In many ways, 2004 was a pivotal year for American show jumping. The absolute highlight was the Olympic team’s silver medal performance in Athens, along with Chris Kappler and Royal Kaliber’s individual bronze medal effort. It’s a terrible shame that the subsequent loss of Royal Kaliber and the continuing process of the medication-control legalities, which could so drastically affect the medal placings, have overshadowed these results. Should the U.S. team finally end up with the gold medal, months after the Olympic Games, it will be a thrill tinged with regret at the circumstances.
But those medals indicate a distinct upswing in American show jumping. After years of struggling with the selection process for championship teams and bemoaning the lack of European exposure our riders get, it seems we’re on the right track. The re-introduction of some subjectivity into the selection process has made it more flexible. And the combination of developing riders’ tours and the Super League Nations Cup teams has helped U.S. riders establish a solid international past-performance record. The U.S. riders finished the 2004 Super League in fourth–an admirable result. That finish was even more impressive given that some top U.S. riders declined to participate, since they were concentrating on Olympic selection.
As we head into 2005, I think the future looks bright. In April, Las Vegas will host the Budweiser FEI Show Jumping World Cup Final, bringing all the top international stars to our country for the third time in the last five years. It’s a remarkable opportunity for our young riders to watch the top of the sport, and for us to enjoy watching show jumping at its finest. And in a year when U.S. riders aren’t aiming for any major team championships, they should be making the World Cup Final their top competitive goal. It’s looking as if it will be a great battle between the stars of show jumping.
And with the battle over the national federation settled, U.S. riders should be able to expect full support from the U.S. Equestrian Federation and the USET Foundation in their competitive endeavors. Once the World Cup Final is decided, they’ll be looking ahead to the Super League tour, which starts the second week of May in La Baule, France. Hopefully, the U.S. will be able to field our strongest teams at the eight Super League shows, making a bid for the series title. It would put the U.S. team into a strong position as they prepare for the 2006 World Championships, which will be held in Aachen, Germany. And the appointment of a new chef d’equipe might help inject new enthusiasm into the mix.
But 2004 also brought some interesting changes on the international scene. The high-profile positive medication tests from the Olympics have jump-started FEI officials into re-evaluating their strict no-medication policy, and it’s a revision that should benefit the horses. There will be a fine line to walk between medication and doping, and the committee assigned to suggest recommendations is far from finished in its important work, but this is an enormous step forward. The inordinately high number of injuries in Athens has also prompted FEI officials to make firm guidelines about footing for major championships, another move that’s certainly good for the horses.
So, as we look ahead at this year, and farther into the future, let’s hope that the momentum our riders created in Athens will continue to build and gather.