In less than 10 weeks the Irish show jumping team’s battle for Olympic qualification begins.
At the World Championships in Herning, Denmark (4-10 August) the top five countries will earn their places in the Paris 2024 line-up, where I am convinced Ireland could win its first ever Olympic team show jumping medal.
Right now, we have nine riders listed in the world’s top 50 – double that of any other country.
With the historic decision by RTÉ to broadcast our four major Nations Cup team outings this summer, just about all of those stars will get home exposure like never before. Sport Ireland has provided over €2m in funding. It is time to deliver.
At one of the Olympics I covered for RTÉ, I recorded an interview explaining why our team had not qualified for the final. When I returned to the studio my producer took a quick listen to my tape, dropped it the bin and said, “we are not here to broadcast excuses”.
In terms of our show jumping squads, our time for excuses is over. For the sake of both the sport and our sport horse industry, it is time for results, and all the better if it comes with some Irish-breds.
History of disasters
Starting with London in 1948, Irish show jumping has sent teams to 12 Olympiads. For the most part it has been a history of disasters, but I think our time for glory has come. Senior Manager Michael Blake has four shots at qualifying.
This year, in addition to the five places available at Herning, the top team at the FEI Nations Cup final in Barcelona will also get a ticket. We won it in 2020 and came second in 2021, so our record there is good.
During 2023 there will once again be a place on offer at the Barcelona final plus three at the European Show Jumping Championships in Milan. Thus over the next 16 months or so, our teams have a total of 10 Olympic qualifying possibilities.
Down the years in this column I have often bemoaned the fact that in recent times there has been a huge disconnect between the extraordinary successes of our many show jumping stars and the general Irish population.
RTÉ’s ground-breaking decision to broadcast our upcoming Nations Cup outings to Sopot and Rotterdam in June and then Hickstead just before the World Championships, will give our riders plenty of exposure before the home audience prior to Dublin.
As I see it, this is perhaps the most exciting era in the history of Irish show jumping. It would be great if we could crown it with an Olympic team medal. Paris 2024 could be our time. CL