After passing on his individual Olympic crown to fellow Brit Ben Maher, Nick Skelton slams the new Olympic format after seeing the showjumping action first-hand in Tokyo while supporting his partner, US rider Laura Kraut
BEN MAHER and Explosion W went to the Tokyo Olympic Games as favourites and were great to watch. I know from experience all the emotions Ben must have been going through jumping-off for a gold medal, but he did an outstanding job to take my Olympic crown!
Six is probably too many for a jump-off – I’d have preferred to see three – but for all of them to jump against the clock without knocking a fence down, and it was very big and very fast, was a great achievement. You have to feel for Peder Fredricson finishing second yet again, but you saw what it meant to Maikel van der Vleuten to make it to the Olympic podium. That is what the Games is all about.
The team jump-off was fantastic. My partner Laura Kraut went first for the USA and Henrik von Eckermann couldn’t catch her time, then Malin Baryard-Johnsson was quick and Jessie Springsteen couldn’t beat her, so it was left to McLain Ward versus Peder and the latter’s flyer to the last just clinched it for the Swedish. When a team jumps 16 clears from 18 rounds at an Olympic Games, you have to say they richly deserved to win.
The equestrian venue was second to none – the stables were air-conditioned with rubber flooring throughout, there was a gallop track, lots of arenas and the ground was excellent. It was such a pity not to have spectators in such a huge stadium, but there are so many extra people involved in our sport that the atmosphere was buzzing throughout.
However, the new format was a disaster and the FEI needs to be held responsible for that – no onus for the scenes we saw in Tokyo should be placed on the riders.
I know Shane Sweetnam received a lot of flack on social media for his round, but he was absolutely not at fault – he was only put in that position by the new rules. We could all see what was going to happen after the second jump and it was uncomfortable to watch, but he had to get round or his country lost all chance. On TV that did not look good.
Luckily the horse is going to be OK, but he should never have been put under that kind of pressure. There needs to be a clear rule about ringing the bell in that situation and perhaps there should by a professional rider in the judges’ box helping to make that call.
It threw up problems in the individual, too – under the new format, Big Star and I wouldn’t have got past day one in Rio and how many combinations did we see travel all that way for just 90 seconds in the ring, having picked up unlucky faults in round one? That shouldn’t be allowed to happen.
I’d prefer the format to return to a one-round qualifier on day one followed by two days of team jumping then back to the individual.
Graham Fletcher makes an excellent suggestion in his H&H column about starting with four riders per team but concluding with three.
The unpredictable nature of equestrian sport means you need a team drop score and the riders were strong in voicing their opinions beforehand that this new showjumping format wouldn’t work, that it would come at the detriment of horse welfare, and so it proved.
But the FEI just didn’t listen.
- This exclusive column will also be available to read in H&H magazine, on sale Thursday 12 August
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