When the Brazilian show jumping squad took the bronze medal at the Sydney Olympics, it was the culmination of many years of planning by team trainer, the legendary Nelson (Neco) Pessoa.
Brussels-based Neco is again training the team for Athens, and three riders have already been picked. They will be spearheaded by the wonderful combination of Neco’s son, Rodrigo, and his great stallion Baloubet Du Rouet, whom Rodrigo has ridden to three World Cup titles.
Bernardo Alvarez, who is based in Brussels with the Pessoas, will ride the Brazilian-owned grey Holsteiner, Canturo. He will be competing at his first Olympic Games
Luciana Diniz will also be making her Olympic debut, after just missing on a place at the Atlanta Olympics. Luciana will ride Mariachi, a son of Jalisco. is married to German rider Andreas Knibling. The couple live in the Osnabruck area at Olympic gold medallist Dirk Hafemeister’s former home, where they run a dealing yard. Luciana juggles competition with looking after her two-year-old twin boys.
The fourth place lies between Alvaro Alfonso de Miranda Neto and Arturo de Silva. Alvaro rode at the 2000 Olympics and his hope this time is the Ukrainian-bred Onyschenko, on whom he has had the ride since January. He is the partner of Greek shipping heiress Athena Onassis, who is also a show jumper. Arturo is married and runs a yard in Switzerland. His prospective ride is the topically named Retsina (a Greek wine), who has Zangersheide Stud bloodlines.
Rodrigo believes that the Athens heat will prove an issue for many show jumpers: “But I am hopeful that it will be a help with Baloubet. He has so much blood that it should calm him down to my advantage.”
Baloubet and Rodrigo were among the favourites for individual glory at Sydney in 2000, but things went wrong in the final competition.
“As Baloubet is 16 years old now, Athens will be his last Olympics. He has four more years’ experience and we have come through an up and down time in the interim. He’s going extremely well this summer and I’m looking forward to Athens,” says Rodrigo.
Baloubet is a horse of true Olympic calibre and his rider must hold a genuine chance of an individual medal.
“But I do prefer the World Cup formula, which rewards consistency. The Olympics very much depend on how your horse is feeling on one day,” says Rodrigo.
“As for the team medals, we have to be realistic. Germany and France will start favourites, but we can think about fighting for the bronze. The United States, Belgium, Holland and Switzerland are those I see as our rivals.”