Since Ireland’s first bid at London back in 1948, we have made 10 attempts at winning an elusive team Olympic show jumping medal and have failed.
“Could this be our year?” I asked the always ebullient and optimistic Irish show jumping high performance manager, Michael Blake.
“I do not want to overstate our prospects,” the Clare native told me. “But we have a squad of excellent riders and very good horses that are young enough. We have prepared well and left some petrol in the tank. Keeping fit and focused during a 14-day quarantine will be crucial.”
Interestingly, he went on to note that had there not been a years delay in running the Games our side of 2020 would have travelled as favourites.
“We won the Nations Cup Final in Barcelona with a superb team of horses that are not now available for selection. However, in the meantime, we have come up with three new ones in Kilkenny for Cian O’Connor, Pacino Amiro for Bertram Allen and Cartello for Darragh Kenny that will be competitive along with Shane Sweetnam’s mare Karlin. Would you believe it that at Wellington, Florida, this year I had 33 Irish combinations to look at in FEI competitions – many of them in the world top 50.”
Michael went on to detail the difficulty of getting in practice during this year when so many shows were cancelled.
“I totally disagree with the early decision to drop international jumping from Dublin. Show jumping needed this one which is among the greatest shows in the world.
“But our main problem was the FEI rule for Europe’s division one teams which allocated just four shows to each country. Three of our four were cancelled. So I made strong representation to the FEI that any division one team should be allowed jump at any division one show that was running. As a result we got to compete not only at Rome, but also St Gallen, La Baule, Sapot and Rotterdam.”
Not all of the top contenders have been so lucky. Journalist Louise Parkes, who also travels to Tokyo as an FEI reporter, recently noted in a podcast:“The lack of opportunities to compete at 5*level in the run up to the Games during this COVID-19 year has upended the form book. This could result in some very unpredictable results.”
Perhaps Michael Blake’s battle for better preparation at the top level of the sport could bear results.