Riders have said a life-sized statue of a sumo wrestler next to the 10th obstacle on the Olympic equestrian course may have distracted several horses in qualifying for the individual jumping final.
few pairings pulled up short of the barrier on Tuesday evening, accumulating enough penalty points to prevent entry into Wednesday’s finals.
The statue is to the left of a jump in the corner of the arena housing the 14th-obstacle course.
Hunched over and seemingly ready to attack, the wrestler is facing away from approaching riders, meaning that when they complete a sharp turn to take on the jump, the first thing horse and human see is the wedgie created by the wrestler’s mawashi garment.
“As you come around, you see a big guy’s (butt),” British rider Harry Charles said.
“I did notice four or five horses really taking a spook to that.”
Ireland’s Cian O’Connor added: “There’s a lot to look at,” and Israel’s Teddy Vlock said: “It is very realistic.”
Most of the course’s hurdles are decorated with a distinctly Japanese feel – geisha kimonos, a miniature Japanese palace, taiko drums – but none caught the eye quite like the sumo wrestler.
France’s Penelope Leprevost – a team jumping gold medallist in 2016 – was not sure if the wrestler specifically threw off her 12-year-old stallion, Vancouver de Lanlore.
“Maybe,” she said. “We tried to relax our horses in the turn, and maybe they’re surprised to see a vertical so close. I don’t know.”
Vlock went 34th in the 73-horse field. After seeing others have issues, he made a point of trotting his horse to the 10th jump before beginning their run so the animal could look it over.
“It is very realistic,” he said. “It does look like a person, and that’s a little spooky.
“You know, horses don’t want to see a guy, like, looking intense next to a jump, looking like he’s ready to fight you.”
Some riders chalked up the troubles to how close the jump was positioned to the turn. Others blamed the stadium’s bright lights that also led to concern at the first jump.
Medal hopefuls Scott Brash of Britain and Martin Fuchs of Switzerland believed cherry blossoms positioned on the other side of the jump were a more likely culprit.
Whatever the cause, it is not surprising to Olympic veterans that there is drama around the park. The Games have a reputation among riders for flashy course design, including an oddly shaped jump at Rio de Janeiro in 2016 that caused similar consternation.
“To be honest, you expect it in the Olympic Games,” Brash said.
“You know it’s going to be colourful coming here. You know it’s going to be decorative.
“And it’s beautiful, you know? It’s fantastic. That’s what makes it a championship. If it was just plain old jumps, it’d be just like any other week.”
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