A dramatic turn of events at the Team Final of the European Championships could be blamed for the loss of Olympic 2016 qualification for Team Ireland due to possible ring party interference during Cian O’Connor’s round with Good Luck.
O’Connor was riding the 9-year-old Belgian Warmblood stallion owned by Adena Springs in the Team Final, and a clear round was absolutely crucial in order for Ireland to hang on to its place in the standings. Bertram Allen and Greg Broderick had already netted four faults each when O’Connor entered the ring.
Three qualification slots for Rio 2016 are open at these championships. With leading nations Germany and The Netherlands already qualified, the battle for Rio was between Great Britain, Switzerland, Denmark, Spain and Ireland.
It was on the turn from fence 10 to 11 that trouble arose for O’Connor. On the right hand arc around a flower bed, an errant member of the jump crew (he’s also been called a ring steward and jump official) wasn’t paying attention to events, and was standing in the way when O’Connor landed from fence 9. He leaped out of O’Connor’s path just in time to avoid being run over by the horse and O’Connor continued on his path to fence 11.
But Good Luck knocked the front rail at fence 11, a bright yellow DHL oxer, and four faults was added to his score. This opened the floodgates for a wave of indignant fury from Ireland’s supporters, who took to Twitter to vent their emotions, and rampant speculation towards whether or not the close encounter was legitimate interference and grounds for the 4 faults to be scratched.
See video of the turn here:
Team Ireland chef d’equipe Robert Splaine led an immediate appeals effort that stretched late into the night at Aachen. The first protest was rejected without review of course video, whereupon Team Ireland immediately launched an appeal. O’Connor and Splaine met with arena stewards and FEI officials in the Aachen offices until midnight.
Spain finished just 0.4 of a penalty point ahead of Ireland in the Team Final. If the faults were scratched, it would mean that Ireland moves ahead of Spain to claim the final Olympic qualification spot. That would undoubtedly provoke rage from Team Spain, which put in a solid effort to earn their 6th place finish and Rio qualification.
As the night wore on in Germany, there was still no decision to be had from FEI competition officials. O’Connor was seen in the appeals offices past midnight, but a decision may not be forthcoming until morning.
UPDATE: The FEI has heard O’Connor’s appeal and upheld the result of the competition. Read the official statement here.