Next year’s Tokyo Olympics will see changes in all three equestrian disciplines, with teams reduced to three members, due to the requirement to increase the number of nations participating. The scoring will be modified in eventing, in order to allow as many teams as possible to have a score in the final classification.
In addition to reducing the degree of difficulty in the cross-country, as has already happened, teams will be able to bring in their reserve if they have an elimination, but at considerable cost. Likewise, an eliminated rider may continue in the showjumping provided the horse did not fall, but carrying added penalties.
An eliminated combination must pass the required veterinary and medical examinations of course, but may then continue with a 200 point penalty if eliminated on cross-country, or a 100 point penalty if eliminated in the dressage or showjumping. If the reserve is required, the team is penalised a further 20 penalties, as well as picking up the eliminated rider’s score with the 200 penalties added.
The FEI director of Eventing and Olympics, Catrin Norinder, was at Taupo for the running of the New Zealand Three-day Event on May 10-12, where the biennial Oceania Championships were run using the Olympic format for the first time in the southern hemisphere. It had been used previously in Poland and Ireland.
Catrin explained that it was being tested with nations which were already qualified for Tokyo, to make them aware of the system, especially those expected to be in contention at the Olympics. She said, “The Oceania Champs is a great occasion as it is a real team competition, so better than a mock-up as they will be really trying.”
Both the New Zealand and Australian federations agreed to field two Senior teams each, as well as a Young Rider team, to provide the best possible opportunity of testing the format. Each team of three plus a reserve were in contention for the Oceania title, so Australia Gold and New Zealand Black were effectively the A teams, with Australia Green and New Zealand Silver the B teams.
Australia Gold won the Trans-Tasman Trophy with their three riders finishing 4th, 9th and 12th on a total of 207.3 penalties, while New Zealand Black had to bring in their reserve after Samantha Lissington and Ricker Ridge Rui fell at the water complex. Despite Maddy Crowe on Waitangi Pinterest and Amanda Pottinger on Just Kidding finishing 1st and 2nd individually (both on 34 penalties!), there was no way we could win the team competition.
Under the FEI rules in use at regular CCI competitions prior to the Olympic format, New Zealand would have romped home, with reserve Bundy Philpott on Tresca NZPH finishing 8th individually, giving a team score of 128.3 penalties, but under the Olympic format the total was 325.5 penalties.
It is a hard pill to swallow, but both federations agreed to run under this format to see how it would play out, and we can only hope that it pays off in Tokyo next year. So we have to be grateful that this format will only operate at the Olympics, and not be used for any other CCI competitions.
There will continue to be two showjumping rounds, with the team round preceding the individual round, although this was reversed at Taupo with the individual taking place before the team jumping. As Catrin said, “Team strategy will be different now, and the weather will be a factor in optimising performance too.”
Catrin pointed out that the format was changed to ensure Equestrian Sports remain in the Olympic Games. Television exposure, which is essential for sponsorship and funding opportunities, is widened by new nations participating. Currently less than a quarter of the Olympic nations participate in Equestrian Sports so “more flags” are needed, with teams finishing.
She said, “We have to fight, to be ready to change, be flexible and adapt to new conditions. Broadcasting and general media in particular is essential, so we need to move forward and not be afraid. The large Asian involvement especially means altering systems to accommodate them.”
Having seen Shane Rose and Ultimate Velocity, trailblazers for the Australia Gold team, take the long route at the very testing treble combination near the end of the course, which only two combinations completed successfully, I assumed the Aussies were playing safe and counting on all team combinations finishing, which is what happened.
When asked, Chef d’Equipe Stuart Tinney said, with a grin, “It played out that way, but not intentionally,” so there is going to be much thought and talk before teams are selected as well as before they ride the course in Tokyo. Thankfully the existing CCI5*-L rules remain unchanged for the “big” events, eg Badminton, Burghley, and Adelaide, and hopefully the WEG and/or World Championships.