Happy 2013 everyone! Apart from a handful of toddlers with longevity in their DNA and a very few centenarians, we are all experiencing the only year of our lifetimes that is a ’13’. Just remember, though. Superstitious people have bad luck.
Before 2012 fades too far into our rear view mirrors, I thought I’d better produce my top ten list for the year that has just departed us. It certainly was a year filled with highs and lows, and the list is just tumbling straight out of my head and onto this blog. Here goes!
K-Rob’s ten most, best and worst of 2012:
Best sporting moment: London Olympics. All of it. Well, at least as long as we don’t talk about Canada. It was more than the most awesome equestrian event in history, taking place in the heart of that greatest of cities. It was the most awesome Olympics I have ever experienced, either up close and personal or second hand through the media. Now, I have heard some splendid things about Sydney, and I don’t doubt the Aussies know how to put on a world class party. But since I wasn’t there, London tops it for me. The quality of sport was beyond anything we’ve seen before, and it will be very interesting to see if that new benchmark is exceeded in the coming year (see my 2013 predictions next week).
Worst sporting moment: this one’s a bit harder to call, and I’m actually going to cop out by giving a shortlist of the three items that stand out in my mind as the fattest flies in 2012’s ointment, in no particular order. Ironically, they are all directly related to my pick for best sporting moment, above.
1. The exclusion of Yvonne Losos de Muñiz from the Olympics because the FEI Dressage Committee was negligent and just possibly corrupt in its granting of illegitimate Olympic qualifiers to Brazil, where no fewer than six competitions broke the minimum three foreign judges rule by putting the same three Brazilian judges on the panels. The FEI added insult to injury by robustly fighting the Dominican Republic’s appeal with CAS, and spared no humiliation to Yvonne personally. It’s not like the FEI didn’t have the opportunity to make things right, either. Colombia, which had gained a team berth for London with its bronze dressage medal at the 2011 Pan Am Games, failed to qualify even one individual for the Olympics. Instead of giving one of the three free spots to Yvonne, who was at least from the SAME GEOGRAPHIC REGION, the FEI doled out the individual spots using a byzantine formula that takes the World Rider Rankings and translates them into individual qualifications for the nations those riders are from. So much for globalizing dressage, FEI Dressage Committee.
2. The presence of Abdullah Al-Sharbatly in London (with a bronze team medal around his ignominious neck, no less). Thanks to a single arbitrator appointed by CAS and the lumping together of two entirely separate cases, Sharbatly and his countryman Khaled Al Eid received a reduction of their FEI ban for a positive bute test from eight months to two, thus paving their way to the Olympics. Contrary to their aggressive defense campaign in the Dominican vs. Brazil case, the FEI chose to waive its right to defend the suspension altogether. Wait, it gets better. Al Eid fell out of team contention when his marvelous mount Presley Boy underwent colic surgery and then contracted laminitis. Sharbatly, on the other hand, still had his Olympic prospect Sultan ready to go, and he didn’t have a moment to spare. Good thing CAS fast tracked the process so that Sharbatly could have one of those ‘special’ qualifiers that the FEI allows in ‘extraordinary’ circumstances (I’d love to see Sharbatly’s letter of application for the special qualifier….Dear FEI: please allow me to hold a private qualifier for the Olympics, you know those special ones that you reserve for athletes who have no opportunity to get to actual qualifying events because of geographic constraints. Please ignore for the moment my own unlimited financial resources, the fact that I am based in Europe with qualifiers all around me like daisies in a field, and please also cover your eyes to the main issue: that the reason I have not yet qualified is because you banned me from competing due to a medication violation….).
