The Olymipic Military competition gold medal charade
2004-08-23 08:10

During the last few days, the chaos around the team and individual gold medals in the Olympic Military competitions, also called "Eventing" made its way up and down the press. In my opinion, this is the greatest blow you could do to a sport, as it put the tenacious interpratation of a single rule above the fair-play and the actual performance of the competitors. Click on the detail link below for why I think that this is one of the worst developments in this great discipline. Also, feel free to send me an E-Mail of your opinion, for good or for bad.

So, for a start, lets take a look what happened here. Just the facts seen on TV as far as I could take them apart.

Bettina Hoy was still good in her preparation time, when she rode towards the first jump. While on that way, she decided to take another circle before actually starting the circuit, again, still well within her remaining preparation time. Unfortunately, she did this after already crossing the starting line.

The regulations are clear here. A rider must not cross the starting line twice, and the procedure in a case like this is as clear: The pair receives a penalty for a refusal (the first jump was taken only on the second try), and of course the time would keep running.

What actually happened, is less clear. When Bettina Hoy crossed the start line for the first time, the stopwatch apparantly has not been started, and the Ground Jury did not assign any penalty points. Also, the stadion's speaker was still announcing her at that point. Which of these facts actually came through to the concentration to Bettina Hoy, will probably always be a mystery, as no one of us can read another's mind.

After the first formal protest from the French team, the Ground Jury added the time penalty for the circle to her point total, interestingly not the penalty for the refusal. The German in turn too filed a protest, which lead to the revocation of the first decision. This lead the French, British and American teams then to a formal protest before the international sports court CAS, which decided, that the first decision was the right one.

So lets look between the lines a bit.

The performance of the athletes, and the breach of rules

While watching the three day event, it was clear, that the German team was again under the top three, if not the favourite for the gold medal. Throughout all five members, they delivered an exemplary performance. When the final jumping round began, it was clear, that it would need an excellent exercise from the competition to defeat the German team.

Luckily for the others, one of our two top riders, Ingrid Klimke, had to withdraw from the final round, as her horse was injured. But even then, the premiere competitior France continued to accumulate penalty points through the very difficult jumping course.

When Bettina Hoy started, the German team already had an edge over the French one, so that a clear round would save them the gold medal. A clear round was exactly what Bettina Hoy delivered, with an imperessive precision.

Again, in the individuals' final round, the situation was close, this time with an edge for the French favourite Nicolas Touzaint. Touzaint then had a real breakdown in this final round, dropping four rails and exceeding the allowed time, bringing him from rank one to rank nine in a matter of less then sixty seconds. In an interview he then said:

"The horse was not jumping well. He has never jumped at night with the artificial lights. It was very odd for him to be taken out of his stable at 10 o'clock at night".
Taken from an Interview with Nicolas Touzaint, from the official Olympic Games Website.

Now I wonder how the current favourite for the gold medal never trains with his horses at night. Even my girlfriend, who rides only competitions of average difficulty, has done this more than once already.

So, after this performance, Bettina Hoy was the clear leader of the field after the Individual Finals.

Now where does the breach of rules come into play? Well, this actually is a quite good question. Ok, she rode another circle before starting the circuit, but there was enough space, that this was not a question of "bad approach to the jump", she mastered jumps with much less preparation time during these two finals.

But lets do some math. Lets say she was not approaching the jump as she would have liked it. Lets say also, that she would have dropped a rail there, accumulating a further four penalty points there, perhaps even another one for a second exceeding the allowed time. Even that would not have changed the final ranking of both competitions. I doubt that this would have happened here, actually.

So, in my humble opinion, she did gain absolutely nothing from this second circle regarding the outcome of the competition. So whatever the Yellow Journalism writes, if you look at the competition objectively and compare the actual performance of the riders, the German team clearly was the best one.


So, now we get to the bottom of it. In my personal opinion, which I have no problem expressing here, the French team could not live with a second place in the Olympic Games. The spirit of these Games was neither of interest, as the thought of fair-play, that the better rider would win.

For those of you, who don't know their way around the Military. Until this week, these riders held together, as everybody knew how much effort it takes to train a horse for an Military competition.

This time of loose friendship seems now to be over, which is the worst thing that can happen to a sport. Not the performance counted here, but the lawyers around the table decided the competition.

This turned into an attitude as bad, that the French team didn't even look at the German one during the medal ceremony. One of the French riders even showed the infamous middle finger to Bettina Hoy.

This has nothing more to do with fair-play, this is cowboy diplomacy at its best.

To be honest, I don't want to be in the skin of these French riders, when they appear the next time on an international competition.

Organizational errors

This whole thing does not end here. The chaos introduced by the competition's organization was a problem too. Alone the fact, that the stopwatch didn't start the first time when Bettina Hoy crossed the line, is a clear indication of that. The seesaw directly after the competition is the worst thing you can do. Given this chaos, it is impressive, that Bettina Hoy could keep up her standard during the finale.

Summing up

So, what do we learn here. France does have a new gold medal, but they did not earn it with their performance in the course, but with a good lawyer in the international sports court CAS.

It is true, that Bettina Hoy did make a methodological error here, but this error did not influence the outcome of the competition in any way, at least judging by the performance of the athletes. It didn't even gain her an advantage. Nevertheless the judges decided against her and fair-play, agreeing with the sticklers for the letter of the law (we Germans call this article riders, freely translated of course).

I agree, that rules are there to be followed. But at all costs? Bringing a small metholodical error nearly to the same level as doping?

For me, I accept the ruling, because I know, that the German team was the one, which truly won that competition. They will always be the winner of my personal gold medal. The French team can keep these new medals around their neck. I also have no problem with that, as they are gold medals of unfair-play. It will ever have that aftertaste, and we will see, if they can live with this.

I only hope, that this decision does not kill the spirit of this great sport.

Or, perhaps, we should add a new dicipline to the next Olympic Games, "Lawyering".