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Independent.ie

Tuesday 23 January 2018

London calling as irish saddle up for olympics

Siobhan English

Siobhan English

Now the preparations really hot up as lucky 13 who will make up equestrian green army set their sights on realising medal dreams

THE wait for the full Irish equestrian squad is finally over and those who will line out in London for the Olympic and Paralympic Games can now prepare for their biggest hurdle in Greenwich Park in the coming weeks.

For the lucky 13, the years and months of hard work and training have finally paid off, but for others, there is bitter disappointment. The harsh reality is that, sometimes, the selection process does not always make sense, but only in due course will we find out if the choices made will bear any fruit.

Sadly, Ireland's recent appearances at the Olympics have not gained the most positive coverage. However, we must remain optimistic that one day it may join the sports of athletics, swimming and boxing, which have dominated the current Irish medal tally of 23, accumulated since 1928.

Never before has an Olympic Games been right on our doorstep, and the close proximity and regular climate will greatly benefit the Irish side who, as well as performing to the best of their ability, will attempt to bury the ghosts of 2004 and 2008.

With this in mind, Horse Sport Ireland CEO Damian McDonald said: "Since 2008, over 300 horses ridden by Irish riders have been tested during international competitions by the FEI and all have tested negative, which is as it should be."

Ireland will need to return home with its reputation in tact to restore the faith of the public.

SHOW JUMPING

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As expected, Ireland's highest ranked show jumpers, Denis Lynch and Billy Twomey, were named as the duo for London by Irish team manager Robert Splaine.

They earned Ireland's two slots by virtue of their rankings, but were the obvious choice going on recent form.

Twomey's mount, the 15-year-old mare Tinka's Serenade, has had a steady campaign so far this year and, after winning the Rolex Top 10 Final in the spring, jumped a double clear in the Nations Cup in Rome and had several outings on the Global Champions Tour.

However a question mark now hangs over Lynch's nomination after Horse Sport Ireland requested that his ratification be temprarily suspended. The move came after Lynch's number one ride, Lantinus, was found to be hypersensitive after competing in Aachen last week.

As we went to press yesterday, speculation was mounting that Cian O'Connor could be in line to claim Lynch's place. Riding Blue Lloyd, O'Connor has been the anchorman for the Irish team, in Rotterdam and Aachen, where he was instrumental in clinching third place for team Ireland.

Sadly, Eric Lamaze will not be bidding to defend his title with the much-lamented Hickstead, but he will have the services of either Derly Chin de Muze or Verdi to line out for the Canadian team as they attempt to improve on their team silver, behind the USA, claimed in Hong Kong.

DRESSAGE

The failure of Colombian team members to fulfil the minimum eligibility criteria at an international fixture in Fritzens, Austria, in recent weeks opened the door for Ireland to send one dressage rider to London.

Anna Merveldt (right) had been on the reserve list, so she was the natural choice for the High Performance Committee on reviewing some of her best performances to-date on the international circuit with her Belgian-bred gelding Coryolano.

Sadly, Merveldt's Olympic qualification campaign was disrupted in November when she was involved in a car accident, in which she cracked a rib, but the Canadian-born 49-year-old had already impressed in Vienna a week earlier with a second placing in the Grand Prix. She then matched this in the Grand Prix Kur, in which she scored a personal best of 72.725pc.

Merveldt kicked off her 2012 campaign with two top-10 placings in Vidabaun, France and from there headed to Munich, Germany and Fritzens, Austria, where further good results pushed her up the world rankings to her current place of 63.

Merveldt last represented Ireland in an Olympic Games in Barcelona in 1992, where she finished in an impressive 11th place. No other Irish rider has been able to improve on this in the past 20 years.

EVENTING

Ireland has yet to win a medal in eventing at an Olympic Games, though several have been won at World and European Championships down the years.

It is now up to the quintet of Aoife Clark, Camilla Speirs, Michael Ryan, Joseph Murphy and Mark Kyle to come up with the goods in three weeks' time in a bid to equal or better Ireland's team fifth obtained in Sydney 12 years ago.

Looking back over the years, Ireland's team results at Olympic Games overall have been disappointing, and the eighth placing in Hong Kong could not be seen as impressive.

The best individual result of 21st in Hong Kong came from Austin O'Connor on Hobby Du Mee. Four years earlier, Ireland again finished eighth in Athens, where Mark Kyle also completed in 21st with Drunken Disorderly.

Another grey, Coolio, has put Kyle on this list. The 10-year-old showed a significant improvement in the dressage arena at Tattersalls recently to be placed fourth in the CIC*** behind Camilla Speirs (Portersize Just A Jiff), who led an Irish whitewash ahead of Clark (Master Crusoe) and Curran (The Jump Jet). Curran represented Ireland in Hong Kong, but has not made the final cut for the team this time round and is first reserve with Shanaclough Crecora.

While the Irish high performance manager Ginny Elliot waited until Barbury to make the final choice, some will argue that it should not have come down to one competition. Saying that, Speirs had been firing on all cylinders since placing second in the Boekelo CCI*** last autumn and is more than deserving of her place.

While Clark's mount, Master Crusoe, was not pushed at Barbury, and subsequently picked up time penalties, he had performed a respectable dressage test and has the ability to go further.

In contrast, Ryan's mount, Ballylynch Adventure, did not impress at the British venue, but his two top-10 placings at Ballindenisk and Tattersalls booked him a ticket along with Joseph Murphy, who will be hoping to better his dressage, and repeat his double jumping clear at Tattersalls, matched only by Speirs in the 22-runner field.

PENTATHLON

Modern Pentathlon is relatively new in Ireland, so for the country to earn one place at London 2012 is a significant achievement.

This has come courtesy of 21-year-old Natalya Coyle (above) from Tara in Co Meath.

In competition terms, Coyle too is a newcomer, and only started competing at an international level in 2009. Previously, she had competed in tetrathlons, run by the Irish Pony Club, but when she developed a love of fencing, she decided to combine this with riding, running, swimming and shooting.

Coyle has ridden most of her life, and this gives her an advantage over many of her fellow competitors who may not be naturals in the saddle.

After a series of top results since last summer, which brought her up into the top 50 in the world rankings (currently 43rd), Coyle finally secured her Olympic slot with a 21st-place finish in Chengdu, China in May. Less than 12 months earlier she had become the first athlete to represent Ireland in a Modern Pentathlon World Cup Final -- appropriately held in London as the Olympic Test Event.

"To qualify for the Olympics really is a dream come true. I've worked so hard to get there and now I'm excited to get a good block of training done in the run up to the competition," Coyle said.

The women's Modern Pentathlon medals will be awarded on Sunday, August 12.

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