Canada’s Chef d’equipe Mum on Rio Jumping Squad

The plethora of thorny issues that may arise out of the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro have been well-documented, though the show jumping crowd doesn’t seem too perturbed.

“I’ve certainly heard all of that, the polluted waters and so on,” noted Canada’s chef d’equipe Mark Laskin on Tuesday. “I guess our horses just better stay out of the water. We’ll keep a close eye on everyone.”

Laskin has used the past month at Spruce Meadows to make some final and difficult decisions on just how the five-person jumping team will shape up for the upcoming Games, which begin in little more than a month for this equestrian discipline.

Fans of the sport will get one last opportunity to see Canada’s finest this week at the North American tournament — the finale of the 2016 summer series. But the time to impress the boss is over.

“To be honest with you, it’s already been selected,” Laskin said of the Rio-bound squad. “Our criteria stated that it needed to be selected on July 4, so it was done.  Those names will be submitted to the COC (Canadian Olympic Committee) in the next couple of days for approval and they dictate the timeline for when they’ll be announced.

“Probably two out of the five were fairly obvious, I believe, based on their performances, their experience and their results,” added Laskin, who wasn’t about to reveal names. “We certainly used the three weeks at Spruce Meadows for observation and a lot of interesting things happened in that three-week period.”

The two he alluded to, Eric Lamaze and Tiffany Foster, were certainties coming into the summer. After that, it gets a bit murky. Veteran rider Yann Candele has had some recent success with 16-year-old Showgirl, while also working with the younger First Choice 15.

Also auditioning for two other positions and the alternate spot were homegrown youngsters Ben Asselin and Kara Chad, along with Edmonton’s Elizabeth Gingras and Ontario’s Amy Millar. Millar’s dad Ian — who has appeared in 10 Olympic Games, more than anyone in history — was a long-shot with his new partner Teddy Du Bosquetiau.

“It was interesting because the candidates certainly knew what was involved,” Laskin said of the selection process. “There was a little bit of added pressure for them. We got to see how they reacted to that. Some responded positively and others not so much. So that turned out to be a determining factor when the decision was made.”

In a sampling of a dozen of the major classes over the past four weeks in which they took part, Foster and her mount Tripple X averaged 2 faults, Lamaze and Fine Lady 5 averaged 2.60, Candele and Showgirl 4.80, and Gingras and Zilversprings 5.50.

As well, the big carrot that is the Olympics has altered the frequency in which some of the top horses have been used.

“Most definitely,” Laskin agreed. “Everyone has their eye on the big prize and that’s definitely the priority and it’s the priority with our riders as well.

“However, it’s hard to just put them in bubble wrap and not do anything, from three weeks ago to the Olympics. It’s important that they compete. There’s a lot of money at stake and that’s what our riders’ livelihood is. But they were very accommodating, open to discussion and collaboration in terms of determining the competition schedule for their horses. I think we’ll be leaving this series in good shape.”

You may be sure everyone will be gunning for the prestigious ATCO Queen Elizabeth II Cup grand prix on Saturday, the big prize at the five-day North American.

Competition begins at 12:45 p.m. on Wednesday with three events in the International Ring: the AON Cup, the ATCO Energy and the PwC Cup.

 

Calgary Herald, July 5, 2016

Britni Weston