Ludger Beerbaum Speaks Out Against Changing Olympic Format to Teams of Three

Ludger Beerbaum won Olympic Team Bronze on Wednesday, August 17th in Rio.
Ludger Beerbaum won Olympic Team Bronze on Wednesday, August 17th in Rio.
Ludger Beerbaum won Olympic Team Bronze on Wednesday, August 17th in Rio.

In a roomful of newly minted Olympians, an ongoing debate surfaced again. With the International Olympic Committee currently examining the viability of show jumping and other equestrian disciplines, the proposal to change future Olympic show jumping squads from teams of four, to teams of three, continued in Rio.

Over three days of competition there occurred four horse disqualifications, and three horses withdrawn due to injury or illness, bringing the fourth team member—or lack thereof—into high relief as these fast-paced and unpredictable Rio Olympics unfolded

What would these Olympic Games have looked like if every nation had begun the week as teams of three? Stephan Ellenbruch, President of the Rio 2016 Equestrian Olympic Ground Jury, was asked directly by the international media if the format of teams of four should be kept instead of changing it to three should be reconsidered; “At the moment I really can’t make any comment, I think it is a little bit too early,” he said. “But I’m pretty sure the impression we got here at these Olympic Games might have an influence in the way we are going.”

Sitting to Ellenbruch’s left was Germany’s Ludger Beerbaum, who took the opportunity to speak up in support of keeping the four-rider format, following his team’s Team Bronze Medal winning performance.

“The Olympics in Rio prove that the format of having four per team could not be better,” Beerbaum said. “For the drama, for the excitement, and for the atmosphere of the sport, we want this roller coaster, not after one round [with] everything decided.

“We want to leave it open until the end. On top of that, we had the benefit, [the] example of it [here in Rio] because [the team competition field] had lost three or four horses in the first three days. All this speaks completely for four riders and from the bottom of my heart, I think it’s wrong to change it to three.”

Teams from the United States, the Netherlands, and Brazil had to jump with only three riders in Wednesday’s Team Final: Beezie’s Madden’s Cortes ‘C’ sustained a tendon injury, Jur Vrieling opted to bench Zirocco Blue after uncharacteristic stops in the Team Qualifier rounds, and Stephen De Freitas Barcha was disqualified after excessive use of his spurs on his mount Landpeter Do Feroleto in Team Round 1 competition.

“The current format of four riders allows for the unexpected loss of a teammate.”

Beerbaum’s opinion highlights the fact that the current format of four riders allows for the unexpected loss of a teammate without forcing a team out of medal contention. Even with only three riders, Team USA still managed to win Team Silver. And in the current format, Team France had the option to withdraw anchor rider Pénélope Leprevost when the first three riders secured the Team Gold win. (Leprevost was not in the running to qualify for the Individual Final because of a fall on the first day of competition so had no reason to record a score in the Team Final.)

The debate stems from a proposal made by the FEI to decrease the number of members on an Olympic show jumping team in order to increase the number of nations represented in competition. It’s a plausible solution to the International Olympic Committee’s request to raise the sport’s Olympic popularity.

In response, the International Jumping Riders Club proposed 23 Individual riders and 13 Teams to make the 75 allocated spots for show jumping riders at the Olympics, without having to the drop the 4th rider. The format would include 36 flags in total, with 11 additional flags, but the FEI did not approve this proposal.

In May, we asked Olympic veteran Rodrigo Pessoa, a member of the FEI Jumping Committee and IJRC, to debate the teams of three proposal with John Madden, First Vice-President and Chair, Jumping Committee of the FEI.

Don’t miss their thoughts, as published in NOELLE FLOYD Magazine’s “Up for Debate” feature. Turn to page 78 of the Summer 2016 issue by clicking here.