Raise a glass, chaps – we’ve officially made it to another Olympic year! But what’s actually been happening since we last checked in on the trail to Tokyo?
The closing of 2019 brought with it some crucial deadlines on the Tokyo timeline – notably, the final step in the qualification process for eligible teams and individuals. We wrote in depth about the Certificate of Capability (or COC) required for qualified teams – to refresh your memory, check out the full story. Want a bite-sized recap? Basically, each of the teams who had earned tickets to Tokyo had until the 31st of December to get three horse-and-rider combinations qualified, using results from 2018’s World Equestrian Games through to the deadline, and following the standard Olympic Minimum Eligibility Requirements. These three combinations wouldn’t necessarily be the three named to the team, but by finishing the year with three eligible combinations, they would prove to the FEI and the IOC that they were capable of fielding a full team when Tokyo came around. In essence, it was a way of proving strength in depth.
A Refresher: the Qualified Teams and How They Qualified
- Japan – automatically qualifies as the host nation
- Great Britain – WEG 2018
- Ireland – WEG 2018
- France – WEG 2018
- Germany – WEG 2018
- Australia – WEG 2018
- New Zealand – WEG 2018
- Poland – Special Qualifier for Group C (Central, Eastern Europe and Central Asia) at Baborówko
- China – Special Qualifier for Groups F and G (Africa, the Middle East, South-East Asia, and Oceania) at Saumur
- Thailand – Special Qualifier for Groups F and G (Africa, the Middle East, South-East Asia, and Oceania) at Saumur
- United States – the Pan-American Games 2019
- Brazil – the Pan-American Games 2019
- Sweden – the FEI European Championships 2019
- Italy – the FEI European Championships 2019
- Switzerland – the FEI Nations Cup 2019
Most of the qualified teams walked this requirement – for the eventing superpowers of the world, finding three combinations who have ticked the requisite boxes isn’t hard. The MERs are straightforward enough, after all:
- Qualification must be achieved as a combination
- Combinations must achieve an MER at both a CCI4*-S and a CCI4*-L, or they can achieve a standalone MER at CCI5*-L
- An MER, or qualifying result, must include a dressage score of 55% or better (penalty score 45 or below), a clear cross-country round with 30 or fewer time penalties (if at four-star) or 40 or fewer time penalties if at five-star, and a showjumping round with 16 or fewer jumping penalties
- The combination can knock one frangible, earning 11 penalties, and still use the result as an MER. A second 11 penalties, a 15, or a 20 will render the result invalid for qualifying purposes
The World Equestrian Games in Tryon counts as a CCI5*-L for qualification purposes, and so we saw many of the obvious candidates earn their COC qualification there. But a small handful of teams – notably, those who had qualified through CCI3*-L competition – would have their work cut out for them in the latter stages of the season to ensure they kept their qualification. The final European CCI4*-L of the year at Pratoni del Vivaro, Italy, was a crucial competition on the trail to Tokyo, and representatives from all three vulnerable teams – China, Thailand, and Brazil – would come forward. Here’s how it played out:
- Sun Huadong spent much of his 2019 season aiming for qualification with Lady Chin V’T Moerven Z, with whom he helped the team to earn their ticket at Saumur. After nailing down their CCI4*-S result at Strzegom in April, they suffered two aborted attempts to earn a CCI4*-L result, and Sun took on trainer Tim Lips’ Brent in a bid to close out the season with an MER. Ultimately, though, he would bring the former to Pratoni – and the choice would pay off. They finished 20th, delivering a dressage score of 35.8, a clear cross-country with 26.8 time penalties, and a four-faulter showjumping with an additional 3.6 time penalties. It’s a narrow qualification – if they’d exceeded 30 time penalties across the country, they wouldn’t have nabbed it – but it’s a classic case of slow and steady winning the race. China, who only needed one more combination to qualify, could breathe easy – but they weren’t done yet.
