Mark Phillips: ‘This is a long pre-Tokyo month’


  • It’s the nerve-racking final countdown to the Games, says former Olympic team gold medallist, four-time Badminton winner and leading cross-country course-designer Mark Phillips

    THE Tokyo-bound eventing horses, including long-suffering reserves, are all in quarantine before flying to Japan next week. All the British horses are looking in good shape – fingers crossed they stay that way but quarantine, travel and training is a long month and history says normally someone takes an unlucky step along the way.

    Horse injuries have already meant that Doug Payne gets his first Olympic chance for the US, joining Phillip Dutton and Boyd Martin as Liz Halliday-Sharp had to withdraw. It’s the same story for France with Christopher Six joining Tom Carlile and Nicolas Touzaint as Thibaut Vallette has had to stand aside.

    With Ingrid Klimke injured, Julia Krajewski gets a second chance after the retirement of Samourai Du Thot, with Amande De B’Neville coming into the team. She will be hoping for a better experience than Rio and joins Michael Jung and Sandra Auffarth.

    If they all take their A game, they must have a good chance of gold, but it would be a brave man to bet against Oliver Townend, Tom McEwen and Laura Collett for the Brits if they pull off personal bests.

    You can’t write off the home team. So close to a medal at the 2018 World Equestrian Games, they have been preparing for this for a long time. Australia and New Zealand also have a good chance.

    Lady luck to the fore

    AT this Games, the formbook is probably going to mean nothing. Lady Luck, on the other hand, will be prominent.

    With Covid, nobody has had their perfect preparation. Horses and riders are flying halfway round the world with an eight-hour time difference – and the coolest day in Tokyo is hotter and more humid than the worst days in Hong Kong and Atlanta.

    Movement is completely restricted to the venue and hotel room with only chaperoned travel in between. I wonder what riders will do all day after early morning training, with no sightseeing or travel anywhere.

    This will be one for the mentally strong riders and a challenge to British team trainer Chris Bartle and performance manager Dickie Waygood.

    Then you have the competition – a shorter dressage test, an eight rather than 10-minute cross-country over undulating, twisty, turny terrain and then the all-important showjumping, with a second round for the individual medals.

    With all to count in Olympic eventing teams of three, a simple overreach or lost shoe could put a team out of contention if they were forced to bring in the reserve rider, with 20 penalties for a substitution.

    On top of that riders now have to leave the rails up on the cross-country as we see a plethora of MIM clips, with the yellow clip breaking more easily than its red predecessor.

    More difficult still, riders need to leave the flags up – I’m convinced a medal will get decided on a subjective decision as to whether the shoulder and hip of the horse passed over the fence as originally flagged.

    Up until last week, Tokyo had no fixed camera positions. Now Shelley Page in the US has rustled up some GoPro cameras on tripods so at least all the riders will be videoed from the same static position.

    Lastly, of course with no spectators this will be a very different Olympic experience. Hang on to your four-leaf clover and let’s hope the Brits can create their own special Japanese luck.

    That’s good entertainment

    I WENT to the Alec Lochore-run Barbury Castle last week to watch the latest step in my daughter Zara’s comeback from having a baby. It was strangely bereft of its normal star-studded cast, as most Olympic riders were not risking injury. Of course Andrew Nicholson won on Swallow Springs – how the Kiwis will miss him in Japan.

    Alec’s loop into the water in the main arena while the showjumping was going on was a novel idea, but meant the time was not achievable. However, it was good entertainment for the 1,000 ticket-holders on the Saturday and good to feel we are getting back to something like normal.


    • Which countries do you think will be on the eventing podium in Tokyo? Let us know your predictions by emailing hhletters@futurenet.com, including your name, nearest town and county, for the chance to win a bottle of Champagne Taittinger

    This exclusive column is also available to read in H&H magazine, on sale Thursday 15 July

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