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Friday 24 November 2017

Allen and Lynch lead charge in the race for Rio

As the Olympic qualification deadline looms, Ireland's top riders are focused on securing individual places across the equestrian disciplines

Denis Lynch is aiming to earn Ireland an Olympic slot ahead of the March 6 deadline.
Denis Lynch is aiming to earn Ireland an Olympic slot ahead of the March 6 deadline.
Cathal Daniels is among 10 combinations listed for the eventing squad bidding for team places.
Siobhan English

Siobhan English

The race is on to see if Ireland can gain some compensation for missing out on team qualification by earning two places in the show jumping arena in Rio de Janeiro in six months' time.

The Irish team missed the cut in controversial circumstances when placing seventh at the European Championships in Aachen last summer. They suffered a further blow last month when their appeal to the International Equestrian Federation (FEI), which was then taken to the Court of Arbitration, was turned down, leaving Irish riders scrambling instead to gain two individual spots for Brazil.

Bertram Allen holds a strong hand by leading the Group A North Western Europe, in which Ireland is included. With the 20-year-old likely to continue to top this group ahead of the March 6 deadline, fellow Irishman Denis Lynch will be hoping he can secure the second place as he continues to climb the FEI World Olympic rankings

Currently in eighth position, he will need to improve four places ahead of the March 6 cut-off. However, going on recent form on the World Cup circuit at Leipzig and Zurich, that is quite likely, and these crucial results may now also earn him a place at the FEI World Cup Final in Sweden next month.

Lynch also gained individual qualification for London in 2012, but subsequently lost his place after his horse failed a hypersensitivity test in Aachen. He was later replaced by Cian O'Connor, who went on to win individual bronze.

Eventing

Ireland's eventing team has already secured their place, having qualified for the first time ever when sixth at the World Equestrian Games in 2014. They will contest the championships along with 10 other teams and a maximum of 22 individuals.

The 10-man squad in line for those five places is: Austin O'Connor (Balham Houdini and Kilpatrick Knight), Joseph Murphy (Westwinds Hercules and Sportsfield Othello), Aoife Clark (Fernhill Adventure), Clare Abbott (Euro Prince), Sam Watson (Horseware Lukeswell), Jonty Evans (Cooley Rorkes Drift), Mark Kyle (Jemilla), Cathal Daniels (Rioghan Rua), Padraig McCarthy (Simon Porloe), and Michael Ryan (Ballylynch Adventure and Dunlough Striker).

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"Obviously we were disappointed that the show jumping team didn't make it particularly given the unfortunate circumstances involved," said Horse Sport Ireland CEO Damian McDonald. "But Ireland is now well in the hunt to secure two show jumping places.

"However, our eventing team will be there and their preparations are going very well under the supervision of HSI high performance manager Nick Turner, aided by dressage coach Ian Woodhead and show jumping coach Gerry Flynn."

A total of 15 show jumping teams have qualified for the Games, with a further 15 individual places allocated to those countries not qualified.

The Irish team is currently first reserve should Brazil, Netherlands, France, Germany, Sweden, Switzerland, Britain, Spain, Qatar, Ukraine, Japan or Australia not be able to field a team of at least three combinations.

Dressage rider Judy Reynolds has also been showing tremendous form of late with her 14-year-old gelding Vancouver and is strongly bidding to maintain her position of third in the Olympic rankings ahead of the March 6 deadline. She must finish within the top six in order to gain Ireland a place.

"My aim for the past year has been to earn Ireland a place for the Games," she said. "I was also hoping to get within the top 50 in the world which I have now achieved (48th). My plan is to add a few more points in the coming weeks."

Should Ireland gain a place the only two Irish dressage riders qualified to compete in Rio, based on their world rankings are Reynolds and Roland Tong. The HSI dressage high performance committee will then select an athlete.

The Kildare-born rider is also in a good position to qualify for the FEI World Cup Final in Gothenburg, Sweden next month.

Ireland has not qualified a para-dressage team, but Helen Kearney, who won three gold medals in London in 2012, is hoping to make a return to the Games.

The five highest-placed athletes on the FEI Paralympic Individual Ranking List will each earn one qualification slot for their country. She is currently the only Irish rider in the top five and in pole position.

"Overall we could have seven equestrian athletes at the Olympic Games which would be a very strong representation on the overall Irish Olympic team," said Mr McDonald.

Equestrian events get green light despite quarantine concerns

Brazil's National Equestrian Centre in Deodoro, which was built for the 2007 Pan-American Games, will host all of the equestrian competitions. This includes show jumping, dressage, eventing and Modern Pentathlon, for which Ireland's Arthur Lanigan-O'Keeffe has secured a place.

The sport comprises fencing, swimming, show jumping, running and shooting.

He booked his ticket for Rio last summer when becoming the first Irish pentathlete to win the gold medal at the European Modern Pentathlon Championships. The 23-year-old clinched the top prize at the championship in Bath, England.

While delays in construction and fears over quarantine restrictions have caused some concerns in recent months, the FEI has reassured athletes that the facility will be ready for the Olympic kick-off on August 6.

Equestrian action will get underway with the team and individual eventing competitions (August 6-9) - the team dressage deciders take place from August 10-12. The Grand Prix Freestyle to decide the individual champion takes place on August 15.

Individual show jumping qualifiers get underway on August 14, with team jumping taking place on August 16 and 17. The individual title will be fought out two days later, on August 19.

The Paralympics follow in September (7-18) with para dressage being the sole equestrian discipline.

Britain currently holds both the team show jumping and dressage titles, with British rider Charlotte Dujardin also current individual dressage champion. Steve Guerdat of Switzerland is current individual champion in show jumping.

In 2012 Germany won both the team and individual titles. Michael Jung will undoubtedly be bidding to retain his crown won that year on Biosthetique Sam.

It is believed that 75pc of tickets available for this year's Games have already been sold. Fans have snapped up 2.75 million tickets across 42 sports. A further 330,000 tickets have been sold for the Paralympic Games.

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