William Funnell reflects on Tokyo 2020: ‘Exciting sport and easier to understand’


  • While the showjumping action in Tokyo provided exciting sport that was easier for the public to understand, there are questions about the format that still need to be answered, says William Funnell

    ALL three equestrian disciplines produced a terrific spectacle for the Tokyo Olympics and congratulations must go to British Equestrian performance director Dickie Waygood for pulling it all together – five medals, including two golds, is an outstanding achievement.

    Hats off also to showjumping course-designer Santiago Varela. He built visually interesting courses, which looked spectacular under the lights, and the right combinations reached the podiums.

    It spoke for itself that Ben Maher’s horse Explosion W was able to show his class – he has a much faster car than the rest of us when it comes to a jump-off! But from a British point of view, that result was exactly what we hoped for and it was an unbelievable performance.

    It was gutting for Scott Brash to miss out on the jump-off with just a time-fault, as Britain could have come away with two individual medals. But sometimes these things happen for a reason and he later discovered a minor swelling in Jefferson’s leg – that simple injury could so easily have turned into a career-threatening one had he jumped again.

    Santiago’s only mistake was not making Friday’s team qualifier track a degree easier. All it did was highlight the gulf between the good teams and the also-rans, and a less-demanding opening round could still have made sure the best 10 teams qualified, without us worrying about the horse welfare aspect.

    It was unfortunate to see leading riders like Shane Sweetnam struggling to complete the course, so this new three-to-a-team format certainly needs looking at.

    We were lucky it still made for a great competition, but it would have left a sour taste if the Swedish team hadn’t won as the only ones to jump clear for so much of the competition.

    Running the individual medals before the teams felt like an anti-climax, but it also makes it far tougher on the horses – the Swedish horses did much more jumping than everyone else’s over the week and were up against the relatively fresh legs of the US team in their jump-off. I bet a lot of horses will now be feeling the effects of such a gruelling week.

    The option to swap in horses did work for a lot of teams and brings an interesting aspect to the new format. But in both competitions, consistency has to be rewarded and I’d still rather have seen both Friday and Saturday’s scores counted for a Nations Cup-style team total.

    Interestingly, if each team’s score had been aggregated over two days instead of returning to zero for the final, Sweden would still have won with a total of eight, but Belgium would have beaten USA to silver. The winning team had three solid riders and competitive horses and that strength in depth is where Britain needs to improve.

    The new format with no discard score worked well in many ways – for spectators, it made for exciting sport which was far easier to understand. But it has created welfare issues that we don’t want to see; a tougher competence qualification for the Games would certainly help that.

    It will be interesting to see the feedback from non-equestrians. I also hope that the election to the International Olympic Committee executive board of Kristin Kloster Aasen with her equestrian expertise will help safeguard our sport in Paris, Los Angeles, Brisbane and beyond.

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

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