A Big Month for Olympic Hopefuls: Your Primer to the Team Pathways to Paris

Photo by FEI/Christophe Taniere.

We’re getting very close to the one-year countdown to Paris 2024, and whether you were one of the lucky few who somehow managed to get spectators tickets in the bonkers ballot process, or whether you’re planning viewing parties from home next summer, you’ve no doubt started to feel the buzz that comes hand in hand with proximity. We certainly have, and at EN HQ, when we start to feel eventing butterflies, we like to put them to work in the FEI databases. Today, they’re helping us answer an important question – who’s actually going to go to this thang?

First of all, let’s take a look at the nations that have already earned themselves tickets to Paris as a team, and where and how they managed to do so:

  • France. As host nation, they automatically qualify — which will no doubt be some relief after their disappointing trip to the World Championships last year, where they wouldn’t have nabbed a ticket.
  • Germany — qualified at the World Championships for finishing in the top seven (they won gold)
  • USA — qualified at the World Championships for finishing in the top seven (they won silver)
  • New Zealand — qualified at the World Championships for finishing in the top seven (they won bronze)
  • Great Britain — qualified at the World Championships for finishing in the top seven (they finished fourth)
  • Ireland — qualified at the World Championships for finishing in the top seven (they finished fifth)
  • Sweden — qualified at the World Championships for finishing in the top seven (they finished sixth)
  • Switzerland — qualified at the World Championships for finishing in the top seven (they finished seventh)

That puts us at eight qualified teams so far out of an eventual total of 16, which will make up 48 of the 65 available places for competitors at Paris. There will be five further opportunities for nations to gain team qualification for the Olympics (plus a bonus method, which we’ll come back to later!).

The next of these opportunities is coming up fast: this week’s CCI4*-L competition at Poland’s Baborowko International Horse Trials will serve as a qualifier for Group C nations, and the one highest-ranked team at the culmination of competition will book their ticket to France. Group C includes countries from Central and Eastern Europe, and Central Asia, and three countries have entered teams: Poland, who secured team qualification for Tokyo and finished 13th there has six horses and riders entered, from which they’ll pull a team. These entries include Tokyo competitors Jan Kaminski and Jard and Joanna Pawlak and Fantastic Frieda. Hungary has three, and the Czech Republic also has three, including Miloslav Prihoda Jr and Ferreolus LAT, who competed at Tokyo as individuals. Bulgaria has a sole horse and rider combination entered and as such will not take part in this battle of the teams. You can follow along with this weekend’s results here, and stay tuned to EN, as we’ll cover the new addition to the Olympic roster at the end of the competition, too.

The next qualification opportunity follows swiftly after the close of Baborowko. Ireland’s Millstreet International Horse Trials will take place from June 1–4, and will host a qualifier for Groups F and G. Group F consists of Africa and the Middle East, while G covers South East Asia and Oceania. The two highest-placed, as yet unqualified teams in the CCIO3*-L competition will confirm their qualification for Paris. Australia, China, South Africa, Japan, and Thailand will come forward to battle for these qualifications, and we’ve got a pretty beefy line-up fighting for them: Andrew Hoy and Vassily de Lassos, who took individual bronze and team silver in Tokyo, will head up the Aussie team, helped along by fellow team riders Kevin McNab and Shane Rose and Pratoni competitor Shenae Lowings, while Japan will field a seriously experienced line-up in Kazuma Tomoto — himself a fourth-place finisher at Tokyo — Yoshiaki Oiwa, whose Olympic career began in 2008, but was springboarded when he led the dressage at London 2012, and Tokyo team combinations Ryuzo Kitajima and Feroza Nieuwmoed and Toshiyuka Tanaka and Talma d’Allou. Thailand, who made history in Tokyo by debuting their first-ever eventing team, will be helmed by Weerapat Pitakanonda and his Olympic mount Carnival March, and we’ll see team rider Korntawat Samran come forward with Uster de Chanay, with whom he finished in the top 25 at Pratoni. Finally, we’ll see a new face in Supap Khaw-Ngam, who has represented his country at five Asian Games but never at this level, and who brings forward the ten-year-old Nimble van het Eksterhof.

