South American riders gain ground in Rio

Wed Jul 27, 2016 6:34am EDT
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By Caroline Stauffer

SAO PAULO (Reuters) - In a sport long dominated by Europeans, South American riders will be out in force at the continent's first Olympic Games to be held in Rio de Janeiro's Deodoro area next month.

Argentina, Colombia, Venezuela, Uruguay and hosts Brazil are all represented. Peru qualified for the individual show jumping competition for the first time, as did Ecuador in individual three-day eventing.

"It's more than the usual... The level has increased tremendously so they are a force to contend with in the future," Sabrina Ibanez, secretary general of the International Equestrian Federation (FEI), said of South American riders.

Ibanez told Reuters more South Americans had qualified after investment in grass-roots development programs over the past decade. She noted a strong showing in last year's Pan American Games in Toronto, where Venezuela claimed silver in individual jumping and Argentina came second in team jumping to Canada.

Riders from Chinese Taipei, the Dominican Republic, Palestine, Qatar and Zimbabwe will also be making Olympic debuts, though the favorites are coming from more traditional equestrian strongholds like Germany and Great Britain.

At the 2012 Olympics in London, New Zealand and Saudi Arabia were the only non-European countries to take home equestrian medals - bronze for team eventing and team show jumping respectively.

In addition to the geographical diversity, much of the 2016 equestrian field is young. The entire Brazil dressage team is under 25.

With a new generation coming up, some notable veterans were left out. Brazil's only Olympic gold medal equestrian, the 2012 flag bearer Rodrigo Pessoa, is the alternate of the host nation's show jumping team.   Continued...

Rodrigo Pessoa of Brazil riding Rebozo performs during the equestrian individual jumping final at the London 2012 Olympic Games in Greenwich Park August 8, 2012.    REUTERS/Jorge Silva