Great Britain’s Chef d’Equipe Di Lampard has selected the most experienced showjumping team possible to defend Great Britain’s Olympic title at the Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games. With six-time Olympian Nick Skelton (58), five-time Olympian John Whitaker (61), four-time Olympian Michael Whitaker (56) and two-time Olympian Ben Maher (33), Team GB includes some of the legends of showjumping. World of Showjumping spoke to Di Lampard about her choices made for this year’s Olympic Games and the future of British showjumping with new talented riders coming up.
“It is a privilege to work alongside these four riders. We all know what it takes and we will work together to make it work. The Olympics will be crying out for experienced riders,” Di Lampard emphasizes about the Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games this month. With the uncertainties about the whole organization in Rio de Janeiro in mind, an experienced team seems to be an advantage. “This has been in consideration as well. Rio is going to be very challenging. I am sure the Olympics will be fantastic when we get there, but it will be challenging to get everything together and to get it out there. These four guys are experienced enough to take it in their stride and cope with it!”
At a certain point, Di Lampard knew she was going to pick her team with an average age of 52 – thanks to 33-year-old Ben Maher. “After Rotterdam, I knew what our team was going to be. But Nick, John and Michael have been planning it for years!” Di smiles. “Actually, Rio has been on Nick’s agenda since London. He has been working by a long term plan with a very careful schedule going into Rio. John’s mare has been rested during the winter and started coming out competing again in the spring, but when Lummen was cancelled Rome was her first Nations Cup. We did not see a lot of her until Rome, where she jumped the Nations Cup double clear. She performed fantastic ever since. For Michael, Rio has been definitely a two-year plan since he got Cassionato. Last year’s greatest challenge for Michael was for sure getting Great Britain qualified for Rio at the European Championships in Aachen. Since then, Michael worked by a table made plan to get the horse to Rio in top form.”
These four riders – including Ben Maher who will be attending his third Olympic Games – have been through almost everything. What could Di Lampard possibly do to support and advise these riders? “I have known them all for many, many years. Including Ben, I was Chef d’Equipe of the pony team for the Europeans when Ben was winning gold medals. Ben is riding Tic Tac – a relatively new horse to him who produced clear rounds in La Baule, Rome and Rotterdam. Ben is truly a fantastic rider to work with,” Di emphasizes. “I know the characters of these riders inside out, so I hopefully know to say the right things at the right time and when to stand back. In addition, I have to make sure everything is ready and available for them in Rio. These riders are all very determined and no stones will be left unturned, they aren’t going to make the numbers up. There will certainly be a good team spirit as well, since these riders have come together again after all these years. So, accumulating their experience with a bit of luck we will be up there again,” Lampard says when speaking about her hopes on the outcome in Rio.
For this season, Di Lampard had to deal with two great opposites. On one hand, having Big Star and Nick Skelton back on the top of their game. On the other, losing Olympic medal contender Scott Brash with both Hello Sanctos and Hello M’Lady. “It has been fantastic to have Big Star back. If you saw him jumping at the show in Knokke, he looks wonderful. Nick himself is also looking fitter than ever. When they jumped their first Nations Cup again in La Baule, their second round looked like London 2012 all over again. They are something special to look forward to in Rio!”
But losing Scott has been a great disappointment for Di. “It is very disappointing to have a top class rider like Scott Brash unfortunately without a horse for the Olympics. Although the Olympics are every four years, it is possible they came one month too early for his horses. We have communicated the plan throughout the whole season, but only weeks before the final decision was made we realized that Scott’s horses just needed a bit more time. They won’t be on top form in Rio.”
Di Lampard’s expression when talking about Scott’s absence says it all. “Scott is such a brilliant rider. Have you seen his masterly performances lately? Such as his double clear in the Nations Cup in Aachen?”
But what about Tokyo 2020? Will Di Lampard and British showjumping still count on a 65-year-old John Whitaker and Michael and Nick in their early sixties? “I am really trying to promote the youth as well. If you take our reserve rider Jessica Mendoza, she is only 20-years-old and the Olympic Games have been on her mind for the last two years. She also contributed to get Great Britain qualified last year and we certainly did not only select her for Rio to bring the average age down,” Di Lampard smiles. “At her age, to go out there to Rio and get the Olympic experience and to work alongside these four riders is just wonderful experience for her.”
Di is determined to leave a legacy for the future of British showjumping. “We have some very talented young riders and many riders in their late twenties and middle thirties who just need to find supporting owners to enable them to keep or purchase suitable quality horses. They are naturally very talented riders. But when it comes to championships, like the Olympics, the old ones are still there and the young ones have to prove themselves knocking them off the top.”
According to Lampard, the talent is there for Great Britain’s riders, they just need the right horses. “It is just a matter of having the right horse power on the right time at any stage in a rider’s career and have the gift to be able to find one. We are not a country that breeds a lot of horses, but we have some very good owners in England. We need to encourage new owners to support our riders. This is very much part of my plan looking forward towards Tokyo and beyond. As a nation we do a lot for the young riders with the support of UK Sport & the National Lottery through to podium five-star and championship level. When you see a young rider like Tim Wilks jumping double clear in his first senior Nations Cup in Lisbon & Falsterbo or Robert Bevis jumping double clear in the Aga Khan in Dublin and Emma O’Dwyer, Millie Allen and Jake Saywell performing brilliantly as well, we certainly have high hopes for the future.”
Rio will for sure be very exciting for Di Lampard, but the years to come might be even more interesting. “We are already looking forward to Tokyo. It will be an interesting time for a Chef d’Equipe, seeing how long these riders – John, Michael and Nick – will go on and inspire the young riders to get going,” Lampard concludes.
Text © World of Showjumping by Peter van der Waaij // Picture © Jenny Abrahamsson
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