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China and South Africa both also present exciting fronts: China, who also had their team debut at Tokyo, will be led by the very experienced Alex Hua Tian, who pilots his Chatsworth CCI4*-S runner-up Chicko, while Tokyo partnerships Huadong Sun and Lady Chin van’t Moerven Z and Yingfeng Bao and Flandia 2 — both of whom are based with the Netherlands’ Tim Lips — also appear. We’ll also see Ruiji Liang, who was China’s travelling reserve at Tokyo, ride Kiriaantje. South Africa has a tidy team of three: Alex Peternell and Figaro des Premices, Alex Munn and The Spice Merchant, and Storm O’Connor and Barnaboy Peaches N Cream will all fly the flag in this class. New Zealand has four horses and riders entered in this class, though as an already-qualified nation, will pose no threat to the aforementioned five, and Morocco has an individual competitor in Noor Slaoui and Summer Stardust.

So that’s three more of the eventual sixteen teams accounted for, which takes us to eleven – so what of the next five slots? Well, four of these will be decided at regional championships: there’ll be two team tickets up for grabs at this summer’s FEI European Eventing Championships, held at France’s Haras du Pin from August 9–13 (over a course, incidentally, that’ll be designed by Paris course designer Pierre le Gouptil), and two to nab at the Pan-American Games, set to take place from October 26–29 in Santiago, Chile. The two highest-placed, as-yet-unqualified teams will take those places: for the former, held at CCI4*-L, we’ll see teams such as Belgium and the Netherlands fighting to gain the slots they didn’t get for Tokyo, while the latter, held at CCI3*-L, will play out as a battle between the ten teams, nine of which are unqualified, and helmed by two obvious frontrunners in Canada and Brazil.

Dutch National Champions Merel Blom and Ceda at Boekelo in 2019. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Finally, the FEI Nations Cup series will yield one team slot: this will be decided at the end of the finale at Boekelo, October 5–8, and based off the full series leaderboard, rather than the leaderboard for this event. The highest-placed as-yet-unqualified team across the series will take the ticket, and so far this year, we’ve seen several nations pulling out all the stops to earn crucial points at the two legs held thus far. At the moment, things are looking very good for Belgium: they took the win in the first leg, at Italy’s Montelibretti in March, earning themselves a cool 100 points, and their third place at Chatsworth earned them another 80, giving them a 35 point lead over Italy, who now sit on 145 after taking second at Montelibretti and sixth at Chatsworth. Spain sits on 110, while the Dutch are on 115 — so there’s plenty of ground to try to make up at the next leg of the series, which will take place at Ireland’s Millstreet Horse Trials, alongside that Group F and G qualifier. Spain, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Italy will all be among the teams lining up for that competition.

And what of that bonus, extra way of earning a spot? It takes a bit of luck — both good and bad — to make that happen. Once all the team slots have been allocated, each nation will have a deadline to provide a show of competence to the FEI and IOC — basically, that means they’ll need to prove that their country has at least three horses and riders already in possession of the necessary MERs required to compete at the Olympics. Those horses and riders aren’t necessarily the ones they’ll need to send — it’s just a token way of proving that they will be able to send athletes. If they can’t secure those MERs by the deadline, and thus can’t prove themselves competent, they’ll have their team slot taken away and be given an individual slot instead, and their team slot will be reassigned to a ‘composite team‘. That’s basically a fancy way of naming the nation who has the best combined FEI score when an aggregate total is taken from its three best-ranked horses and riders in the world rankings. It doesn’t happen often, but it’s always a possibility when we look at developing eventing nations with team slots in their pockets.

Keep it locked onto EN for plenty more Paris content as we unpack the mysteries of selection, the routes for individual riders to take for qualification, the developments ongoing at Versailles, and much, much more – coming soon! Until then, Go Eventing.

EN’s pre-Paris coverage is brought to you with support from Zoetis Equine.

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