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Eric Lamaze not thrilled with Olympic show jumping changes

CamadaÕs Eric Lamaze rides Coco Bongo in the AKITA Drilling Cup during the Spruce Meadows Masters show jumping competition in Calgary, Wednesday September 4, 2019.  Gavin Young/Postmedia
CamadaÕs Eric Lamaze rides Coco Bongo in the AKITA Drilling Cup during the Spruce Meadows Masters show jumping competition in Calgary, Wednesday September 4, 2019. Gavin Young/Postmedia

He is admittedly not at his best physically, but Eric Lamaze was in fighting form on Wednesday after a mere mention of the changes to the Olympic equestrian rules.

“It’s horrible,” fumed Lamaze, Canada’s finest show jumping rider ever. “It’s the worst thing that could have happened to our sport. The Olympics was not broken. It was a fantastic event to be at.

“There’s no logic to it. If you find the logic, you tell me.”

The powers that be in the sport have decided to make some significant alterations for the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo. Teams will be trimmed from four riders plus an alternate to three and there will not be a drop score. There will be an extra rider who can at any time replace an existing rider. As well, more countries will be allowed to qualify.

FEI president Ingmar De Vos is quoted as saying: “This was a really important vote for the future of our sport if we are to increase universality. It opens the door to countries that could only see the Olympics as a distant dream.”

Lamaze respectfully disagrees.

“You know the Jamaican bobsled team? That’s what it’s going to be. There will be a movie made about this,” retorted Lamaze, a gold medalist in 2008. “Killing our sport so there are more flags around the stadium. Why? There’s other places for those countries to go … why the Olympics? I don’t understand the thinking behind it.

“It’s horrible in this sense: you have three riders, you have a fourth that can come in at any time. So what do you think that does to the team spirit when your fourth rider is sitting in the stands and wishes that you don’t do well so they can come in? What do you think that does?”

“We had a format that for so many years worked. The stands were full in Rio, they were full in Hong Kong. People loved the team event; then that was over and the individual event came on. This doesn’t work.”

The fact that riders’ input was not sought really rubs Lamaze the wrong way.

“The riders are impacted because we feel they can do anything they want without our consent or our ideas or without listening to us,” he said. “We’re the ones living the sport. We know what works and we know what doesn’t. And how can somebody make that big a decision .. why screw it up for us. I hope it won’t happen because it’ll be disastrous.

“I think it’s too late, but if they ever could change it, it would be the smartest thing they could ever do. And they would be supported 100 percent by the riders. We take it seriously. We don’t want to see someone get hurt.

“I think all riders should boycott the Olympics, to be honest, and jut say if you don’t reverse this, we’re plain not coming. They took a perfect system and broke it.”

The 51-year-old, who has been battling a brain tumour for several months, is hopeful he’ll be in a position to be a part of next year’s Canadian squad.

“I don’t know,” he sighed. “It’s my goal, yes. One show at a time for now.”

Lamaze returned to Spruce Meadows after competing in the first two weeks of the summer series. On Wednesday, he and Chacco Kid finished third in a jump-off for the TELUS Cup, the first 2019 Masters event won by Irishman Daniel Coyle and Cita.

Asked about his current health, Lamaze was noncommittal.

“It is what it is,” he said, haltingly. “That’s all I can say. I don’t have an answer you’re going to be happy with.

“In the summer tournament, we have students, young horses … so those four weeks are fairly gruelling. For me, this is an easier tournament in terms of my work load. I think I will enjoy this week.”

Lamaze had a fine opening day, as he also appeared in the jump-off in the second class in the International Ring, the AKITA Drilling Cup, this time with Coco Bongo. The two took their time going through the course cleanly, finishing in sixth.

The winner was Brazil’s Eduardo Menezes, second to Coyle earlier in the day, aboard H5 Quintol.

“My horse loves it here,” said Menezes. “The jump-off suited him; he has a really big stride. And lucky to be (last) so I could see what those guys were doing.

“I really do feel at home at Spruce Meadows, but once you’re competing against those guys, you’d better not feel too much at home otherwise you won’t win much.”

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019

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