Even a clear round from Cian O’Connor would not have saved Ireland’s bid for Olympic qualification at the World Equestrian Games tonight, with zero scores from Australia’s last two riders relegating the Irish team to an unimprovable seventh place.
The massive 1m65 course designed by Alan Wade looked deceptively simple, but was studded with tank traps, not least the triple combination and the massive vertical that immediately followed.
With horses and riders tiring after two full-blown days of competition in the Carolina sun, only ten clear rounds were achieved by the 40 riders competing for the team prize.
Ireland started with a disappointing nine faults from Shane Sweetnam and Chaqui Z, but this was followed by a good recovery from Shane Breen and Ipswich van de Wolfsakker who finished on four faults, as did Paul O’Shea and Skara Glen’s Machu Picchu.
However, Ireland’s fate was sealed when Australian anchorman Rowan Willis and Blue Movie added another clear to his country’s score, pegging them to the vital sixth team slot that would guarantee Olympic qualification at Tokyo.
As it happened, O’Connor and Good Luck, whose clear round on Thursday had helped secure Ireland’s place in the top ten teams competing today, was yet another combination to fall foul of Wade’s imposing triple combination and collected four faults, but the damage had already been done – Ireland’s team score was too far off Australia’s for a clear round to matter much one way or the other.
Action at the top of the table was intense, with the USA and Sweden forced into a jump-off for the gold medal prize, the home team finally prevailing narrowly on time when neither team yielded further faults. Germany took home the bronze medal tonight, third of the 25 teams who competed.
Ireland can still qualify a show jumping team for the 2020 Olympics – either at the European Championships next year (and which they won last year), or at the Nations Cup Final in Barcelona. A top six place at Tryon would have taken a great deal of pressure off manager Rodrigo Pessoa, but he still has considerable firepower at his disposal to tackle the next two challenges when and if necessary.
The competition at WEG is also far from over – with Cian O’Connor at sixth place overall, there’s still the real possibility of a medal when he jumps on Sunday in the individual world championships.