The Pathway To Paris: Who’s Qualified, What’s Next, And Can Anyone Sneak a Team in Now?

Photo courtesy of the FEI/Christophe Taniére

With the international season behind us, we now know the full roster of teams qualified for the eventing at next year’s Paris Olympic Games. But until the close of the year, this isn’t actually set in stone – and although the chance for change at this late stage is slim, there’s still some opportunity for wiggle room in the final line-up that’ll come forward at Versailles.

The sixteen qualified teams, as they stand at the moment, are as follows:

  • FRANCE – automatically qualified as host nation
  • GERMANY – qualified at the 2022 World Championships, where they won gold (Championship level – CCI4*L cross-country with CCI5* dressage and showjumping)
  • USA – qualified at the 2022 World Championships, where they won silver (Championship level – CCI4*L cross-country with CCI5* dressage and showjumping)
  • NEW ZEALAND – qualified at the 2022 World Championships, where they won bronze (Championship level – CCI4*L cross-country with CCI5* dressage and showjumping)
  • GREAT BRITAIN – qualified at the 2022 World Championships, where they finished fourth (Championship level – CCI4*L cross-country with CCI5* dressage and showjumping)
  • IRELAND – qualified at the 2022 World Championships, where they finished fifth (Championship level – CCI4*L cross-country with CCI5* dressage and showjumping)
  • SWEDEN – qualified at the 2022 World Championships, where they finished sixth (Championship level – CCI4*L cross-country with CCI5* dressage and showjumping)
  • SWITZERLAND – qualified at the 2022 World Championships, where they finished seventh (Championship level – CCI4*L cross-country with CCI5* dressage and showjumping)
  • POLAND – qualified in a Group C qualifier at Baborowko in May (CCI4*-L)
  • AUSTRALIA – qualified in a Groups F & G qualifier at Millstreet in June (CCI3*-L)
  • JAPAN – qualified in a Groups F & G qualifier at Millstreet in June, though only claimed their ticket last month after the disqualification of China, who originally earned the spot (CCI3*-L)
  • BELGIUM – qualified at the 2023 FEI European Eventing Championships in Haras du Pin (CCI4*-L)
  • THE NETHERLANDS – qualified at the 2023 FEI European Eventing Championships in Haras du Pin (CCI4*-L)
  • ITALY – qualified at the FEI Nations Cup finale at Boekelo for being the highest-placed unqualified team on the series standing (CCI4*-S/CCI4*-L)
  • CANADA – qualified at the 2023 Pan American Games in Santiago (CCI3*-L)
  • BRAZIL – qualified at the 2023 Pan American Games in Santiago (CCI3*-L)

Notable in the above list is the late substitution of Japan for China – a case in point that nothing is set in stone until the final paperwork is stamped. That eleventh hour celebration for Japan, who were our last Olympic hosts, came after the elimination of leading Chinese rider Alex Hua Tian, whose mount, Chicko, was retroactively eliminated from the competition after testing positive for trace amounts of altrenogest, thus pushing China, who fielded their first-ever eventing team at the Tokyo Olympics, to fourth place at Millstreet and out of contention for the Olympics.

But swapping teams doesn’t always come at such a high cost – and, realistically, doesn’t often happen at all. Now, each qualified nation has until the 8th of January, 2024, to confirm an NOC Certificate of Capability with the FEI, which effectively serves as proof that, when the Games roll around next year, the nation will have enough depth and breadth to be able to field three qualified combinations. For now, they just have to submit a list of at least three horse-and-rider combinations who are already sufficiently qualified — and these combinations don’t have to be the ones that end up going to the Games, they can just be any three combinations, as long as they’re qualified by December 31st of this year. Qualifications can be gained at either a CCI5*, or a CCI4*-S and a CCI4*-L, and require:

  • a dressage score of no higher than 45 penalties
  • a clear round or a maximum of 11 jumping penalties across the country, plus not more than 75 seconds on the clock at four-star or 100 seconds at five-star (that’s 30 time penalties and 40 time penalties, respectively)
  • no more than 16 jumping penalties in showjumping

For the majority of nations, this is a mere formality; a deadline that won’t cause any stress beyond ensuring that the list has actually made it to the FEI. Hosts France, for example, have a huge swathe of sufficiently qualified four-star combinations to pull from; likewise Germany, the USA, the Brits, and many more of the qualified nations have a large pool of contenders to pull from.

