Mon, September 23, 2013

London calling showjumpers

By ROD KELLY, QMI Agency


Canada's Ian Millar. (QMI Agency File Photo)


CALGARY - The collective hockey world must have been smiling from ear to ear when it was announced the 2010 Winter Olympic Games were coming to Canada, arguably the world’s hotbed for pucks and sticks.

In a similar sense, when it was determined London, England, had landed the 2012 Summer Games, you have to think those in equestrian sports couldn’t help but giggle with a whole lot of glee.

With the Great Britain competition only weeks away, it’s become even more evident there’s an added level of excitement as the area known for everything equine gets set to open its doors to the world.

“I think this particular Olympics is going to bring a focus to equestrian like no other,” said veteran Canadian horseman Ian Millar, who, with the start of the London Games, will become the only athlete in history to participate in 10 Olympics.

“When an Olympics is held in a far-away country, people obviously can’t get to it,” Millar said.

“But when you consider England, Ireland and Scotland to an extent, certainly France, Belgium, Holland, Germany — all those countries ... in those places, horse sport is such a part of the culture,” said Millar, who’s currently competing at the North American at Spruce Meadows in Calgary.

“That’s why the tickets for horse sports sold out like a Justin Bieber concert,” he said.

“I mean, tickets were gone.”

Millar, who recently returned from competing in Europe, headlines a Canadian Olympic showjumping team made up of reigning Olympic gold medallist Eric Lamaze, Jill Henselwood, Tiffany Foster and Yann Candele.

The 65-year-old Perth, Ont., jockey said the popularity of horse competition in the United Kingdom makes this year’s international sports showcase one big bonus for the future of his sport.

“I think this will be the biggest celebration — the biggest focus ever — of equestrian sports.”

Henselwood, who’s competing in her second consecutive Games, concurs with her coach and teammate.

“I think we’re going to have more pressure than we had in Beijing, because it’s London,” Henselwood said.

“It’s the cultural height of showjumping — of horses. They love it there. Nobody is going to be unaware we’re there.”

rod.kelly@sunmedia.ca

@SUNRodKelly