O'Connor in line for Lynch's Olympic place
Eight years after the heartbreak of Athens, showjumper Cian O'Connor is set for a sensational return to the Olympics later this month, following a dramatic weekend for the sport.
Horse Sport Ireland originally named Billy Twomey and Denis Lynch as Ireland's two representatives in the individual event, but on Friday requested the ratification be temporarily suspended after Lantinus, the 14-year-old gelding ridden by Lynch, was disqualified for hypersensitivity in Aachen.
The Sunday Independent understands that in the wake of the disqualification, Lynch will not be ratified this week by the Olympic Council of Ireland, and that O'Connor and his mount, Blue Loyd, will get selected ahead of Shane Sweetnam and Amaretto d'Arco.
For Lynch, the decision will induce further anguish after the 2008 Games in Beijing when Lantinus was disqualified from the final round of jumping after testing positive for a prohibited substance. Yesterday, Lynch released a statement on his website clarifying events in Aachen and protesting his innocence of any wrong-doing.
After jumping on Wednesday and competing in the Nations Cup the following day, Lantinus was examined on Friday morning and found to be hypersensitive on his left forelimb and hind limbs and disqualified from further competition.
The international federation (FEI) did not make any finding against the rider himself, however.
"At no stage was there any inference that the hypersensitivity was anything other than natural occurring," Lynch said. "I feel this is very important to clarify and I would also like to state for the record that I fully support all measures regarding hypersensitivity implemented by the FEI."
The problem for Lynch is that this is the third time one of his horses has been disqualified for hypersensitivity and that accumulation of instances -- even without accompanying charges of wrong-doing -- is considered unusual for a rider and a source of concern for the Ireland selectors.
It is now almost certain that his inclusion for London will be regarded as too much of a risk and when the process is finalised -- by tomorrow morning at the latest, insist HSI officials -- Lynch's misfortune will be O'Connor's opportunity for redemption after 2004, when the gold medal he won on Waterford Crystal had to be returned after banned substances were found in the horse's system.
Even then, however, the process might not necessarily be concluded as, in the event of his deselection, Lynch would still enjoy the right of appeal. There is also the chance that Lynch could save a lot of anxiety by volunteering to withdraw his name from selection but that would be an unlikely twist in the story.
Privately there is some concern that O'Connor's inclusion could elicit negative reaction even though he was cleared of any attempt to knowingly dope his horse and has enjoyed a perfectly clean rap sheet ever since.
O'Connor's relationship with HSI is often fraught because of his outspoken nature, but on current form he has stronger claims than Sweetnam and will be difficult to overlook. There is also the fact that he is in good standing with the FEI and the OCI, and it is understood the latter will have no difficulty ratifying the 32-year-old if his name is presented.
O'Connor, as the anchorman for the Irish team at the Nations Cup events in Rotterdam and in Aachen, produced vital clear rounds on Blue Loyd. His flawless second round clinched third place for Ireland last Thursday night, a result which lifted the team off bottom spot in the Superleague and drew the praise of team manager Robert Splaine.
The situation, however, is complicated because, in Aachen, Lynch was not found guilty of any offence, faced no charges of any wrong-doing and was free to compete in today's Grand Prix. Lynch could vehemently question on what grounds he was being excluded from Olympic participation.
Whatever happens, it has already caused considerable embarrassment to both bodies as, for the third Games in succession, showjumping has brought controversy to Ireland's participation -- this time before the bell has even rung. Ireland's reputation has again been tarnished and, while he is not guilty of any offence, it is Lynch who will pay the highest price.
While Lynch and O'Connor await their fate, however, the suspense is over for Matt Brammeier, the three-time Irish road cycling champion, whose appeal against his non-selection on the Irish team was rejected by the OCI yesterday.
The three-man team of Nicolas Roche, Dan Martin and David McCann will remain unchanged.
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