Eventers from Australia and The People’s Republic of China were suitably euphoric after claiming the two Olympic places up for grabs at Millstreet (IRL). Australia were the decisive overall winners of the FEI Eventing Designated Qualifier for Groups F and G on a score of 100.8, whilst China made history by qualifying for a team spot in second place on 122.1.
British-based Alex Hua Tian (fourth individually on Chicko) first rode at the Olympics in 2008, but until now, he has been China’s sole representative. They finished a painfully narrow margin ahead of Japan who were heart-broken to finish third on 125.7, and missing out on qualification.
Indeed, Millstreet in Co Cork took on extra significance this year when it played host to six teams in the CCIO3*-L Qualifier, which was one of the final chances to qualify for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games for Groups F and G, which consists of nations in Africa, the Middle East, South-East Asia, and Oceania.
Six nations contested the crucial qualifying event: Australia, China, Japan, New Zealand, South Africa, and Morocco. Australia, who has had an illustrious Eventing record over decades, as well as multiple team gold medals, had so far not qualified for the Paris Olympic Games in 2024. They took no chances, fielding the Tokyo silver medal trio of Andrew Hoy, Shane Rose, and Millstreet regular Kevin McNab, although it was the 27-year-old Shenae Lowings who ruled the roost by leading the class from the start.
Finishing on a Dressage score of 24.9, Lowings rode one of the fastest cross-country times of the day, on the former racehorse Bold Venture. This talented combination made their first major appearance for the Australian team at the World Championships in Pratoni del Vivaro, last year. “Paris, here we come!” she declared on completion of the event.
“This has been the plan for a long time, so to do the job here is great, and means that we can now work towards Paris and maybe going one better than in Tokyo,” explained 2021 team silver medallist Shane Rose, who had flown all the way from Australia to help the national effort.
The People’s Republic of China were visibly thrilled with their performance and qualification. They fielded a team of four athletes who rode some strong Jumping and cross-country rounds against combinations who had previously competed at Olympic Games and World Championships.
Hua Tian was joined by Huadong Sun (eighth) and Yingfeng Bao (ninth), who are both based in the Netherlands with trainer Martin Lips, whilst Ruiji Liang (17th) divides his time between Belgium and China and is chiefly a Jumping athlete. “It’s worth saying just how much of a sacrifice they have all made, leaving their families behind to represent their country in Eventing,” said Alex.
The New Zealand Team were also competing with some of their less experienced horses as they had already qualified for Paris in Pratoni last year, but their Chef d’Equipe Sam Griffiths summed up this pivotal competition for other nations:
“I’ve actually just bumped into the Chinese team who got their spot and they are absolutely over the moon. The Australians fielded an incredibly strong team. The course was strong enough and time played quite an issue. It ended up being a really good competition. The Australians were a bit ahead, but between the Japanese and the Chinese, it came right down to the Jumping, making it a really exciting competition to watch. Japan is a really strong nation so that was a really big ‘upstep’ that China qualified in front of Japan.”
There are 16 team slots on offer for Eventing at Paris 2024, including one for host nation France. There will be serious competition for the remaining five Olympic team places, with Australia and China now taking the tenth and eleventh slot. Germany (2022 world champions at Herning), the USA, New Zealand, and Great Britain (2020 Tokyo champions), as well as Ireland, Sweden, and Switzerland all secured their places as the highest ranked teams at the 2022 FEI Eventing World Championship at Pratoni del Vivaro (ITA), whilst Team Poland took the only qualifying spot in Group C FEI Designated Olympic Qualifier at Baborówko (POL).
The FEI Eventing European Championship at Pin au Haras, France this August and the 2023 Pan American Games at Santiago, Chile in October will provide further chances for nations to qualify. The last chance to earn a single Team slot to Paris 2024 will be the FEI Eventing Nations Cup™ Series, which wraps up at Boekelo in the Netherlands in October.
All is not lost for athletes whose teams don’t ultimately qualify to compete at the Château de Versailles next year.
In addition to the 16 Team spots (48 athletes), there are 17 Individual quota places to be allocated across multiple Olympic groups. Final places will be determined in 2024 and will be announced by the FEI once they have been confirmed.