from the end of the track. Robin pulled him up straight away and got off, but it was clear very quickly that it was an irreparable injury.

    We now move on towards the Eventing European Championships at Avenches, at which some of the Swiss Olympic riders will have chances on their second horses, and others will get the opportunity of team experience.

    In the UK, it’s great that Bicton is running a CCI5*. It will be interesting to see how many entries they get. It’s a busy autumn calendar and some people might feel that they don’t want to return to Bicton for their second major event of the year, having done the CCI4*-L and CCI4*-S there in June.

    • This exclusive column will also be available to read in H&H magazine, on sale Thursday 12 August

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