The famous unpredictability of performance that is a feature of world championships and Olympics came to the fore at Tryon today when Ireland’s team score see-sawed through an almost eight hour cycle and kept fans on the edge of their seats.
Would they or would they not qualify for the second round on Friday, and the promise of possible Olympic qualification as a cherry on the cake?
The real star of the Team and Individual Show Jumping World Championships on Thursday was Irishman Alan Wade’s perplexing and problematical course, a series of obstacles so beautifully designed but so cunningly placed that many of the world’s most experienced riders and horses struggled to come home unscathed.
Forecasting an eventual outcome – who would be the top ten qualifying teams – proved absolutely futile as the day went on.
As an example closest to home, Ireland finished the first day of competition in tenth place, but today the team’s place rose and dipped alarmingly, with many forecasting that they had little chance of staying in the qualifying top ten place at the close of play.
But the eventual outcome was as much about how other teams fared as it was about Ireland’s scores, as fences dropped and hooves hit water all the way from Switzerland to Venezuela.
For the record, Ireland’s Shane Sweetnam and Chaqui Z began with nine faults, a disappointing start after their zero score opening day, and Shane Breen took the discard hit with a 14 fault round on Ipswich van de Wolfsakker, while third man in, Paul O’Shea, managed a creditable eight fault round with Skara Glen’s Machu Picchu – on a day when some of the world’s top ranked riders had great difficulty avoiding a three fence penalty total.
However, Ireland still languished outside the qualification zone for Friday and a chance not only of medals, but early Olympic qualification. The one man left who could remedy the situation was Cian O’Connor with the extravagantly athletic stallion Good Luck, and remedy it he did, with a masterclass of riding under pressure through a staggeringly difficult course, finally crossing the line on a zero fault score to the ecstatic cheers of the large Irish contingent at Tryon.
This not only catapulted the Meath rider up to second place on the individual rankings but also pulled Ireland into the coveted top ten group.
The difficulty of Wade’s course was demonstrated by this one statistic – O’Connor jumped 96th in the class. By the time he did, only two other riders had managed clear rounds.
Meanwhile, poles continued to fall for the 24 other teams, and Ireland’s position crept inexorably up to sixth overall.
Relatively small margins separate the leading teams – first and tenth were apart by only 21 points at the end of the day – a figure that promises a further day of nail-biting on Friday.