Showjumper Cian saddles up after late call-up for London 2012
CHAMPION showjumper Cian O'Connor was riding high last night after being selected to compete in the London Olympics in less than three weeks' time.
The 32-year-old showjumper is to take the place of Denis Lynch on the Irish equestrian team.
His selection came after the sport's governing body, Horse Sport Ireland (HSI), dramatically withdrew Mr Lynch's nomination on the squad yesterday after his mount Lantinus was disqualified from the Nation's Cup in Aachen, Germany, last week for failing a hypersensitivity test on its legs.
It was the third time that one of the Co Tipperary showjumper's horses has been disqualified due to hypersensitivity.
However, the international equestrian federation, the Federation Equestre Internationale (FEI), did not find any fault with the rider.
Mr O'Connor will now be the second Irish show jumper competing at the Olympics on August 5.
Speaking to the Irish Independent last night, he said he was delighted by the HSI's decision to back him and his horse Blue Loyd but he also acknowledged that it was disappointing to come about through Mr Lynch's disqualification.
However, he said he is nevertheless keen to represent Ireland in London next month.
"Blue Loyd is an exceptional athlete. Last week we jumped in Aachen to help the Irish team finish third," he said.
"I'm over the moon and I'm delighted to have an opportunity to compete again at the Olympics."
Mr O'Connor was awarded a gold medal for showjumping at the 2004 Olympics in Athens, but he was forced to hand back the medal after his horse Waterford Crystal failed a drugs test.
He was subsequently banned from competition for three months.
However, Mr O'Connor has always maintained his innocence and the FEI has never made a finding of fault against him.
He and Cork showjumper Billy Twomey will now compete in the individual show jumping event in Greenwich, London, on August 5.
In the meantime, Mr O'Connor said he will be training as hard as he would "for any other big show" and refused to be drawn on the question of redemption for the 2004 Olympics, which he said he has "put long behind me."
"It's not like I haven't been preparing for this -- I've been competing at top level for the last eight years, waiting for the chance to return to the Olympic Games," said the rider who has competed in 85 Nations Cup competitions so far in his career.
"I'll approach it as another big show. Obviously, we'll be working as hard as we can but we do shows every week and every month and I'm competing at the highest level every week," he said, adding, "I've got a lovely horse."
"Billy and I have jumped on umpteen teams together, including the last time Ireland won the Aga Khan Cup in 2004. It's an honour to be one of only two flying the flag in show-jumping for Ireland. Hopefully, Billy and I will do the country proud," he added.
Meanwhile, a spokesman for the IOC last night confirmed that it has accepted the HSI's nomination of Mr O'Connor on the Olympic squad, noting that he "is very highly ranked in the world".
A spokesman for the HSI said it was a difficult decision to disquality Mr Lynch from the games at such a late stage in the competition.
But he said the governing body had no other choice.
"The monitoring committee met on Monday to express concerns over three (of Mr Lynch's) horses found to be hypersensitive. Those concerns were not allayed and a decision was made to bring in the first rider," he told the Irish Independent.
He added that while Mr O'Connor's main rival, Shane Sweetman of Cork, was also considered by the board, it was ultimately up to the team manager to decide "which horse and rider has a better chance" of winning a medal at the games.