Break-In Heightens Cian O’Connor Mystery

Individual show jumping medalists Rodrigo Pessoa, Cian O’Connor and Chris Kappler. | © 2004 by Nancy Jaffer

Nov. 2, 2004 — With more sinister twists than a Dick Francis novel, the Olympic doping case involving show jumping individual gold medalist Cian O’Connor’s horse, Waterford Crystal, has taken another couple of crazy turns.

The FEI (international equestrian federation) announced yesterday that part of Waterford Crystal’s “B” sample had been “illegally taken.” After the “A” sample was determined to be positive for a forbidden substance, O’Connor had requested–as was his right–to have the B sample tested. The sample was on its way by third-party courier from a lab in Paris to a lab in Britain when it disappeared on Oct. 21.

Then early this morning, there was a break-in at the Irish equestrian federation offices in Kildare. Though authorities were mum on what connection, if any, there was to the O’Connor case, a radio reporter in Ireland today read off a list of drugs found in another O’Connor horse, ABC Landliebe. The reporter said the list had been faxed to him anonymously, and speculation is that those papers were what was removed from the Irish offices.

The BBC also reported that RTE, Ireland’s state broadcaster, had said that fluphenizine and zuclo penthixol, an anti-psychotic drug, were found in Waterford Crystal’s A sample, while Guanabenz, an anti-hypertension drug, was discovered in ABC Landliebe.

But the case of ABC Landliebe, which like the Waterford Crystal matter involved tranquilizers, had already been decided. O’Connor lost his placing at the show where the test was taken and was fined 1,600 Euros, according to a spokesman for the Irish equestrian federation.

After word about Waterford Crystal’s positive test came out, O’Connor announced that the horse had received a tranquilizer weeks before the Games to assist while he was having hydrotherapy. O’Connor insisted that would not have affected his performance in Greece.

It appears the portion of the B sample that was taken was urine, while the FEI still has custody of the blood. The FEI, which said it is conducting its own internal investigation while police look at the theft angle, stated that the drug case against O’Connor is proceeding.

But the whole business has those in the horse world shaking their heads.

“I can’t believe it. It’s just amazing,” said retiring U.S. show jumping coach Frank Chapot, who noted he has never heard anything like it during his nearly six decades in international competition.

He is concerned that continuing controversy involving Olympic horse sport–from the reallocation of medals in eventing to the death of Royal Kaliber and footing problems in Greece, German drug positives and now the shock value of the O’Connor case–could impact equestrian sport’s place in the Games after 2008.

There is also great concern about establishing what exactly happened with the missing sample, but the FEI is offering little information.

“Given the facts as I understand them, it’s safe to say there’s some incompetence along the way,” said Jim Wolf, the U.S. Equestrian Federation’s games preparation director, who on Dec. 1 becomes director of high performance.

“It’s very important for us to know where the responsibility for the sample going missing lies, so we’re sure this type of thing never happens again,” he said.

If O’Connor loses his medal–Ireland’s only gold of the Athens Games, and Ireland’s first ever Olympic prize in equestrian sport–Rodrigo Pessoa would be elevated from the individual silver to gold, while Royal Kaliber’s rider, Chris Kappler, would go from bronze to silver. German Marco Kutscher, who was fourth, would take the bronze.

There is also the possibility of the U.S. moving up to gold in the team jumping because German Ludger Beerbaum’s horse, Goldfever, tested positive for a forbidden substance. If he is disqualified, the Germans drop to third and the Swedes gain the silver behind America.

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