Changes Afoot for Eventing in Olympics

EquiSearch Exclusive: Jim Wofford discusses the FEI's three-day event committee course adjustments, not all of which are embraced enthusiastically by the sport's participants. Plus: The top three-day coach gives EquiSearch the early line on World Equestrian Games favorites.
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EquiSearch Exclusive: Jim Wofford discusses the FEI's three-day event committee course adjustments, not all of which are embraced enthusiastically by the sport's participants. Plus: The top three-day coach gives EquiSearch the early line on World Equestrian Games favorites.

The Federation Equestre Internationale event committee has made numerous adjustments to the rules governing our sport over past 12 months. Some of them have been wholeheartedly accepted by the eventing community, some half-heartedly, and some are extremely controversial.

jim wofford

The addition of a 10-minute pause in the middle of Phase C of the three-day event has been enthusiastically accepted by the three-day event community at large because the 10-minute pause increases the restorative period of Phase C and ensures that the horse and rider have time to catch their breath before embarking on the cross-country course. Other minor changes include the shortening of steeplechase and cross-country phases and some adjustments to the show-jumping rules. These changes have been made to insure the well-being of horses and riders and have been widely approved and accepted.

On a somewhat less harmonious note, the FEI committee has instituted major changes to the Olympic format with the Athens Games in 2004. For the first time, there will be up to five members of each team, with the top three scores to count. This means that all of the horses and riders will jump a course on the final morning of the competition. The total score up to that point will be used to determine the team classifications. From that classification, the top 25 individuals will jump another show-jumping course that has been shortened and altered. The final score obtained after the second show-jumping round will determine the individual placings. The reason for this change is an attempt to comply with the International Olympic Committee rules stating that an athlete may not receive two medals for one performance.

The opinions of the riders at Burghley on this were mixed, but there is unanimity of opinion that any steps necessary to keep eventing on the Olympic calendar are worth taking. However, the opinion of the sport still favors the format that will be used in Jerez, Spain, next September for the World Equestrian Games. This format uses the same score to determine both individual and team placings. The FEI committee has not announced any plans to change this format in the foreseeable future.

At Burghley, riders were understandably reluctant to jump their horses a second time on the final afternoon. But course designer Di Boddy (with input from cross-country course designer Mike Tucker and FEI eventing committee chairman Wayne Roycroft) did not set an enormous track for the final phase, and the final outcome at Burghley was certainly popular with both insiders and the general public. The ever-competitive Blyth Tait won aboard his individual gold winner at Atlanta, Ready Teddy.

Looking forward to the World Equestrian Games next year, it is obvious that Blyth and the seemingly unstoppable New Zealand team must be installed as the early favorites to win both the team and individual gold medals. Among the medal contenders will be the usual band of suspects: Great Britain, Australia and the U.S. However, there are several other teams around the world that will be making renewed efforts to climb back on top of the pyramid.

In Sydney I thought that the Germans were unlucky not to place better, as were the Irish. If you could put the German and Irish teams in a bottle and shake them up you would probably have two teams that would give the Kiwis a run for their money. The Germans could use a little more dash across country and the Irish, as always, could use a little more organization. In addition, the Brazilian, Mexican and Canadian teams are all undergoing major reorganization and are starting to position themselves for a renewed effort in the next Olympic cycle.

The U.S. suffered a setback with our somewhat disappointing results at Burghley this year. But it is a good sign that we were able to run two full teams of well-qualified horses and I am not unduly worried about our prospects for a team medal. The U.S. team for 2002 will certainly have some new faces on it. Our individual competitors from Sydney, Bobby Costello and Julie Burns, joined by Darren Chiacchia, Beale Morris, and the fastest rising star in the eventing firmament, Kim Vinoski, are certainly all potential team members. If veterans David and Karen O'Connor and Bruce Davidson can come up with worthy substitutes to their Sydney horses, our prospects will look even brighter. With her veteran 3 Magic Beans, Nina Fout has yet to have a four-star cross-country jumping fault--that record tends to make the selectors sleep well at night! Ann Taylor, not widely known here because she is based in England, is also a good possibility. Add in a number of up-and-coming newcomers, and you have the prospect of an extremely competitive selection process.

The retirement of many of our Sydney four-legged veterans and the emergence of new horse and rider combinations at the four-star level are going to make the competition at the 2002 Rolex four-star into a pressure cooker. If you go well at Rolex next year you are going to be on the short list. If you don't, you won't.

As an interesting footnote to the closing of this year's activities, with only Boekelo (Holland) and Fair Hill left to run, one of the most controversial proposals to come out of the FEI committee over the last 20 years is dead in the water. This spring the committee stated that in their view the long-term development of eventing would be toward a horse trials format. However, this proposal was met with near-universal rejection and has been quietly shelved by the FEI three-day event committee.