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Sunday, June 17, 2012

And the Team Is...

The 2012 US dressage Olympic selection trials concluded yesterday. So who's going to the London Olympic Games?

The US Equestrian Team Foundation's Maureen Pethick wasn't exactly sure. Neither was US Equestrian Federation PR rep Joanie Morris.

Huh? How can we not know?

Try to decipher the International Equestrian Federation's (FEI) 2012 Olympic dressage procedures and you'll begin to understand why. It's complicated.

There are rules governing who and how many can make the team...whether a nation can send an individual and/or a reserve rider...even the exact hour by which any lineup changes must be announced.  Making things somewhat more confusing this year is the fact that our #1 rider, Steffen Peters, qualified with two horses: Ravel, who earned a "bye" and didn't have to compete at the 2012 USEF Dressage Festival of Champions in Gladstone, NJ; and Legolas 92, who won the Grand Prix championship title and thereby also qualified for London.

The questions began: Can Steffen ride two horses in London? Can someone else ride Ravel or Legolas if Steffen becomes unable to compete? Can the US send a reserve horse? How many horses will we ship to Great Britain?

For answers, I went directly to the one person I knew could straighten me out: Anne Gribbons. Anne, as you may know, is the USEF national dressage technical advisor and high-performance coach. So here's the deal, straight from the horse's mouth, as they say.

First, we begin with what's officially known as the nominated entry--the list of the top finishers at the Olympic selection trials who are qualified for London. Note in the USEF press release announcing the nominated entry that Steffen Peters holds both the #1 and the #3 positions, with Ravel and Legolas 92, respectively.

International Olympic Committee dressage rules for London permit only three horse-rider combinations per team. In addition, each athlete may be paired with only one horse.

Translation: Steffen Peters may ride either Ravel or Legolas, but not both, according to Anne Gribbons.  Ravel is the top horse, so he is the team pick. But because the USEF wants to ensure that Steffen will ride, Legolas will ship to England as a reserve mount for Steffen only--no "catch riding" allowed at the Olympics, Anne explained.

The #2 team slot goes to the #2 finisher in the selection trials: 2012 USEF national Grand Prix reserve champion Tina Konyot on Calecto V. With the #3-ranked horse being Legolas, the third team slot therefore goes to the #4-ranked combination: Jan Ebeling on Rafalca.

Here's where things get interesting. According to Anne Gribbons, the #5-ranked pair, Adrienne Lyle on Wizard, will travel to London with the intention of competing as individuals. However, "Wizard will be a team horse and not compete as an individual should something happen" to a team horse or rider, Anne said.

But wait; there's more. In the press conference following the selection-trials conclusion, Anne stated that the USEF's intention is to ship "five or six" horses to England. So who's #6?

That would be the horse next in line in the ranking succession whose rider and owner grants permission for the horse to travel to England strictly to wait in the wings as a reserve horse. If Wizard gets "called up" for team duty, horse #6 could then compete as an individual.
Will Todd Flettrich and Otto travel to England with the US team? We'll know today, according to Anne Gribbons. Photo by Jennifer Bryant.

As it stands according to the selection-trials results, "Otto would be the sixth horse," Anne said, referring to Todd Flettrich's mount. But agreeing to travel in this reserve position is not obligatory, and so "the rider and owner have to have a chat and decide" what to do, she explained. Todd and Otto's owner, Margaret Duprey of Cherry Knoll Farm, West Grove, PA, have until today to tell the USEF yes or no (although I suspect Anne already knows what the answer will be).

Should they decline, then the USEF will extend the invitation to the next-ranked pair (Heather Blitz on Paragon), and so on down the line. One way or another, the lineup will be finalized by day's end today, Anne said.

Regardless of how many horses we ship to England, only four will actually wind up at the 2012 Olympic equestrian venue, Greenwich Park, Anne said. The US contingent will spend the last two weeks of July at a rented farm situated about 90 minutes from the venue, she said. Come time to ship to Greenwich Park, assuming Ravel, Calecto V, Rafalca, and Wizard are sound and healthy, those four horses will head to the Olympics, and Legolas and Otto will remain behind.

For a detailed look at Greenwich Park and the upcoming Olympic dressage competition, see my Olympic preview in the July/August issue of USDF Connection, the member magazine of the United States Dressage Federation. (Not a member? Here's how to join.)

In my next post, I'll continue my interview with Anne Gribbons, who discusses the Olympic travel timetable and the American dressage riders' chances in London.

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