Laura Tomlinson: Olympic judges, please mark what you see, not who you see


  • World, European and Olympic medallist, Laura Tomlinson, shares her hopes and predictions for the Tokyo Olympics

    I’M writing this column while on the way to Deauville CDI in France with my two grand prix horses, and it’s great to have Lara Butler back in the gang this time. Her ride, our home-bred Kristjan, is returning to action after having problems with his feet earlier in the season.

    My top horse, Rose Of Bavaria (Betty), was one of the non-travelling reserves for the Tokyo Olympics, and so spent a week in quarantine with the team at the fantastic British Showjumping National Training Centre. Betty had a lovely time with my groom Bea Snudden all to herself, though I found it a little stressful having to drive two-and-a-half hours each way to ride her.

    But it was an honour to be part of this elite group, and to wave the British Olympic dressage team horses off on their journey to Tokyo. The World Class team were second to none and worked all hours of the day to get everything organised, and keep things as easy as possible for horses, grooms and riders. I sincerely wish Team GB the very best for these unconventional Games, where teamwork will be more crucial than ever.

    The three-rider team format has the potential to make things very exciting across the equestrian disciplines, but in dressage this will only be the case if the judges have the courage to judge what they see on the day. It seems obvious, but I have seen quite a few rides this year from top names who have received marks completely unreflective of what went on in the arena that day – and this makes for boring sport.

    With electronic scoring making marks more transparent, it looked as though the marking would improve. However, it seems that when a top name has a “boo-boo”, they may go down to marks of four for that movement – but will be compensated heavily for this with everything good thereafter, so that the end score is often still unrealistic.

    I think that critical journalism, while often unpopular, has a vital place within our sport, to help keep things realistic when sometimes the current marks are not.

    Plenty of surprises

    ASSUMING the top combinations don’t have any major issues with the Tokyo environment, I think that the individual gold will be a battle between Germany’s Isabell Werth and Jessica von Bredow-Werndl. With our own Charlotte Dujardin riding Gio rather than Mount St John Freestyle, I wonder if her chances of retaining her Olympic gold have diminished – that said, I still have high hopes of a podium finish for her.

    Having recently finished second to Denmark’s Cathrine Dufour at my last international show in Germany, I would say that she is an individual medal contender, too – her horse Bohemian has phenomenal ability.

    The team competition will also be exciting. With gold within easy reach for Germany, the silver and bronze will be where the real battles begin.

    I’m excited for Britain’s Lottie Fry to experience her first Olympics. She is a grafter and has shown such consistency this year with both her top horses; I am confident that she will impress us all. And I hope Carl Hester can keep his big steed, En Vogue, cool – while still going for it in the extensions to help earn us that team medal.

    Gareth Hughes has the somewhat thankless task of being the British travelling reserve. Interestingly, Gareth’s average international grand prix special score in 2021 is slightly higher than Carl’s, so if Gareth does get the call-up I am confident our medal chances will not suffer. Gareth is cool enough to be able to step in and give a solid performance, whereas for a lot of other teams, calling on their alternate rider would likely result in a big drop to their total score.

    These Olympics will be different for many reasons, but no less exciting. I am sure we will see plenty of surprises – some good, some not so good – and also some fantastic rides from the top dogs, as well as some lesser-known combinations. I can’t wait.


    This exclusive column is also available in H&H magazine, on sale Thursday 22 July

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