Saturday 1 November 2014

The sporting moments that made 2012: Disney-like script delivers redemption in Greenwich

JOHN O'BRIEN

Published 30/12/2012 | 05:00

O'Connor's Bronze lining

Even before the story unfolded, the theme of Irish showjumping's year already seemed cast in stone: redemption. Ireland, grievously, hadn't qualified a team for the London Olympics but the form of Denis Lynch and Billy Twomey over the year ensured the consolation prize of two individual places and, as long as the selectors remained faithful, that was good enough for Lynch. His business with the Olympics was personal after all.

He'd waited four long years for the chance. In 2008, he'd gone to Hong Kong with Lantinus, a serious prospect for an Olympic medal, only to be disqualified before the final when a banned substance was detected in the horse's system. A devastated Lynch returned to his base in Germany, rebuilt his reputation and now he was back with another horse, Abbervail, in cracking form, determined to set the record straight.

The next twist was off-the-scale. On July 4, Horse Sport Ireland forwarded Lynch and Twomey's names for Olympic selection. Two days later, after Lantinus had tested positive for hypersensitivity in Aachen, Lynch's name was being withdrawn. The rider vigorously protested his innocence but to no avail. It was his third such case within a year and that was too much for the Irish selectors to bear. Lynch would have to deal with the heartbreak.

Incredibly, that brought an old friend back into the picture. Like Lynch, Cian O'Connor had unfinished business with the Olympics. And, unquestionably, the smell that had ensued when he'd famously lost his gold medal in Athens in 2004 still lingered. A burning desire for atonement drove O'Connor, though, and the selectors found that difficult to ignore. He had a horse, Blue Loyd, he'd bought especially for London and now the chance spectacularly blown by Lynch was his.

And so, like a Disney script, the plot unfolded. A late appeal to CAS threatened further intrigue, but Lynch's last card didn't turn out to be a trump. O'Connor and Blue Loyd though, initially at least, didn't jump all that well. Before the final, the pair lay outside the cut-off point of 35 and Irish officials, assuming the end, contemplated the lonely journey home. Then a late withdrawal and, suddenly, O'Connor is back in the hunt again. Still sniffing glory in the Greenwich air. No stopping him now. Second to jump in the penultimate round and the pair are faultless. Clear again in the final round but an agonising 0.2 seconds over the permitted time, a couple of hoofbeats that will deny O'Connor the chance of a jump-off for gold. No matter. A bronze medal has been secured and this time, he knows, nobody will take it away from him. The stain of eight years ago wiped away.

And those who had foreseen a year of redemption for Irish showjumping had been right after all. Just not in a way any of them ever imagined.

Sunday Indo Sport

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