But for smaller, developing eventing nations, this can be a slightly more Herculean task – though one that, generally speaking, tends to be pulled off by hook or by crook. Ahead of the Tokyo Olympics, China and Thailand both needed to make good on a mid-November trip to Pratoni in Italy to secure some much-needed CCI4*-L results, and both, with the pressure ramped to 100, managed it, earning themselves that coveted trio of qualified combinations apiece and booking their ticket to the Olympics.

And if they don’t? It goes down to a system called composite teams. If a nation hasn’t, or cannot, submit their Certificate of Capability by January 8, or declines their team place by February 5, they’ll be granted an individual place instead and their team spot will go to the unqualified nation that has the best aggregate score on the Olympic rankings. That’s an individual ranking board, so the aggregate score is taken by adding together the ranking of the three best-placed riders for each unqualified nation. The lowest number gets the spot – and if that were to happen in this cycle, we’d see Spain be granted a team spot. They sit on an aggregate score of 643, miles ahead of any of their nearest competition – but they, too, would need to prove that they had three qualified combinations by December 31st of this year. If they couldn’t do that (they can, for what it’s worth), the composite team would be offered to the next highest-placed team on the composite rankings – in this case, China.

There are three countries on this cycle’s list of qualified teams that look, at first glance, as though the Certificate of Capability might be tricky for them. That’s Poland, who fielded a team at Tokyo but have just 104 riders globally registered to compete in eventing with the FEI — a significant number of which are riding at 3* and below — and Brazil, who, likewise, came forward at Tokyo but have just 26 FEI-registered event riders across the levels, and finally, Japan, who are extraordinarily high flyers in the world of upper-level eventing despite having just 20 FEI-registered event riders worldwide.

Poland’s Malgorzata Korycka and Canvalencia. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

The State of the Nation: Poland

Poland, notably, has ‘lost’ a couple of its prominent riders since the last Olympic cycle: Pawel Spisak, best known for his partnership with the excellent Banderas, hasn’t been seen at the top level since Tokyo, where the pair were eliminated at the first horse inspection, and since then, Banderas has been competed twice by Pawel’s longtime mentor Michael Jung. University student Malgorzata Cybulska, who was part of the nation’s Tokyo team, hasn’t competed internationally since that Olympic debut.

But — perhaps against the odds — the Polish team is safe, though just. They have four combinations who picked up qualifying results between January 1 of this year and now: Julia Gillmaier and Red Dream Princes, who finished ninth in both the CCI4*-S and CCI4*-L at Strzegom in September and October, respectively; 24-year-old former Polish Junior team member Wiktoria Knap and Quintus 134, who were seventh in Sopot’s CCI4*-S in April and fifth in the CCI4*-L Olympic qualifier at Baborowko in May; Malgorzata Korycka and Canvalencia, who rode as individuals at last year’s World Championships and picked up qualifying results in the CCI4*-S at Strzegom in March and the Olympic qualifier CCI4*-L at Baborowko in May; and former Young Rider and Senior Europeans competitor Pawel Warszawski, who qualified Lucinda Ex Ani with a number of eligible CCI4*-S results this year and the CCI4*-L clincher at Baborowko in May.

Marcio Carvalho Jorge and Castle Howard Casanova. Photo by Shannon Brinkman Photography.

