Equestrian: A comprehensive look at the competition structure and India's chances
Fouaad Mirza created history by becoming the first Indian to qualify in Equestrian at the Tokyo Olympics after 20 years. Here's a brief look at the competition structure and India's chances of winning a medal.
We all fondly remember Dipa Karmakar and her heroic display in Rio 2016. Gymnastics till then was a relatively unknown sport in the Indian context. But the eyeballs the sport gathered during and after the two-week mega event was unparalleled for an unpopular sport like Gymnastics, where India almost had no history to show before Rio.
All thanks to Dipa's stupendous 4th place finish at the games. While five years have passed since that historic moment, a similar story is set to unfold in Tokyo in few weeks, this time though in a sport called Equestrian. The focus is on India's reigning Asian Games silver medalist Fouaad Mirza, who is set to represent India in the Individual Eventing discipline of Equestrian at Tokyo 2020.
The Eventing discipline in the FEI tour is a three-day triathlon of Equestrian events. The discipline comprises three rounds - Dressage, Cross-country and Jumping in the same order. In each round, penalties are awarded for each rider based on some pre-determined criteria.
The final score is a combination of these penalties from each round. The eventual winner is the rider having the least final score. The competition starts with a Dressage round where the rider performs a sequence of moves with the horse in a stipulated time and area.
The judges award scores based on coordination between the rider and the horse and also various other parameters that judge the relationship between the horse and the rider. The second day is the Cross-country round which is a test of the endurance of the horse. Within an allotted time, the rider has to race along a 2-6 km cross-country course comprised of multiple obstacles.
Penalties are awarded for both exceeding this time and for refusal/failure by the horse to clear an obstacle. The rider also gets eliminated if there are multiple such refusals or when the rider/horse make a fall.
The final day of the competition is the Jumping round. Here the rider has to go through a shorter course having fewer but tougher obstacles within the stipulated time. Penalties are awarded for both exceeding the time and for faulting at an obstacle.
The Eventing competitions in the FEI tour are classified into different categories based on the length of the course and the level of difficulty. This tour that runs throughout the year is called Concurs Complet International (CCI). The competitions are named based on a format that indicates the level of difficulty and the length of the course. The level of difficulty is indicated by a number ranging from 1 to 5 with 1 being the least.
Each difficulty level also has a long and short course variant, indicated by 'L' or 'S' in the name. That means a CCI5*L Eventing competition is the hardest in the FEI tour, both in terms of the length of the course and the level of difficulty of the obstacles and time.
In May this year, Fouaad created history by becoming the first Indian to qualify in Equestrian at the summer games after 20 years. He also became only the 3rd Indian equestrian ever after Indrajit Lamba in 1996 and Imtiaz Anees in 2000 to qualify for the games. As Fouaad, both Indrajit and Imtiaz had represented India in the Individual Eventing discipline during their respective editions.
Imtiaz also became the first Indian to finish the Eventing competition at the games, as Indrajit had been eliminated in 1996 after an unfortunate fall in the Cross-country.
Eventing is a discipline where India has tasted success at the continental level with both team and individual medals to show at the Asian Games and Asian championships. Since its introduction in 1982, the discipline has been part of every Asian Games except 1990 and 1994.
After having swept the Individual Eventing medals at the home games in 1982, India had no Individual Eventing medals to show until 2018 when Fouaad Mirza won a Silver in the Jakarta Asian Games. However, during the same period, the team won a medal in every games that Eventing was part of till 2006.
The overall figures for India in Eventing at the Asian games is 2 Gold, 3 Silver and 5 Bronze, which indicates a very successful campaign. However, the Olympics are a whole different game altogether.
Just to put into perspective, the Eventing competition at the Asian Games 2018 was of the level CCI1*L. The Olympic games on the other hand have a category of their own. The Eventing at the games is made up of a CCI5*L equivalent Dressage and Jumping rounds, along with a 4.5 km cross-country course having a maximum of 38 obstacles to be completed in 8 mins.
The Olympic competition will also have an additional final jumping round on the 3rd day for the top 25 competitors after 3 rounds. All these factors should place the Olympics as one of the most challenging Eventing competitions in the FEI tour.
Yet, there is reason to be optimistic about Fouaad's chances in Tokyo. Not for his success at the Asian Games, but for his performances in the FEI Eventing tour in the last two years. Here, he has been consistently performing well in many 3-star and 4-star competitions with multiple podium finishes.
The biggest decision Fouaad had to make before the Olympics was a decision on his horse. The silver in Jakarta was won on Seigneur Medicott, the experienced horse he has been a partner with since 2017. However, only recently, he chose to take Dajara 4 to Tokyo, a horse he has been riding since late 2019.
He said that the additional Jumping round had a large influence on this decision. Dajara 4 has always been consistently giving good results in the Jumping rounds. Moreover, Fouaad also feels that the final day nerves will be handled better by Dajara 4.
For Seigneur Medicott, though Jumping has not been its most favoured round, has been performing much better than Dajara 4 in the Cross-country. In contrast, Dajara 4 has been largely poor in Cross-country, but has been showing signs of improvement in recent tournaments. This also possibly made the decision easier for Fouaad.
In Dressage, although both the horses have had almost identical scores, there is however a slight room for improvement for Dajara 4 here too. As it is a relatively new horse for Fouaad, there is a hope that their coordination will only improve with more competitions.
In terms of medal chances, Fouaad will have a huge task cut out for him in Tokyo. After the Dressage round on the opening day, the biggest challenge for him will be on day 2 in the Cross-country. If he manages to overcome day 2 with very minimal penalties, then there is every reason to believe.
The last two jumping rounds on the last day are a battle of nerves, but that is also the reason why he selected Dajara 4 in the first place. It is the horse that has been consistently performing well in Jumping for about 2 years now. So, if everything falls in place, he has a chance of writing his own piece of history, a Dipa Karmakar like story of 2021 (if not better).
And one can only imagine the boost the sport will receive in the country after that.