Although Irish show jumping’s management team has been going through a turbulent time recently, the Athens squad is a strong one, despite some of the country’s top names missing the cut.
Core squad member Kevin Babington (pictured), 35, has long been considered Ireland’s most likely Olympic medal contender. He moved from Co Tipperary to the US, aged 19, to work for John Madden, then Frank and Mary Chapot.
His career took off when he partnered the brilliant Carling King, a son of Clover Hill owned by Sally Glassmann. Riding Carling King, he won the grand prix at La Baule, but is yet to hit top form in this year’s Super League team series.
Dublin-born Co Meath-based Cian O’Connor, a protégé of Lt Col Gerry Mullins, heads the younger generation of Irish show jumpers. Just 24, he is a veteran of 37 Nations Cups. He and Waterford Crystal earned the 2002 Samsung Leading Rider and Horse awards.
German-based Jessica Kurten, 34, is partnering the relatively inexperienced 10-year-old Quibell, but the 2001 European team gold medalist has a strong claim. Quibell was out through injury from August to November 2003 but returned to win the German ladies’ masters. This season, she put in solid performances in Lucerne, Rome and La Baule. She also has Castle Forbes Maike as an alternative horse.
Marion Hughes, 36, rides the stallion Heritage Fortunus. She has trained with Nelson Pessoa and scored a Queen’s Cup double at Hickstead on her home-bred mare Flo Jo. She was 10th in the 1999 European Championships with another home-bred horse, Charlton.
The 11-year-old Heritage Fortunus was thrown in the deep end at Lucerne and Rotterdam, but horse and rider showed that they have what it takes, with just a single error on both occasions.
Top Irish riders who have missed out on Olympic selection on this occasion include Billy Twomey, whose top horse Luidam has been out of action following a hobday operation, and long-standing team member Peter Charles.