News Analysis–How Nations in Americas Qualify for the 2016 Olymics Under Current FEI Proposal

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Teams of Canada, USA and Colombia on the medals podium at the 2011 Pan American Games. All three qualified--the USA at the 2010 World Equestrian Games and Canada and Colombia at the Pan Ams. © Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com
Teams of Canada, USA and Colombia on the medals podium at the 2011 Pan American Games. All three qualified–the USA at the 2010 World Equestrian Games and Canada and Colombia at the Pan Ams. © Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

By KENNETH J. BRADDICK

The 2015 Pan American Games may come down to a battle between Canada and the United States for the single team slot at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro the following year and, under the International Equestrian Federation proposal debated Monday, likely snuffing out any hope of a South American nation aside from host Brazil making it to the first Olympics on the continent.

If neither of the two Noth American nations earn a spot by finishing in the top four at the World Equestrian Games next year, the only hope remaining for Canada to avoid not sending a team to the Olympics for the first time since Sydney in 2000 or the United States since the U.S.-led boyott in 1980 is to qualify enough individuals to form a “composite” team.

It is not only the fate of Canada and the United States to field teams that is at stake.

Two continents–North America and South America– with a total of 36 nations and approaching one billion people that saw a record of 12 nations field teams at the 2011 Pan Ams, albeit at small tour, is having representation through competition cut at the same time as dressage at the Olympics is expanded to the largest number ever, 60 combinations up from 50.

And this week’s two-day FEI Sports Forum to debate the issue is being held the same time as the only Nations Cup in the Western Hemisphere is being staged in Wellington, Florida a collaborative effort of the FEI, Latin American nations led by Mexico’s Maribel Alonso and Equestrian Sport Productions that is organizing the event for the second year in a row and putting up $35,000 in prize money.

Ten teams are entered in the Nations Cup–four-member squads of combinations exclusively from Colombia and Venezuela, included.

Ahead of this Nations Cup, Canada, Mexico and others in the Americas spoke out against the Olympic qualifiction procedures.

Critics of the FEI draft used the FEI’s own words to denounce the cuts–“… we need to find the best balance between universality and performance and to give equal chances to all regions. There is no perfect solution, but it is important to have consensus within our community. The credibility of that community and of our sport depends on our ability to put aside national interests and stand together behind a unified proposal for the IOC.”

The United States, the only country from the Americas with a member on the FEI Dressage Comittee in which the other five are West Europeans and voted for the four WEG chances while keeping the Pan Ams at one, has been a noticeable fence-sitter. The U.S. sent a representative to the Forum before it decides what to do.

A final decision by the FEI will be made in November when the Gneral Assembly, the ultimate decision-making body of the Lausanne, Switzerland-based horse sports governmnt, votes on the qualification process before sending it to the International Olympic Committee that will set the terms.

The schedule for nations in the Americas:

1. At the World Equestrian Games in Normany in 2014, four teams will win a starting place at the 2016 Olympics. So far, only Steffen Peters of San Diego, California and Legolas have consistently delivered CDI scores above 74 per cent at Grand Prix while results for the second best U.S. combination of Heather Blitz of Wellington, Florida and Paragon have been in the low to mid 70 per cent range. Only Ashley Holzer and Breaking Dawn, the horse she rode for Canada at last summer’s Olympics in London, has so far been in the mix. To put it in perspective, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden and Denmark have multiple combinations turning in scores above mid-70s. And there is the wild card of Great Britain’s still-intact Olympic gold medal team.

2. The Pan American Games in Toronto a year later will be the next chance to qualify. Only one team entered there can book a berth to Rio. If no teams from the Americas qualified at WEG, Canada will be looking to send a team to its fourth straight Olympics–it did not have a team at Sydney in 2000. So, too, will the United States that aside from the Moscow Olympics in 1980 that it skipped along with most of the then non-Communist nations in the Cold War world has sent a team to every Games since 1960.

3. For all the nations that do not win the single place at the Pan Ams, there is one chance left–to qualify three or more individuals based on results from Jan. 1, 2015 to Mar. 1, 2016. Nations that qualify three or more riders can declare a so-called “composite” team.

The FEI has set up a Sports Forum web site for people to expresss their opinions–http://sportsforum.fei.org/