29 Jun 2012
Letter to Editor of Associated Press
Thank you very much for your kind letter and for the valuable opportunity you have given me as the FEI President to provide your readers with a deeper insight into equestrian sport.
Zara Phillips has been nominated to the British Eventing team for the London 2012 Olympic Games. She is a remarkable horsewoman and a true champion – she was European champion in 2005 and world champion in Aachen 2006. Zara has previously been selected for the British Olympic team – in 2004 and 2008 – but in the final stages on both occasions her horse was injured and she was forced to withdraw. London 2012 is the third time she has been selected, and having her as a competitor will make a gloriously rich event, with the very best the equestrian world has to offer.
Zara is in every sense a champion and with her incredible track record, no Olympics would be complete without her participation. The performance of the host nation is always important for the overall success of a given sport and even of the entire Olympic Games.
Great Britain is one of the world’s strongest equestrian nations and it is a matter of great satisfaction to the FEI that they have qualified teams in all three disciplines and the maximum number of riders – 13. They did so on their own merit by qualifying at some of the FEI’s major championships and didn’t have to rely on the host nation allocation. We are looking forward to some memorable British performances, and to some very enthusiastic British supporters.
We also have a horse owned by the wife of a US Presidential candidate. The 15-year old mare Rafalca, co-owned by Ann Romney, has been nominated to the US Dressage team with Jan Ebeling. US equestrians have always competed at the highest level and the US teams are expected to do well in London.
What makes equestrian sport truly exceptional however is not the participation of athletes who may be famous by virtue of their status; it is the magic that is created by the perfect harmony of horse and rider. Horses do not understand titles or connections.
Our stars include Adelinde Cornelissen of the Netherlands, world number one in Dressage and who will be making her Olympic debut in London, who used to be an English teacher. The 2008 double Olympic Eventing champion Hinrich Romeike of Germany is a full-time dentist. Equestrian sport is one where men and women, the young and the not so young, the disabled and the able-bodied compete together, and where the horse is the great equaliser.
It is the only Olympic sport in London 2012 in which men and women compete on equal terms and share the same podium. Women made their Olympic equestrian debut 60 years ago, at the Helsinki 1952 Olympic Games, when four lady riders took part in the Dressage competition.
The best known of these women has come to be Lis Hartel of Denmark, whose background was rather different from most equestrian athletes of the time. In 1944, at the age of 23, she was paralysed by polio and while she had gradually regained the use of most of her muscles, she remained paralysed below the knee but was still able to ride beautifully. She was chosen to represent Denmark at the 1952 Olympics and, even though she had to be helped on and off her horse, once she was in the saddle she became a winner, going on to claim individual silver.
When Swedish gold medallist Henri St-Cyr helped her up onto the victory platform for the medal presentation, it was one of the most emotional moments in Olympic history. Another exceptional feature of equestrianism is that it is the only Olympic sport involving an animal. The sport demands exceptional skills and top physical condition from both rider and horse, and to have both sides of the partnership tuned to perform at their best at the same time is a real art. Human and equine athletes share a special bond that is the key to a winning performance. Without that bond and the ability to work together as a team, success is a dream that can never be achieved. And essential to it all is the welfare of the horse, which is the central pillar of the FEI.
Equestrian athletes enjoy extraordinary longevity and their sporting careers span decades, meaning that they stay exceptionally fit throughout their competitive careers. Japanese Dressage rider Hiroshi Hoketsu, who turned 71 in March, has earned his spot on the London 2012 startlist and will be the oldest athlete to compete at this summer’s Olympic Games. His first Olympic participation dates back to 1964 when he competed in Jumping in his home city of Tokyo. Forty-four years later he took part in the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games in Dressage. Another remarkable example is Canadian Jumping rider Ian Millar, team silver medallist at the 2008 Olympic Games and whose first Olympic participation was exactly 40 years ago, in Munich in 1972. This summer “Captain Canada” will be making his 10th Olympic appearance to become the athlete with the most Olympic participations of all time in any sport. It is wonderful to have an equestrian athlete creating a record like this.
At the other end of the scale, we will be delighted to welcome Reed Kessler of the USA who will be celebrating her 18th birthday on 9 July. This very talented rider will be the youngest rider in history to participate in Olympic Jumping.
The incredible age span of our athletes demonstrates their astonishing durability and the sport’s universal appeal and I can’t wait to see all of our heroes making history in London. London 2012 will mark the centenary of equestrian sport in the Olympic Games and we will be very fortunate to celebrate this milestone at the best venue there is – Greenwich Park, a World Heritage Site. There is no other sport that can boast the fact that its athletes will literally jump over the Greenwich Meridian line!
Our venue is located in the middle of the London 2012 Olympic cluster and is the second largest venue of the entire Games. Its central location will allow us to demonstrate that all three Olympic equestrian disciplines – Jumping, Dressage, and Eventing – can be organised at the heart of the Games and in the heart of a capital city, meaning that we can bring our sport to a new public as well as our traditional fan base.
The equestrian test event in July 2011 produced some exceptional photographs that show this superb venue at its absolute best, with the historical buildings in Greenwich contrasting with the modern skyline of the city of London. To have that as the backdrop for our centennial equestrian events is a real privilege and will undoubtedly produce some of the most iconic images from London 2012. The demand for tickets for this summer’s competitions has been epic. O
ur events were sold out in a matter of weeks, establishing us as one of the most popular sports in the Games. The best celebration we can wish for on our landmark anniversary is clean and safe equestrian competitions of the highest level held in a spirit of excellence and fair play. I hope that this brief introduction to our sport will be of interest to you and to your readers. We will be delighted to welcome you to Greenwich Park this summer if you have the time to visit.
HRH Princess Haya