The Buenos Aires 2018 Youth Olympic Games officially get underway in the Argentinian capital this evening with what is expected to be a colourful, animated and utterly show-stopping opening ceremony. This is the first time in modern Olympic history the event will not take place in a stadium, opting for a “youthful” approach and an enormous street party to celebrate gender equality, inclusiveness and Argentina’s Latin spirit.
The equestrian events of the 2018 Youth Olympic Games are also focused on diversity, with 30 athletes from 30 nations making up the delegation, so when it comes to the team medals, the groupings are continental and not national as regular Olympic Games and Championships.
In terms of eligibility, athletes are aged between 15 and 18 and have been selected by their National Olympic Committees (NOCs) based on the individual final classification at either a Continental Championship or from the Continental classification in the FEI World Jumping Challenge.
A total of 11 nations will be making their Youth Olympic Games debut in equestrian: Bolivia, Haiti, Honduras, Hungary, Iraq, Jordan, Mauritius, Mexico, Uzbekistan, Venezuela, and Zambia. The complete list of the nations, athletes, horses and teams can be found here.
Another unusual component of this event is the “borrowed horses” format. While this is not unique to the Youth Olympic Games, it is nevertheless a fascinating and intriguing concept for athletes and fans alike. Under the borrowed horses format, the Organising Committee is required to provide 30 horses (and eight reserve) of a suitable and similar standard and these are then allocated to the athletes.
The allocation became official when Wednesday’s draw – with names of the athletes drawn simultaneously with the names of the horses – was done in style in the Club Hipico Argentino. The sun shone down on proceedings as all 30 horses and riders lined up in the lovely grass arena where they will soon be competing for Team and Individual medals.
Since the draw, the athletes and their new Olympic partners have been getting to know each other in what can only be likened to a whirlwind romance or an unusual form of speed sport dating with allocated training sessions per team.
Creating a bond with a horse in a matter of days is no easy feat, but with the calibre and diversity of the young athletes competing in Buenos Aires, they approach this challenge with a clear mind and understanding of the task at hand and the value of the exercise.
“I managed to form a great team with my borrowed horse during the FEI Children’s International Classics in China”, Brazil’s Philip Greenlees said. “It will obviously be very challenging but it also helps all competitors develop as riders.”
Indeed, for the Brazilian, winner of the FEI Children’s Classics International Final in China at the beginning of this year as well as five of the athletes – from Argentina, Bolivia, Egypt, Zambia and Zimbabwe – that also took part in the FEI World Jumping Challenge Final last month in Uzbekistan on borrowed horses, they have some solid experience under their belt and a game plan which for most of them involves adapting rapidly to their allocated horse.
Host nation Argentina’s Richard Kierkegaard was feeling confident after he met his Olympic mount, fresh from his experience and silver medal in Uzbekistan. He knows what it takes: “In an event as the YOGs there is no time to become one with the horse”, he said. “You need to adapt to the horse and try to get the best out of him.”
But he will face fierce competition from the remaining athletes who all have solid experience riding a variety of horses and have been training with this specific competition in mind.
There is no doubt that horsemanship, compatibility and adaptability of the riders will make the difference at the end of the day!
The schedule, biographies and all the latest news from the Buenos Aires 2018 Youth Olympic Games can be found here.
About Buenos Aires 2018
The Buenos Aires 2018 Youth Olympic Games run from 6 to 18 October 2018. For more information go to: www.buenosaires2018.com
Source: Press release by FEI – Fédération Equestre Internationale
Photo: © Liz Gregg