The Opening Ceremonies for the Summer Olympic Games are in fewer than 60 days (57 to be exact). Everyone knows that the Games happen every four years, but what many do not know is the selection process athletes must endure before being named to the team. The sports featured in the Olympics have differing methods on how the team is selected and the United States Show Jumping Equestrian Team selection is quite an elaborate one.
While in Wellington, Florida for the Winter Equestrian Festival (WEF), I was fortunate enough to be there for the Selection Trials for the 2012 Olympic Team. This event, during a four-day period with four different courses (or set path of jumps), would result in a ranking of riders who would continue on in the selection process in May and June. Riders must compete in all four days to be ranked. Based on the rankings at the completion of the Selection Trials, these riders would be named to the Long List.
The trials began on March 21. About 40 riders from all over the country navigated the very difficult course. Riders that had done well, returned the next day to ride not once, but twice, which tests to see the endurance of each horse/rider pair. Many believed the evening course would be less challenging, given the fact that the horses had jumped two strenuous courses already including that afternoon, but that proved to be wrong. March 23 was a day off from competition and riders returned March 24 to see once in for all how they would stack up against their competitors at the close of the event.
To the tremendous surprise of all, 17-year-old Reed Kessler finished ahead of everyone, including many riders who had been riding longer then she has been alive as well as those who have competed on previous Olympic Teams. The humble rider stated that she only attempted the Trials just to gain some experience for the 2016 games. But even she got much more then she planned for.
Kessler, along with those who are on the Long List (which can be found here), must compete at two of four Observation Trials to further be considered for the team. The first Observation event was held in Del Mar, California May 4 and 5. The second was held in Lexington, Kentucky May 11 and 13. The third will be held in Devon, Pennsylvania tonight and Saturday. The final Observation Trial will occur in Calgary, Alberta, Canada the second week of June. The final observation is taking place in Canada as many of the riders compete there every year.
Unprecedentedly, the newly created United States Equestrian Federation Network has been broadcasting each of the Trials. You can watch tonight's class beginning at 8 p.m., as well as the remaining Observation events, by clicking here. Saturday's event will air at 4 p.m. I highly recommend checking it out if you are interested in seeing edge-of-your-seat entertainment. Bruce Springsteen's daughter, Jessica, will be competing as well as two-time Gold medal winner Beezie Madden and Margie Engle, an Olympian and number 2 on the Long List.
On June 17, based on these Observation Trials, the Nomination committee will make their suggestions of up to twelve athletes they recommend for the team to the Federation Equestre Internationale (the international governing body of Equestrian sport). No later then July 6, the 2012 Equestrian Olympic Team will be named. It will consist of four horses and their riders as well as one alternate horse and rider. Those five pairs will travel to London to compete in the Games with the first Show Jumping Equestrian event occurring on August 4.