- Yingfeng Bao has had something of a tumultuous season with Teseo, the former Andrew Nicholson ride with whom he’s been working to build up a partnership. We’ve seen a smattering of non-completions from the duo, who only picked up their CCI4*-S result last month at Montelibretti, but at Pratoni the pieces fell into place, and they finished 17th, earning a dressage score of 34.4, 17.2 time penalties across the country, and two rails partnered with four time penalties over the poles. Now, China boasts four qualified combinations, and will send their first-ever eventing team to Tokyo.
- Talk about riding with the weight of the world – or, at least, your home nation – on your shoulders. Arinadtha Chavatanont and Boleybawn Prince were Thailand’s last hope for fulfilling the Certificate of Capability, but after a fall in their CCI4*-L attempt at Strzegom last month, the pressure was on. Would the horse be fit and ready to run? Would they be able to leave their demons in the start box and make it happen, despite Arinadtha having no prior experience at the level? They could. The combination, who are based with France’s Maxime Livio, finished 11th after adding just 12.4 cross-country time penalties to their dressage score of 36, ensuring that their flag would join China’s in making Olympic history.
- Brazil had some work to do after some nearly moments through the year, but up-and-comer Rafael Mamprin Losano and Fuiloda G got the job done, finishing 13th after posting a 32.5 dressage and adding 17.2 time penalties across the country. They add this result to their CCI4*-S coup at Montelibretti last month, where they finished third. Now, Brazil can add Rafael, who was Sir Mark Todd’s second rider before the Kiwi retired from eventing, to a list that includes Marcelo Tosi and Glenfly (qualifying results collected at WEG and Kentucky CCI5*) and Marcio Carvalho Jorge and Coronel MCJ, who qualified at the WEG. The only spanner in the works now? Coronel MCJ has been sold on – and the FEI will need to decide whether the qualifying result is still valid for the Certificate of Capability, which aims to prove that a country has sufficient breadth and depth to make use of their team ticket. Brazil would have hoped for a qualifying result from Carlos Parro and Calcourt Landline to afford them a buffer, but the pair withdrew after cross-country.
So what does this mean? Well, for Thailand and China, it’s straightforward – both teams will file their COC and breathe easily. But for Brazil, the matter is a little more complicated. Both the FEI and IOC are very strict about nationality and ownership where official Olympic entries are concerned – but will they be slightly more lenient about fulfilling the quota for the COC? That’s on them to decide, and they have until the 10th of January to do so. On this date, they’ll contact each of the eligible nations and inform them of their allocated place. These teams will then have until the 3rd of February to confirm their spot. If Brazil hasn’t earned their place, they’ll forfeit their ticket to Belarus, who have the second best aggregate score of the non-qualified nations in the Olympic rankings (Russia has the first, but is ineligible to take the ticket), receiving an individual spot in its place.
What’s the Deal with Individuals?
Although much has changed about the forthcoming Games in terms of team formats – we’re looking at a three-person team with substitutions possible, as we saw at Boekelo – one thing that remains the same is the provision for individual competitors. There are 20 individual places available, all of which will be awarded to nations that aren’t participating in the team competition. These slots will be formally awarded after the February 3rd deadline for team confirmation, and must be officially confirmed by the 16th of March, so all we can do for now is speculate – but here’s how it’s looking.
Assuming Brazil keeps its team spot and doesn’t take an individual place in its stead, the first 14 individual places will be awarded by region. The Olympic rankings are split into seven regional zones, each of which will be eligible for two individual spots – these will be decided by the horse-and-rider combinations who are best ranked within those regions. Those combinations will earn a place for their country – it’s crucial to note that they don’t necessarily earn the spot for themselves. Ultimately, that decision will come down to each national federation.
This is how it breaks down at the moment:
A – North Western Europe: Tim Lips and Bayro top the bill for unqualified nations in Region A, so they earn the Netherlands an individual spot. Tim Lips also sits second on this list with Eclips – but an athlete can only earn one place for his nation, so it skips him and goes down to the third best-ranked horse-and-rider combination from an unqualified nation. That’s Merel Blom and Ceda – so both of the Region A individual places will go to the Netherlands.