3. The disqualification of Victor in London. Not because FEI rules were bent or manipulated (as they were in the two cases above). The FEI followed its hypersensitivity protocol to the letter. The problem is that the protocol is based on an acknowledgment that abuse for the purpose of winning is commonplace in show jumping, and a belief that the only remedy is to impose heavy handed rules that cause innocent athletes to be disqualified. The fact that the FEI has quietly made several modifications to the protocol (including ‘softening’ the terminology to ‘limb sensitivity’) is all the proof I need that they know the entire Tiffany-gate incident was not good for the sport. And let’s ruminate on this for a moment: a rider who was banned for giving his horse bute and shouldn’t be in London at all wins a medal, and a woman whose horse had an almost invisible but unfortunately located nick on the coronet band is disqualified. Where’s the justice in that?
Notice a common thread in these three worst moments of 2012, besides the London link? If you answered ‘FEI’ you get a gold star.
Best athlete (horse): Given that I am a born again DQ there is no contest. It’s Valegro. Sure, he faded a little in that final freestyle in London. And sure, the judges went a little ape shit on the score. But tell me he didn’t deserve to win the gold medal (Dutch fans need not weigh in, I know how you feel).
Most inspiring athlete (human): If you know me you know I’m not afraid to admit to having a nonsexual crush on someone. My crush this year is fully on Helen Langehanenberg, who between her performances in London and at the Global Dressage Forum stands out to me as the epitome of all that we should strive for as riders and as horse people. I do have a very close runner up for this prize, and that’s pinch-his-rosy-cheeks adorable eventing wizard Michael Jung. Damon Hill is my runner up for equine athlete of the year, by the way.
Most toxic battle: Hands down, the battle over the new dressage show grounds in Welly World. If I had a category called ‘most infantile behaviour by consenting adults’ (and I’m not differentiating between the two sides), they’d go home with two awards. The most damaging aspect of this battle is that it is dividing a community that otherwise shares many ideals and interests, not least of which is nurturing equestrian sport.
Best media moment: Stephen Colbert’s declaration of dressage as the official sport of summer. Who would have thought the US Presidential campaign would be such a boon for the sport of dressage? Rafalca even made Time Magazine’s ‘Year in 15 Minutes of Fame’ list, coming in at an impressive number nine, just above Angelina Jolie’s right leg.
Most ridiculous idea: Wellington’s WEG 2018 bid. Sure, they withdrew it but they should never have proposed it in the first place. Have the people who dreamed that one up spent August/September in south Florida? Have they never seen the roof blow off an indoor arena in a hurricane? Watched horses become non-sweaters overnight because of heat and humidity that is more conducive to producing primordial soup than top athletic performances? And where would they build the cross country course? On a landfill or on a bridge, the only two places you find any relief from the monotonous flat of the swamp land? I’m not dumping on Florida – I’ve even grown to love the place – but come ON.
Most tiresome topic of debate: Roll kür. I’m so over this subject. Yes Epona TV, I’m talking to you. At a time when my Google alerts for horses are filled (and I mean filled) with stories of horses being abandoned, doped, abused to point of death, and even raped, can we insert a bit of perspective into the conversation? And if you’re going to pick on Sjef, why not go after his lack of self-grooming? Or even more relevantly, his astonishing track record for shady horse deals?
Most egregious action by EC (you’ve been waiting, I know): How on earth do I pick? There are just so many choices, I feel like I’m in an empty parking lot with too many options about where to put my car. I will refine my search to include only official activities, and that makes it easy: the thank you note Mike Gallagher wrote to the FEI for disqualifying Victor in London. Let’s compare the words of EC’s President to those of Canadian Soccer Association’s president, as quoted in the National Post after Christine Sinclair received a controversial four game ban from FIFA: “CSA president Peter Montopoli said the national organization supported Sinclair, and ‘appreciates the Canadian public’s support of the world class player and ambassador for the game who has represented our country so proudly.'” EC later issued a ‘clarification’ statement, but only after Eric Lamaze threatened never to don the pink team coat again if it didn’t.
Best action by DC (yes, EC gets some credit here too): Import fresh meat to the DC Board for long enough to see the train get back on the rails. I’m talking about the appointment of Sarah Bradley as DC Chair. EC brought her in, and then the DC Board itself decided to ask her to stay awhile. I dare to hope for a brighter future…