The Dutch Are Hoping They’ll Find A New Star
They won’t have their two individual medalists from 2000, but a young squad might just be able to pull off another surprise, writes Birgit Popp.
Only one thing was certain as the Dutch selectors waited until the CHIO Aachen (Germany, see Horse Show section) to choose their Olympic team–reigning Olympic gold medalists Jeroen Dubbeldam and his Dutch Warmblood gelding De Sjiem were not going to defend their Olympic title at Athens.
After De Sjiem suffered back problems in 2003, Dubbeldam hoped for improvement. But it was not to be. In the Nations Cup at Rotterdam (the Netherlands) at the end of June, De Sjiem had jumping faults as well as uncharacteristic refusals. It was clear that he would not go to Athens, and he left his rider wondering. “It seems he wanted to tell me something, but I do not know what,” said Dubbeldam.
In addition, Albert Voorn, the individual silver medalist at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, doesn’t have an adequate horse for Athens. His Sydney ride Lando had already been sold to Paul Schockemohle for Otto Becker before Sydney, so he’s never competed him since and has no replacement.
Another blow for the Dutch was when team veteran and leader of VDL Groep team Jan Tops decided after eight- and 15-fault rounds in Rotterdam that his 12-year-old mare Grand Dame would not be fit for the Olympics.
The five-member Dutch team was to be decided after Aachen. Albert Zoer, who rode Lowina to an eight-fault and a clear round in Rotterdam’s Nations Cup and was a member of the winning team at Rome (Italy) with a four-fault and a clear round, is likely to be one member of the squad.
So far, the Dutch team has twice been at the top in this year’s Super League Nations Cups–at Rome (Italy) and Lucerne (Switzerland)–and twice been at the bottom–in La Baule (France) and Rotterdam (the Netherlands). Their Olympic record looks much the same. After winning in 1992 in Barcelona, they were just seventh in Atlanta and a slightly improved fifth in Sydney.
At Athens, the Dutch will likely have a young team, with little championship experience. If 41-year-old Eric van der Vleuten makes it, he’ll be the most experienced, having done six FEI World Cup Finals and the 1990 and 1998 World Championships, where the team placed fifth and sixth and he was 21st and 37th.
For Wim Schr