Saturday 13 August - 20h51 | Lulu Kyriacou/FEI
So Who Will Win The Jumping?
Unusually in Olympic Games history, all three of the previous individual winning combinations have returned to defend their titles four years later. At time of writing, Michael Jung and Sam have reclaimed the eventing gold and Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro are well placed to do the same in the dressage after already winning a team silver. Steve Guerdat and Nino des Buissonettes will start their defence tomorrow as the show jumpers line up for the first qualifying competition.
Olympic show jumping is the sport's highest accolade and the winner is always an outstanding champion. There is no novelty horse swap last round, just five rounds (six if there is a jump off) of enormus fences over four day. If defending champion, Switzerland’s Steve Guerdat, can claim back-to-back individual gold in Rio de Janeiro (BRA) then he will be the very first Jumping athlete to do so in the history of the Olympic Games. Since Belgium’s Aime Haegeman steered Benton ll to victory in Paris (FRA) in 1900, no rider has succeeded in coming back and doing it again, and Guerdat’s achievement would be all the more remarkable for the fact that he will be partnering the horse that carried him to glory at Greenwich Park in London (GBR) four years ago, the enigmatic Nino des Buissonnets.
Guerdat’s individual Jumping gold was the first for Switzerland in 88 years, the previous one claimed by Lt. Alphonse Gemeseus and Lucette in Paris (FRA) in 1924. It was quite a moment for the 30-year-old rider, who was just edged out for the honours in the closing stages of the FEI World Cup™ Jumping Final three months earlier. “But that was an important step to this medal”, he said after claiming the London 2012 title. “He (Nino des Buissonnets) had a big break after the World Cup and just four shows before he came here. I wanted to keep him fresh and confident. I know I have a freak of a horse under me and I knew that if I took time with him it would be easier when he came here (to London).”
Now 34, Guerdat is a veteran of three Olympic Games as he arrives in Rio with the 15-year-old Nino who has been given a well-planned lead-in to the big event once again. Their last major victory together was in the Grand Prix at Geneva (SUI) in December, with the brave and quirky horse otherwise mainly kept under wraps apart from a stunning double-clear in the Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup™ Jumping leg in Rotterdam (NED) in June where the Swiss team finished second.
And Guerdat is in exactly the right frame of mind himself, having secured the prestigious Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping title for the second time in two years at the Final in Gothenburg, Sweden in March but there are a stack of outstanding talents ready to stop his double Olympic dream.
The formidable challengers
Possibly the most fancied to take the individual gold is America's McLain Ward who is mounted on the super special Azur. The mare has barely touched a pole since being introduced to five star competition and if any horse is consistent enough to jump five rounds of 1.60m fence clean, surely it is she. But this will be the mare's first big championship so perhaps the slight lack of experience will tell. If it is experience that is needed, then look no further than Britain's John Whitaker, who is heading for his sixth Games, riding another mare, Ornellaia. With good Grand Prix form behind her this year and a master in the saddle, he must be on the short list. The British are the defending team gold medallists and their squad also includes 2012 medallists Nick Skelton and Big Star. While no one is in any doubt about their talent and experience, the horse has not had the idea preparation in the last year having had some time off, but is sure to be up there on all recent form.
2008 winner Eric Lamaze has been winning classes on his ride for these games, Fine Lady and cannot be ignored. Neither can any of the German quartet. The French have been dealt a blow with the withdrawal of World Number One Simon Delestre but they do have Penelope Leprevost riding the formidable Flora de Mariposa who must be a contender for individual honours. Talking of the ladies, so must Portugal's Luciana Diniz wit another mare, the marvelous Fit For Fun current Global Champions Tour title holder. Other formidable ladies must be Australia's Edwina Tops Alexander (Lintea Tequila) and America's Beezie Madden with Cortex C. Things have not gone quite the way the Dutch might hope in other disciplines but they are the current World and European champions in show jumping both in the team and individual catagories. World Champion Jeroen Dubbledam (Zenith) and Harrie Smolders (Emerald) must also be individual fancies here.
The Dutch have decided to leave 2012 silver medallists Gerco Schroder and London as reserves and this may well be their undoing as the chestnut is a superstar horse capable of jumping anything and lasting for the entire five day marathon which potentially one or two of their other squad members might not but only a fool would ignore the Dutch. The British have made some changes to their 2012 winning side, not least of which is that Ben Maher's 2012 ride is now on the Canadian team! Tripple X is now the ride of Tifffany Foster in a very strong side from that nation. The American's metioned above are joined by Kent Farringdon and Lucy Davis both of whom have proven able to beat the best in Europe but looking at the list, it is the German side that everyone needs to beat.
When you can afford to leave Meredith Michaels Beerbaum and Fibonacci as reserve, the others must be outstanding. Ludger Beerbaum, Christian Ahlmann, Daniel Deusser and Marcus Ehning have won almost every title available between them, most more than once. They are the team to beat and add to Germany's already admirable 2016 medal collection. So we will predict Germany, USA and The Netherlands to stand on the podium but there might be a surprise yet! Remember the Saudi team in London!!