The Beijing Olympic Games are widely reported to have drawn the largest audience of any sporting event in history thanks to the extensive televisioncoverage worldwide and the multimedia offerings on the Internet.
Unfortunately, equestrian sports didn’t benefit from the added exposure in an entirely positive way. If you wanted to read about the Olympic equestrian sports in the mainstream media early in the Games you could find a few canned bureau articles and a brief mention here and there, but after four show jumpers tested positive for the banned substance capsaicin, equestrian sport made worldwide headlines of the worst kind: “Doping Casts Shadow Over Games Riding,” “Disqualified Olympic Horses May Show Doping Trend” and “Huge Horse Scandal Peppers Olympics.”
And now that U.S. dressage rider Courtney King-Dye’s Mythilus also tested positive for a banned substance (p. 50), equestrian sport in the United States faces more scrutiny here at home, with the Detroit Free Press headline: “Michigan Olympian Involved In Equestrian Doping Scandal.”
This week we also learned that the B samples of the four show jumpers have tested positive, so it’s likely that for the second consecutive Olympics the team show jumping medal standings will be, in part, determined by drug test results. At the 2004 Athens Olympics, Germany’s team lost their gold medal when Ludger Beerbaum’s Goldfever tested positive for a banned substance, and Irish rider Cian O’Connor was stripped of his individual gold medal when his horse also tested positive.
In an ironic twist of fate, defending Olympic show jumping gold medalist Rodrigo Pessoa of Brazil, who earned his 2004 medal after Cian O’Connor was disqualified, now faces his own positive drug test. Pessoa’s Rufus, who placed fifth individually in Hong Kong, became the fifth show jumper to test positive for a banned substance from the capsaicin family.
So the mainstream media reports that the six horses under investigation for testing positive for banned substances now match the number of doping cases among all human athletes in other sports during the Beijing Games. That’s a crushing statistic.
What’s also disappointing is the fact that we will never truly know who the best show jumper was at this Olympic Games. Of the four horses suspended from the individual competition, two qualified in the top 10, including Hansen’s Camiro, who stood atop the standings.
I don’t have truth serum or a crystal ball, so I can’t say how or why these horses tested positive, but if we want equestrian sports to remain in the Olympic Games line-up, we have to clean up our act and prove that we’re a show worth watching. How many fans can we attract when drug infractions make the news and medals regularly change hands in the following weeks and months?
Tricia Booker, Editor