Olympic Qualifying Through Pan Am Games to be Finalized

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Nations Cup teams on the medals podium at the 2013 Wellington CDIO3*. © 2013 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com
Nations Cup teams from the United States and Canada on the medals podium at the 2013 Wellington CDIO3*. None from other Pan American nations. © 2013 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

By KENNETH J. BRADDICK

The format for Pan American Games nations to qualify for the 2016 Olympic Games is scheduled to be finalized by the end of August, and is expected to require at least one Grand Prix horse on a team to be eligible for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

The requirement for at least one of the maximum of four horses and riders on a Pan Am team to be at Grand Prix for the Olympics means that nations with four small tour horses–the standard at the Pan Ams–will still be able to win gold at the championships but not go on to the Olympics without a Grand Prix combination on the team.

An issue still undecided is whether Grand Prix horses and riders at the qualifying Nations Cup in Wellington, Florida would receive bonus points as they did at the 2013 Nations Cup. The overwhelming response from participants was that no bonus points should be awarded.

The International Equestrian Federation (FEI) Dressage Committee’s Thomas Baur and Maribel Alonzo de Quinzaños of Mexico, a FEI 5* judge and active in governing the sport, have led development of the new Pan Am format and the Nations Cups at Wellington, Florida.

The two have worked with the Wellington organizers for more than than three years to create a formula that keeps dressage alongside the other two Olympic equestrian sports of jumping and eventing as vital elements of the Pan Ams while raising the standard to meet Olympic demands.

The search for a new format for the Pan Ams, the largest multi-discipline sports event after the Olympics, was driven by the fact that only Canada and the United States have been able to field full Grand Prix teams. At the same time, the Pan Ams are critical in development of horse sports in the Americas. Requiring Grand Prix level teams would decimate entries and could lead to dressage being dropped from the Pan Ams.

The 2011 Pan Ams in Guadalajara, Mexico, saw a record 12 teams competing when the Nations Cup was at Prix St. Georges.

Colombia placed third. As the United States had qualified a team at the 2010 World Equestrian Games, Canada and Colombia were the two countries to qualify teams for the London Games.

Canada had no problem putting together a Grand Prix team with the minimum scores required for the Olympics, but Colombia was unable to do so. Not a single horse/rider combination from Colombia qualified for London despite an expensive European campaign.

The proposed new format, if accepted by the FEI Dressage Committee, drew on the experience of 2011/2012.

It will be implemented for the first time at the Global Dressage Festival (GDF) Nations Cup in Wellington, Florida in the winter of 2014, a year ahead of the next Pan American Games scheduled for Toronto in 2015.

That means the event can be held in 2014 and as the Nations Cup in Wellington will be held the following year about six months before the Pan Ams in 2015, there will be an opportunity to iron out any wrinkles.

Organizers of the GDF staged the first non championship Nations Cup in the Western Hemisphere in 2012 at small tour. In 2013, the event was reconfigured to allow teams a mix of big and small tour combinations.

Even so, only the United States, Canada, Australia and a Europe squad included a Grand Prix combination. None of the other teams from the Americas included a Grand Prix horse and rider.

Approval by the FEI of a final format means that nations other than the 29 countries throughout the Americas will be invited to compete in only the third non-championship Nations Cup in the Western Hemisphere in Wellington next winter.

Even with concerns over Pan Am qualifying, a growing number of Europeans have indicated intention to compete at the Global Dressage Festival in 2014, most likey at Grand Prix as that level also earns world ranking points and they couldcompete at some World Cup events on the winter schedule.

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

Michael Stone, president of Equestrian Sport Productions that manages the Global Dressage Festival,has made it clear that his organization will do whatever it takes to make a success of the Nations Cup to benefit the Pan Ams.

The issue of whether the Pan American Games will qualify one or two teams for the Olympics is still up in the air.

For the 2012 Games, the Americans qualified one team, the United States, at the WEG in Kentucky and two teams at the Pan Ams.

A new qualifyng format proposed by the FEI wants to allow four teams to qualify through the WEG and one at the Pan Ams. The effect would be that if no team from the Americas qualified at WEG, only one would get to qualify through the Pan Americans.

Brazil as the host nation gets a spot in the Games but that typically does not count in qualifying as it applies to all 28 sports regardless of geography. The FEI has used the fact that Brazil is quaified as a team to rationalize reducing participation from the Americas.

Canada and several Pan American nations have spoken out strongly against the proposal but the United States has not publicly joined in fighting the idea.