HK riders lose London Games bid

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 12 July, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 12 July, 2011, 12:00am


Hong Kong's bid to qualify for the show-jumping team event at the London Olympics has failed, putting the Jockey Club's multimillion-dollar investment in the sport at risk.

The four-strong squad - half of whom are sponsored by the Jockey Club - finished bottom of the eight-team selection trials in Aachen, Germany. The solitary 2012 Games ticket was won by Ukraine, which has spent nearly HK$100 million buying horses.

'Teams from Europe, like Ukraine, spent millions of dollars on horses in their bid to qualify for the Olympics. We proved we are a force in Asia, but against the rest of the world we are still far behind,' Hong Kong Equestrian Federation (HKEF) secretary and team manager Sacha Eckjans said.

It is unclear if the Jockey Club will continue to back equestrian sports following this disappointment. Soon after the 2008 Olympic Games, the club invested HK$50 million in four senior riders - and a 10-team junior group - for a four-year period revolving around winning a medal at the 2010 Asian Games and qualifying for the 2012 Olympics. Two of the senior riders took part in Aachen - Patrick Lam and Kenneth Cheng Man-kit.

'The Jockey Club is committed until the end of 2012. I don't know what will happen after that. We will have to analyse our performances over the years before making a decision,' said Eckjans, wearing his other hat as the Jockey Club's executive manager of equestrian affairs. HKEF vice-president Michael Lee said: 'I hope the Jockey Club will continue supporting the sport. We have come a long way and, despite this setback, I see no reason why they shouldn't continue to support us.'

In a move roundly criticised by Asian nations, the International Equestrian Federation (FEI) decided to lump Asia with one part of Europe in the qualifying process for the 2012 Olympics. Only one spot was available for London, and the heavily financed and backed European teams were always favourites to win.

And so it proved. Lam (riding Jockey Club Tilburg), Cheng (JC Can Do), Jennifer Lee (Carry Star) and Raena Leung (Cadanio Z) finished a poor eighth with 85 penalty points, 73 behind winners Ukraine. Lee was the best performer with just 17 penalties over the two rounds. Lam and Cheng each incurred 34, while Leung was eliminated after she fell from her horse during the first round.

Lee was the best-placed of the local riders in the individual event, finishing 17th out of the 37 contestants. She was a last-minute call-up after two other Jockey Club-sponsored riders, Samantha Lam and Jacqueline Lai Jing-man, had to pull out. Lam's horse ( JC Crunship) was injured, while Lai failed to recover in time from a broken pelvis.

'Jennifer was the shooting star of the team. She and her new horse were absolutely fantastic,' Eckjans said. 'Unfortunately, the others had a bad day. Patrick's horse broke down, while Kenneth tried hard but couldn't find any rhythm with his animal. Raena had bad luck when the horse lost both his front shoes and she lost her balance and fell. Luckily she wasn't seriously hurt.'

Although Hong Kong failed in its mission impossible, according to Eckjans, the equestrian team have achieved a number of goals in the past couple of years, including a gold medal won by Lam at the 11th National Games in Jinan, Shandong, in 2009 and a team bronze medal at the Asian games in Guangzhou last year.

'We can't throw away everything just because of what happened in Germany, and this against insurmountable odds with the other teams being more experienced and having better horses. At Asian level we have proved we are competitive. Now we must look at how we can progress,' Eckjans said.

Hong Kong didn't have to qualify for the Beijing Games by virtue of hosting the equestrian events, and the riders had to meet only a minimum eligibility requirement. The Jockey Club gave HK$20 million to the athletes who did make it through to buy horses, but the additional HK$50 million pumped in later was only to fund training, competition and living expenses over four years.

'To compete on the world stage, each of our athletes needs a minimum of one horse more. And they should be good horses, which don't come cheap. We will have to look at all these aspects and analyse everything before we make a decision,' Eckjans said.


The amount, in Hong Kong dollars, that Ukraine has spent on buying quality horses to qualify for the Olympic event