Sunday 27 May 2018

2016 Ones to watch: Showjumping talent has eyes on Rio and a medal for Ireland

Bertram Allen, jockey

Bertram Allen
Bertram Allen

Graham Clifford

Despite being just 20 years old, Wexford's Bertram Allen rides likes a veteran - a showjumper of international excellence.

Now ranked sixth in the world, he represents one of Ireland's best medal hopes at the 2016 Rio Olympics and, as he showed in 2015, the bigger the tournament, the better his performance.

It's hard to believe, but Allen only made his international debut on the Irish Nation's Cup team in 2013, and in 2014, he won the first leg of the World Championship and became an overnight star in the world of showjumping.

Allen first entered the elite world top 20 in November of 2014 - but managed to break into the top 10 rankings just four months later, and has remained there ever since, twice achieving fifth place.

In July, Allen became the youngest rider in the history of the Longines Global Champions Tour Grand Prix in Paris to win the event. It was a double Irish podium as Darragh Kenny took third place.

A delighted Allen said afterwards: "I've only done a few Longines Global Champions Tours because I wasn't ranked high enough last year, so to have my first podium finish and to get on top is even more special."

In November, Allen won the Volkswagen Cup Trophy in Stockholm, Sweden, in style. Though starting in the most disadvantageous position of the 17 competitors, Allen, jumping on Quiet Easy, used his turn of speed to secure first place and a cheque for €22,400.

The young man is being touted as the hottest talent in world showjumping.

In a sport where age is less of a factor than in others - for example, all three of those competitors who medalled at the 2012 Olympics in individual jumping, including Ireland's Cian O'Connor, were in their 30s - Allen is something of an enigma.

His interest in horse-riding started when he was aged just eight in his native Wexford and as a teenager he registered notable competitive victories as he rose through the ranks. He competed successfully in the pony circuit and at the age of 16 decided to spend some time at a yard in Hünxe, Germany, where he has been based since.

Voted the Irish Independent Young Sports Star of the Year in 2014, and nominated for this year's award also, the equestrian sensation had an incredible 2015 as he galloped up the world rankings table.

Incredibly, in his first ever World Cup final last April, Allen - on 11-year-old grey mare Molly Malone - finished third overall in Las Vegas in one of the tightest finishes ever seen in the competition. He lost out on gold by just a single point.

The then-teenager equalled the record of the great Eddie Macken, who also finished third in the 1979 World Cup final.

Irish showjumping manager Robert Splaine said: "This was a remarkable achievement in a world championship for a 19-year-old.

"Taking this third place was an incredible performance and is great for our sport and for Ireland. Bertram himself is a wonderful ambassador for Ireland - brilliantly talented, phenomenal.

"It would be easier to name the events Bertram hasn't won than those he has - he has been a winner all his life."

With Ireland's showjumping team missing out agonisingly on Olympic qualification in August at the FEI European Championships in Aachen, Germany, medal hopes rest of the shoulders of individual competitors such as Allen, Denis Lynch (ranked 29th in the world), Conor Swail (ranked 30th), and Darragh Kenny (59th).

As we look towards Rio this summer, it's worth noting that the Allen family's showjumping brilliance might be with us for some time to come. In November, Bertram Allen's 14-year-old brother Harry won two competitions back-to-back in the Children on Horses classes in the Netherlands.

If preparations go to plan and Allen and the horse he will ride arrive in Rio without any hiccups, then the Wexford rider will undoubtedly challenge for a medal in Brazil. And at such a young age the sight of him representing his country at the Olympic Games could well be as inevitable as the games themselves - hopefully seeing him on a podium every four years will also become a regular sight.

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