Poplar Place and the Olympic Three-Day Scheduling Battle

I have been meaning to write this article for a while and I apologize in advance that my schedule this evening doesn’t give me time to do it justice.  But, the Chronicle’s mention this evening that Poplar Place is hosting a CIC3* at their February 4th to 5th horse trials less than a month from today deserves an explanation that leads us to a situation so complicated that only a certain for-profit organization governing equestrian sport can be behind it. 

At some point, with seemingly little thought, the FEI decided to make March 1st, 2012 the deadline for earning the individual nation spots for the Olympics.  Let’s take two steps back.  Up to 75 pairs will ride in the eventing competition at the Olympics.  Of those 75 spots, 55 have been allocated based on team qualifications.  Here’s the list of the nations who qualified teams and therefore have a guaranteed 5 Olympic spots:

Great Britain (the host nation automatically gets a team)
United States (WEG)
Canada (WEG)
Germany (WEG)
New Zealand (WEG)
Belgium (WEG)
France (European Championships)
Sweden (European Championships)
Japan (Blenheim)
Brazil (Pan Ams)
Argentina (Pan Ams)

The fact that Brazil and Argentina have 5 spots each from placing well at a 2* is a completely different issue that I won’t get into other than to say it is ridiculous.  Back to the situation at hand.  There are 20 remaining Olympic nation spots (that’s 75-55, Coren).  The FEI’s version of planet Earth is divided into 7 regions.  Each of those regions is given one automatic qualifier for the highest FEI Olympic point earner in that region. The FEI Olympic points are defined by the 5 best results from March 1st 2011 to March 1st 2012 in CCI/CH3*, CIC3*, and 4* competitions. 

To be clear, the March 1st deadline has nothing to do with individual Olympic qualification (that deadline is in June of 2012).  The March deadline is only for each nation to earn the number of spots they have for the Olympics.  To make things more complicated, even though the rider earns the spot for their nation, the nation gets to assign that spot to whomever they want for the Olympics.  This goes for all of the Olympic nation spots earned.

So, we are down to 13 spots not spoken for (20-7).  Australia will most likely get 4 of those spots because they missed out on a team qualifier at Blenheim (note that Australia will almost certainly get their regional spot as well).  And then there were 9.  Those 9 will go to the individuals with the top FEI points, who are from nations that do not already have 5 spots.  Those 9 sports are precious, more than precious enough to make nations create CIC and CCI three-stars out of thin air.   

Italy is in a precarious position without a team spot and with poor current positioning in the individual points–their highest placed rider is 23 spots back in the individual rankings.  As a result, the Italians added a CCI3* at Montelibretti at the end of February with the sole purpose of giving their riders extra FEI points.  This threatened Ireland, which is in a much better position to get multiple riders to the Games out of the 9 remaining spots.  The Irish responded by making their own CCI3* and CIC3* at Ballindenisk in Cork, Ireland.  Spain is also hosting two CIC’s before the March 1st deadline, as is Argentina, and Russia is looking to continue their age-old tradition of backing into a spot by hosting an event and starting 50 horses in the dressage who then withdraw before the XC but not before the few riders who do finish are on pace to score massive numbers of FEI points.

Which brings us to Poplar Place.  Both CIC3* and CCI3* competitions count towards the FEI points.  To maximize their FEI points, riders should do an early February CIC3* and then target either the Irish or Italian CCI3*.  It’s a classic arms race scenario where if one rider or country tries to force three-days in before March then everyone else must do so to keep up.  Ronald Zabala-Goetschel and Nina Ligon are two US based riders who come to mind as being involved in the race for those final individual qualifications (Ronald is racing for his region’s individual spot).  February is of course very early in the year to be doing three-days, but that is the position riders and countries are put in by the FEI’s March 1st deadline. 

In the Chronicle article linked above, Poplar’s organizer Donna Stegman says that she hopes to have 8-12 riders in the CIC3* and I would guess there will be at least a few riders who will jump at the chance to get their coveted CIC3* qualifier at Poplar rather than the always menacing Red Hills and The Fork combination. 

[Poplar Place Omnibus Page, FEI Olympic Rider Rankings]    

That’s an hour of my Friday night and 5 minutes of your Friday night that we’ll never get back.  Now I’m going to throw down the microphone and walk off the stage.

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