Lyndal Oatley’s 1st Olympics Amidst Australian Team Turmoil
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By KENNETH J. BRADDICK
AACHEN, Germany, July 10–One of Lyndal Oatley’s greatest strengths is dealing with stress, learned around her Olympic and championship rider husband, Patrik Kittel of Sweden, and her first world championship team in Kentucky in 2010. But none of those experiences prepared her for the turmoil surrounding the selection of Australia’s dressage team in which she and Sandro Boy were the leading combination.
Lyndal doesn’t like to speak about the politics of the selection process, preferring to let her results do the talking as they did at both trials, in Mannheim, Germany and Compiègne, France, where she and her family’s Sandro Boy were the leading Australian pair that automatically placed them on the team and not subject to appointment by the selectors.
Based in Germany, she has been there for fellow German-based Aussie Hayley Beresford in her struggles with breast cancer and the traumatic loss in an auto accident of Relåmpago do Retiro, the stallion on whom Hayley was ranked 18th at the 2008 Olympics but was eliminated from the 2010 world championships in Kentucky.
Lyndal is over the moon about her first Olympics and her focus is on being ready for the dressage team competition at London’s Greenwich Park startng on Aug. 2., and the unusual situation of competing against her husband who is also her coach. She credits both the Australian and Swedish camps of helping them be husband and wife although in separate training camps whenever possible in England.
Lyndal has tried not to allow the tsunami of media reports of critcism by Hayley and her supporters of the Australian team selectors, who were decried as favoring wealth over results for not choosing Hayley for one of the other two places on the team, cloud her experience of the moment.
She even sees some positives in it.
“It’s a sport that everyone is passionate about,” she told dressage-news.com. “That’s what drives us all. Hopefully, we can get on with the job and move on to London.
“This has been my first Olympic campaign and to share it with two riders with such a wealth of experience will be a learning curve again that I very much look forward to.
“Twelve years ago, I sat watching the Olympics in Sydney and made it my goal, and to now head to the Olympics after topping both qualifiers and earning my position on the team is a huge thrill and something I have worked hard for and sacrified many things for—as anyone in my position would relate to.”
“Now I look forward to competing and enoying the Games.”
She has embraced the experience of being an Olympian, from the Australians who travel to Europe to wave the flag and scream their support for the team–including her family and close friends that are a big group –to signing autographs for “a beautiful bunch of kids” at a Sydney grammar school whose passion she found inspiring and one of the best experiences in her life.
Her team mates are her German-based cousin, Kristy Oatley on Clive, and Mary Hanna on Sancette. Both Kristy and Mary are veterans of Olympics and world championships.
Hayley’s appeals to a review panel of Equestrian Australia, the country’s national federation, and the Court of Arbitration for Sport based in Lausanne, Switzerland, were both dismissed.
At the heart of Hayley’s complaints is the selection criteria that contains contingencies such as footing and atmosphere at competitions, relationships with other riders, for example, and options to make changes to the rules along the way, irrespective of head-to-head competition results, that she said favored Kristy and Mary.
The exception was the partnership of Lyndal and the 11-year-old Oldenburg gelding (Sandro Hit x Utopia x Argentinus) whose successful results from panels of five international judges at each selection trial placed them beyond the opinions of the selectors.
Even before the two European trials, Lyndal and Sandro Boy were the standout Australian couple in Europe this year. At Horses & Dreams CDI4* in Hagen, Germany, in April and after riding Sandro Boy for less than a year and in only their second CDI, they became the only pair from Down Under to score more than 70 per cent. And they repeated that result during the trials.
The experience of winning selection to her first team has left her “up and down like a yo-yo,” depending on what’s going on.
“At first I was a bit anxious,” she said during the World Equestrian Festival at Aachen, Germany, where she rode Sandro Boy in only their fifth CDI on the Australian team for the experience of dealing with an atmosphere that is probably the closest to the Olympics. “Now, I’m getting work oriented and focused. Sandro Boy dealt with the atmosphere like it was nothing so right now I’m relieved.”
In one of the CDIO classes, Patrik was the ride after Lyndal so she had no coaching and a different groom than Sandro Boy was used to in the warmup, a situation that she laughed about as “makes life complicated,” an attitude that has made her popular in Europe.
“It was very important to get Sandro Boy’s confidence up and to be consistent. I wanted him to be happy with out destroying his confidence.”
She knew the first time she sat on Sandro Boy he was the horse that would bring her dreams “within my grasp.”
“I was cautiously optimistic it would happen this year,” she said. “Although I had Potifar, Sandro Boy has improved with each competition. I tend to focus on one goal at a time. I was in the right spot at the right time to make the Olympic team.”
“I try to keep it as simple as possible. The more drama and expectations you put on yourself doesn’t work for me.”
Potifar, the horse Lyndal rode in Kentucky in 2010, has benefited from her attention to Sandro Boy for the past several months as he’s blossomed taking it easy and will be ready to go back into the competiion arena this fall.
Observers note Lyndal’s calmness during competitions and her belief in the maxim she quotes by Adelinde Cornelissen with two consecutive World Cup titles to her name, “it’s a 60 by 20 meter arena, the same size whether it’s at home or the Olympics.”
Lyndal has had no sport psychology, but her parents gave the advice she always followed of staying “coool, calm and collected and expect the unexpected.”
She initially learned to deal with the stress of competing in Australian “show” riding and then was “fortunate enough to have learned from experience by being there with Patrik. I’ve learned to develop coping mechanisms. One of my strongest points is under pressure.”
But the biggest factor in her psychology was dealing with Potifar, a “hot” Jazz offspring that she had to learn to focus on each movement.
Lyndal says that coming late to dressage was one of the major reasons for coming to Europe as “the best way of learning. You get to watch the best riders in the world in the warmups, the different exercises they perform…. some focus on transitions, others corners, others more impulsion, variations of halts and pirouettes and linking things together in a way that works best for them.
“And you have much more abundance of great trainers, bigger competitions. I went right after Damon Hill here in Aachen. How do you cope with that? I look at it as a great honor to ride after Helen (Langehanenberg).”
The biggest moment of her riding career so far will be London, and Lyndal admits that, like most athletes on the world’s biggest sports stage, she does not really knows how they will react and perform in the moment.
“When I go up the center line and halt I know I’ll have competed at the Olympics,” she said, then paused and added. “The opening ceremony will kick in the Olympic spirit.
“When you come down to it, though, I have to keep it simple, keeping my mentality until the last centerline and halt and then I will realize I have done it.
“You never know. It’s huge. I remember my first Aachen, everyone talks about Aachen.
“it’s how you deal with your emotions, all those things surrounding you that you have no control over.”
Beyond the Olympics, she wants to qualify for the World Cup Final that will be in Gothenberg, Sweden, next year, which means particiipating in the European indoor circuit that she thinks would be fun
Then there’s the competition that many couples will relate to.
“A couple of times I came close to beaing Patrik,” she said of her husband who was on the 2008 Beijing Games team and won bronze medals with the Swedish team at the 2009 European Championships and as an individual in the Freestyle at 2011 Europeans. “We don’t take each other very seriously but until I beat him he has the upper hand. So I have to be his good student and good wife.
“But when I beat him, watch out! It will be good fun.”