The State of the Nation: Brazil

Brazil’s footing here is on slightly shakier ground, not least because we’ve not seen the excellent Goliath since he competed at the World Championships with Carlos Parro, which means that the British-based rider hasn’t been able to get out at the required levels this season. But they do still have three riders qualified, and one with multiple horses. That’s Marcio Carvalho Jorge, who ticked the boxes with eight-year-old Royal Encounter at Sopot’s CCI4*-S and Boekelo’s CCIO4*-L, with World Championships ride Kilcoltrim Kit Kat at Sopot CCI4*-L in May and Lisgarvan CCI4*-S in August, and with Pan Ams individual silver and team bronze medallist Castle Howard Casanova at the same events as Kilcoltrim Kit Kat.

He’s backed up by British-based Ruy Fonseca, who’s been exclusively competing at FEI events with Ballypatrick SRS over the last couple of seasons, and who earned his qualifying results at Mallow CCI4*-L in July and Strzegom CCI4*-S in September, and 26-year-old Rafael Mamprin Losano, who qualified his Tokyo mount, Fuiloda G, at Strzegom’s September and October CCI4*-S and CCI4*-L, respectively, after bringing the horse back in August from a period of time out that began after Tokyo in 2021.

Kazuma Tomoto and Vinci de la Vigne. Photo by Shannon Brinkman Photography.

The State of the Nation: Japan

For many, if not most, nations, funding for athletes — whether that’s used to buy competitive horses, travel to competitions, or train intensively — is based on Olympic participation, and though we can only really speculate on how Japan’s funding situation changed after they initially failed to qualify for Tokyo at the F&G qualifier at Millstreet, we can be reasonably confident in suggesting that many of the opportunities that had been presented to these riders ahead of Tokyo, where they hoped to win a home medal and spent voraciously on horses in pursuit of this goal, where thin on the ground throughout much of this season. Because Japan hadn’t really put their hat in the ring for the Nations Cup series, their chances to qualify as a team were nonexistent after Millstreet in June; after all, no one can predict a situation like the one they found themselves in, nor would anyone wish that on their competitors.

The relevance of this becomes clear when you peruse the results of the very talented Japanese contingent, the foremost of which have all been based in Europe over the last couple of Olympic cycles. Yoshiaki Oiwa, who led the dressage at the London Olympics and has been a huge presence on the European scene, has had a tricky season and appears to be struggling with horsepower; as such, he can’t be counted for Japan’s Certificate of Capability.

Fortunately, there are three men who’ve managed it for their nation, despite all finishing their seasons in September. Chief among them is  Toshiyuki Tanaka, who’s based with trainer and FEI ground jury member Angela Tucker in Gloucestershire, and who clinched qualifying results at Blair Castle CCI4*-L and Hartpury and Mallow’s CCI4*-S classes with former Chris Burton and Bubby Upton ride Jefferson JRA, purchased at the start of the year for the rider, and Tokyo mount Talma d’Allou. Then there’s William Fox-Pitt’s protégé Kazuma Tomoto, who finished fourth individually at Tokyo and qualified the same horse, the former Astier Nicolas ride Vinci de la Vigne JRA, at the Group Qualifier CCI4*-L at Millstreet and picked up qualifying CCI4*-S results at Lisgarvan and Little Downham, where he finished second and first, respectively. Finally, Ryuzo Kitajima got it done with his sole remaining FEI horse — World Champs mount Cekatinka JRA hasn’t been out since withdrawing after cross-country at Pratoni — pulling out qualifying results in the CCI4*-S classes at Chatsworth, Mallow, and Little Downham, and in the CCI4*-L at Blair.

It would certainly have been a whirlwind of consecutive plot twists had China taken their team spot back from Japan on the composite system – but for now, unless something truly bonkers happens in the next few weeks, it looks enormously unlikely. This is the Olympics, though, and all sorts of unforeseen things can happen, so keep it locked on EN for updates as each milestone deadline is hit – and tune back in soon for a look at how individual places are likely to be allocated, and for a full refresher on the three-to-a-team-with-substitutes format we’ll be diving back into in Paris. À tout à l’heure, horse nerds.

Follow along with all of EN’s coverage of the Olympics here.

EN’s pre-coverage of the Paris Olympics in 2024 is brought to you with support from Zoetis — Long Live the Horse.

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