Markopoulo, Greece, August 19, 2004–I “slept in” this morning, not getting up until 9 a.m. (but it wasn’t long enough, considering I got to sleep at 5 a.m. after our event ended at midnight and I worked into the wee hours.)
While I was sleeping, officials of the British, French and U.S. equestrian federations were meeting to discuss their appeal of the team eventing results.
You’ll remember that yesterday Germany’s Bettina Hoy had made two circles before the first fence in the show jumping phase of eventing, which is a no-no. Initially, she wasn’t charged with penalties, then she was, then she wasn’t, as the ground jury and an appeals jury looked at the matter in succession.
The appeals jury felt that since the scoreboard had been restarted it was management’s fault, not the athlete’s, for making a second circle when she saw the change in the clock. But experienced competitors noted that there is always a back-up timer, and that if there is a serious problem — say, a fence that has blown down or a dog on the course — the jury sounds the horn again to stop the rider so the situation can be addressed.
The French, Brits and Americans believe “the rules are the rules. This was blatant breaking of the rules. There are all kinds of rules you have to play by, and you don’t go through the start flags unless you mean it,” explained Jim Wolf, the U.S. federation’s director of eventing and games preparation.
The federations have decided to pursue their contention that Bettina should be charged with penalties.
“They’re investigating what remedies are available through different avenues; deciding the best way to file and what their case would be,” Jim said. “It may take some time.”
If their appeal is upheld, the Germans would lose the team gold and Bettina her individual gold. The French would get gold, the Brits silver and the U.S. bronze. Britain’s Leslie Law would be elevated to the individual gold, America’s Kim Severson to the individual silver and Britain’s Pippa Funnell to the individual bronze. But whatever medal ceremony they’d get if that happens won’t be the same as having it at the Olympic stadium with packed stands going wild in a frenzy of nationalistic fervor.
The whole business “leaves a bad taste in your mouth,” as U.S. coach Mark Phillips put it. The medal ceremony last night seemed flawed to me, with the thought that the gold, silver and bronze medals may not have yet found their permanent homes.
There was also quite an undercurrent surfacing. When the medals reverted to the Germans, U.S. show jumping high performance chairman George Morris called it “a disgrace.” He contended, “The Germans control the sport and every aspect of international competition.”
I’ve heard this said that in horse sports, what the Germans want, the Germans get. Like the 2006 World Equestrian Games that so many thought should have gone to Kentucky.
Someone else brought up the Ingrid Klimke incident. I told you that on cross-country she had a fall between the 15th and 16th fences when her horse, Sleep Late, slipped. She remounted quickly and finished on the fastest time of the day. I still can’t believe that she could even make the time allowed with a fall, and I questioned (three times) the technical delegate, Mike Etherington-Smith about it. He swore that it had been checked and was accurate.
Anyway, Ingrid didn’t appear in the team jumping finals. When I asked her why, she said her horse didn’t feel right, and she took him back to the barn. One rider said that under the circumstances, she wondered why Ingrid hadn’t been charged with riding irresponsibly and given a 25-point penalty.
So with all these accusations ringing in my head, I spoke with Hanfried Haring, the secretary-general of the German Equestrian Federation.
He raised his eyebrows at the allegations and said, “We ride under the same rules like everyone,” pointing out that the head of the ground jury, which penalized Bettina before the appeals folks stepped in, was a German.
“I’m very sorry for the sport,” he said.
Me too. This was just what eventing needed, starting with the horse that had to be
put down after sustaining a fracture on cross-country, and ending with a big
controversy involving the medals. The discipline’s place in the Olympic
firmament has been tenuous enough; that’s why the format was changed to
Speaking of change, I’m ready for one. Next up is grand prix dressage tomorrow. Today was the veterinary inspection, and all the American horses passed.
I spent much of my alleged rest day wrestling with Greek washing machines. Have you ever tried to read an instruction manual in Greek (sheepishly, when I flipped the pages, I found the English version)?
And do you think they keep the detergent in the laundry room? No, you have to walk 20 minutes to the reception area to get it. I could have taken the shuttle that runs around the media village where I am housed, but you have to wait for it for too long. I mentioned that to one of the fellows at the reception area and he smiled.
“We take things more slowly here,” he said. “That’s the Greek way.” I’ve noticed.