David Stickland: So You Want to Go to Rio?

Tue, 03/10/2015 - 10:22

Our guest columnist of the week is regular contributor David Stickland of Global Dressage Analytics who weighs in on the new qualification system for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The system has undergone a few changes which deserve your attention. Check out what Stickland has to say on getting to Rio!

So you want to go to Rio?

This week the qualifying period for the Rio Olympics got underway. The system for qualifying has some subtle changes compared to those used for London and you are going to have to have a good horse, to ride well and be a canny planner to realize your dream and get to Rio.

On the FEI site you can find the 7-page qualification document, and I urge you to study it carefully! The first dressage event kicks off on 10 August 2016 with the Grand Prix for the first two days followed by the Special on 12 August and the Freestyle on  15 August – all over in 5 days - but for individual qualifications the clock started ticking on 9 March 2015.

Five teams are already known: Brazil as hosts, Germany, The Netherlands and Great Britain as the medallists from the 2014 World Equestrian Games and Australia as the best ranked team at the WEG from the FEI Olympic Regions F & G (Africa and Middle East, South East Asia and Oceania). In July at the 2015 Pan American Games the winners will qualify for a team. Then in August the top 3 teams (other than GER, NED, GBR) at the 2015 European Championships of groups A,B,C, will get their team qualification. The final direct team qualification will be the winners at the special FEI qualification event in Perl in September between groups F&G and four countries from group C. That makes ten 4-member teams for a total of 40 couples.

It is almost inconceivable that the USA would not qualify a team at the Pan American Games – that makes six qualified – but then life starts to get trickier. There does seem to be a plausible chance that GER, NED and GBR again share the three medal positions in Aachen at the European Championships, so the teams in 4th, 5th and 6th will get a Rio Qualification. Sweden and Denmark look pretty certain to be in that group. Spain and Austria both have a good chance of getting into that 6th position and 3 or 4 other nations are going to do their best to be competitive for that position, but a sensible working hypothesis is that Spain qualifies. Now we have 9 qualified teams. The tenth team will qualify at the CDI 3* Perl, it is probably between South Africa and New Zealand.

Now we move on to the Individual Qualifications. There are two types of Individual qualification, 14 places are allocated with 2 per regional group, and 6 places to the next top riders independent of region. This is based on a new Olympic Ranking List (ORL) that is like the World Dressage Ranking List (WDRL) but it runs for the specific period from 9 March 2015 to 6 March 2016 inclusive. However while in the WDRL your best 8 tests count the FEI has decided that only your top 4 scores go into the ORL – more on this later. You get points for GP and Special and also for the Freestyle, but for the Freestyle 3% is taken off of the final score before calculating the points. (So a 70% Freestyle gets the same number of points as a 67% Grand Prix or Special.) You also get a few extra points for Championships, CDIO, CDIW, CDI5* and CDI4*. Of course we don’t have the ORL yet, but we do have the regular WDRL and we can use that to get a pretty good idea of what will be required and who might qualify for these last 20 places in Rio.

Firstly we take out all the riders from countries already qualified – for the sake of that I will assume that RSA qualifies from group F&G. We also take out all the second and third horses as they just complicate things – in any case a rider can only earn one Individual place. Then group by group we follow the guidelines to see if there are clear likely qualifiers. In Group A Finland and Norway will probably each earn a Rio place. Group B is very competitive, if we assume that it was Spain that got the 6th place at the CHEU then Italy and Austria are likely to earn a place, or if it was Austria that qualified, then Italy and Spain will each earn a place. In Group C then the likelihood is either two Russian places or one Russian and one Ukrainian. In Group D we can expect one, probably two, Canadian places. In Group E two Mexican places look the most likely result, while in F it could be Morocco and Palestine and in G two New Zealand places.

Finally we have the top 6 riders after all these qualified riders and qualified countries are removed from the list. Switzerland will likely get one place and the remaining 5 places will be a brutal down to the wire slug-match between France, Austria, Belgium and Canada. France, Canada and Belgium could potentially qualify a 3 member team by this route, but it is much too close to call now. To get one of these six places you are going to need the ORL points equivalent to about 71% in the Grand Prix.

Group B turns out to be the group from hell. Because the WEG winners and probably the CH-EU 4th and 5th place all come from Group A, the smaller countries in group A have a reasonable chance to get Individual Qualifications, but from group B only Spain is probably qualified as a country, the other 7 nations active in Group B will be in intense competition right up to 6 March 2016. Canada also is a big loser with this scheme, they only have one major regional competitor, so they are in many ways better off than the Group B nations, but the team selection can only go to one nation from their region. To construct a 3-member team at least one of your riders must be in this 6 person final pool to qualify a team - there is no other way.

Now back to this ORL, since it only takes into account the top 4 scores it is going to be much less easy to predict than the WDRL with its 8 scores. If you get at sometime in the year a nice fluctuation up in your score then you significantly increase your odds of qualification. If you get that fluctuation up in a Freestyle – that are notoriously subject to large judging differences - then again that’s a big boost for your chances. I predict that it will go down to the wire next spring and you will need to tune up every possible point in your arsenal and plan your outings very carefully to maximize your chances!

In summary I calculate that these countries will qualify 4-member teams : BRA, GER, NED, GBR, USA, SWE, DEN, ESP, AUS, RSA. Three-member composed teams from one of FRA, BEL, CAN looks possible, or else they will have two riders each. Then single and some double-member teams from FIN, NOR, ITA, AUT, RUS, UKR, SUI, NZL MAR, PLE.

Of course there are also 40 riders out there for the qualified teams that will be slugging it out with each other nationally to earn their tickets. It is also worth noting that a rider does not earn themselves an individual place, they earn it for their National Olympic Committee, who can in principle send any of their riders that have passed the minimum criteria (2 x 64%), they do not have to send the rider who earned the qualification.

It is going to be a very competitive 18 months until August 2016.

- by David Stickland - Global Dressage Analytics