B – South Western Europe: Karin Donckers and Fletcha Van’t Verahof top the list of unqualified NOC athletes for this region, which means that Belgium takes an individual slot. (No, we don’t know why Belgium counts as Region B and not Region A either.) The second spot would go to Spain, earned by Francisco Gaviño Gonzalez and Source de la Faye.
C – Central & Eastern Europe and Central Asia: Assuming all the teams stay as they are, we’ll be looking at a Russian clean sweep here – Alexandr Markov and Leader top the bill, followed by Valery Martyshev and Primero. Of course, Russia has been banned from competing in Tokyo due to their ongoing doping scandal – but athletes will be allowed to compete under a neutral flag if they have a clean sheet, and so these two spots would effectively be taken up by the Olympic flag, as we’ve seen in similar situations in the past.
D – North America: The USA takes a team spot, so there’s two countries left in Region D to battle it out – but Mexico, unfortunately, falls short. Canada will take two individual spots, earned by Karl Slezak and Fernhill Wishes and Colleen Loach and Qorry Blue d’Argouges.
E – Central and South America: Chile leads the way for this individual slot, with Carlos Lobos Muñoz and Ranco sitting atop the list of athletes from unqualified nations. Puerto Rico takes slot two, with Lauren Billys and Castle Larchfield Purdy sitting second.
F – Africa and the Middle East: Victoria Scott-Legendre and Song du Magay top the bill for Region F, earning South Africa an individual place. The second goes to Pakistan, thanks to Usman Khan and Azad Kashmir. (see notes below)
G – South-East Asia and Oceania: India will take a spot as the result of solid efforts by Fouaad Mirza and Fernhill Facetime, while Thomas Heffernan Ho and Tayberry take the second for Hong Kong. (see notes below)
After the allocation of these places, the final six are awarded based on the full, unsegregated Olympic ranking list. A nation can field a maximum of two individual athletes, and so we’ll be skipping the Netherlands, Russia, Canada, and of course all the nations sending teams. At the moment, the final six looks like this:
- Miloslav Prihoda Jr and Ferreolus Lat earn a place for the Czech Republic
- Alexander Zelenko and Carlo Grande Jr earn a place for Belarus
- Aliaksandr Faminou and Martinie earn a second place for Belarus
- Peter Flarup and Fascination earn a place for Denmark
- Miroslav Trunda and Shutterflyke earn a second place for the Czech Republic
- Lea Siegl and Fighting Line earn a place for Austria
Phew. Everyone still aboard the school bus? Good. Now, it’s important that we remind you again that these are not the final allocations – this is all conjecture. A number of factors will come into play when these spots are formally decided – there’s the team kerfuffle to work out, first of all, and the fact that the Olympic Rankings are currently only updated to the end of November, whereas results to the end of December will count. That shouldn’t make a huge difference – the three events that could impact this take place in Australia, New Zealand, and Argentina – but it could do. Finally – and perhaps most crucially – an individual place will only be awarded to a nation with at least one horse-and-rider combination meeting the MER as outlined above by the December 31st deadline. This will affect those Region F and G qualifications: South Africa doesn’t have a qualified combination, and nor does the only remaining country on the rankings list, Zimbabwe. That individual slot would then go into the full Olympic ranking list, going to Austria via Rebecca Gerold and Shannon Queen. We’ll see the same again in Region G, where India doesn’t have an eligible athlete and the rankings list stops short – this spot would hypothetically go to Ecuador via Nicolas Wettstein and Meyer’s Happy.
Nothing like having your brain fried on a Saturday morning, eh? We’ll be bringing you more Olympic debriefs over the coming weeks, including a look into heat-busting methods, a list of crucial dates for your nerdy calendars, and further speculation on what we could see this summer. Until then – Go Tokyo, and Go Eventing!