There was an edge-of-the-seat start to jumping at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, with fluctuating fortunes in the opening first Individual competition. Only 30 of the 73 starters could qualify for tomorrow’s Individual medal-decider. However, with many horses finding the atmosphere electrifying and the fabulous course of fences more than mesmerising, even the best of the best admitted that the 14-fence challenge was a big one. Santiago Varela’s course was full of colour and creativity and very spectacular, and he gave them plenty to jump to.
Switzerland’s Martin Fuchs partnered with his superstar Clooney who carried him to individual glory at the European Championships in Rotterdam two years ago. However, he still found today’s opening competition a big test. “The course itself wasn’t super tricky, but what makes it difficult is that it’s the Olympic Games; the pressure is there. Clooney feels the pressure, and I feel it. So the rideability wasn’t as it should have been. But usually, he gets better from day to day, and I think now we have the most difficult round of the week behind us,” Fuchs said.
The was a big roar of approval when Japan’s Daisuke Fukushima produced the first clear of the competition when seventh to go with Chanyon. The host nation was hugely impressive when all three of their riders made the cut to tomorrow’s individual showdown. Other nations that also have three riders are Belgium, Great Britain, Ireland and Sweden. While Swiss compatriot Beat Mandli will join Fuchs, Egypt and The Netherlands will also have two representatives.
Britain’s Ben Maher produced the fastest round of the night with Explosion W, so has the best of the draw tomorrow. “We’ve been waiting a long time, and we’ve been edgy to get going. It was a big enough course, and a lot of horses are a little bit spooky. I don’t know whether it’s the new jumps or the lights, and I felt that with him. This is my most nervous round of the week. He’s a horse that improves as the rounds go on, so he had a little look today, but he’s naturally a fast horse, and he did everything he needed to do,” Maher said.
The Second-fastest of the night was Ireland’s Darragh Kenny riding Cartello. “Not a lot of people know the horse; this is only my sixth FEI show with him; I’ve only had him since May,” Kenny pointed out. “He was with Irish riders before, so he was in Irish ownership for the Olympics. Cormac Hanley and Lorcan Gallagher rode him, and they both had great success with him. So he’s been a good horse for everybody. He jumped great in Rome (ITA) and Madrid (ESP) over the last couple of months, but this week will be a big ask. But he feels up to it, and we’ve had a great start,” he added.
There were four eliminations and four retirements during the competition, with the turn to the white vertical at fence 10 proving costly for several riders, the large Sumo Wrestler holding up the left-hand wing possibly something of a distraction here. Penelope Leprevost, a member of the gold medal-winning French team at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, was one of its victims when Vancouver de Lanlore had a run-out. “I was trying to relax the horse on the turn, and he was maybe surprised when he found himself so close to the vertical,” she said.
The only French rider through tomorrow is Nicolas Delmotte with Urvoso du Roch, but for Team USA, tonight was a bit of a shock. Jessica Springsteen, Kent Farrington, and Laura Kraut were expected to be major players at these Games, but none of them have qualified for tomorrow’s next stage of the Individual competition.
Photo by Hippo Foto