Horse Sport Ireland have appointed Michael Blake as the new high-performance director of the Irish senior show jumping team.
The position, which incorporates the role of chef d'equipe, became vacant last month when Brazil's Rodrigo Pessoa, who took up the post in March 2017, stepped down to concentrate on his own riding career.
Prior to this appointment Blake held the roles of Team Ireland senior development jumping manager and assistant team manager to the Irish senior team. Since 2017, the Co Clare native has played a key role in the success of the team, including their win at October’s Nations’ Cup World Final in Barcelona, which secured a team spot at next year’s Tokyo Olympics, and that at the 2017 European championships.
Blake has filled the role of chef d’equipe for the senior team at 18 international shows and assistant team manager at a further 43.
In his new role, he will focus on the delivery of the high-performance plan 2020 and on performance targets for the 2020 Olympic Games, taking responsibility for planning, performance monitoring and selection for Tokyo.
Speaking after his appointment, Blake said: “I am delighted to have been selected by Horse Sport Ireland to be the high-performance jumping director and chef d’equipe of the Irish senior show jumping team as we prepare for the Tokyo Olympics next August.
"It is a great honour and indeed a big responsibility to be entrusted with the task of being sole selector of our Olympic team but I will have the back-up of Horse Sport Ireland's high-performance sport team, operations manager, Triona Connors, and head of sport, legal and governance, Avalon Everett as I give all our top athletes every opportunity to prove themselves for selection.
“I also want to place on record my appreciation of the owners who make their world class horses available to Team Ireland. This 32nd Olympiad is special for Ireland as we send teams to compete in dressage, eventing and jumping. It is important that Ireland goes as a team to contest the three individual and three team equestrian competitions and that we support each other’s disciplines in Tokyo.
“Over the course of the last three years and throughout the Olympic qualification process as assistant to Rodrigo Pessoa, a great team spirit was established amongst the 39 riders who competed for Team Ireland in show jumping. I want to maintain that team spirit and work it to our advantage. Ireland are the FEI Nations’ Cup champions, so we travel to Tokyo as real contenders.
“I want to thank Horse Sport Ireland for the speedy but very extensive and exhaustive appointment process to decide who would be the jumping high-performance director, it confirms that Ireland is regarded as a very strong nation when it comes to show jumping. My job starts today to prepare us for the Olympics whilst ensuring the development of our athletes and our sport is maintained and improved.”
On the competition front, Ireland is represented at three international shows this week.
The dressage action at Olympia in London got under way on Monday night when Hickstead-based Dane Rawlins, riding Espoire (66 per cent), finished 14th of 16 in the FEI World Cup Grand Prix competition. The top three places were claimed by British riders – Charlotte Dujardin (Mount St John Freestyle, 81.553 per cent), Carl Hester (Hawtins Delicato, 75.789 per cent) and Charlotte Fry (Everdale, 75.368 per cent).
In Tuesday night’s FEI World Cup freestyle to music, Rawlins scored an international personal best of 71.425 per cent when 13th in the FEI World Cup freestyle to music competition where he performed to a selection of music from U2, with an introductory track from The Boomtown Rats.
“I am really chuffed.” said the 63-year-old. “We came here to do a tidy Grand Prix and a tidy freestyle. As a 10-year-old in his first FEI World Cup, Espoire has surpassed all my expectations this week. There is so much more to come from this horse. It is a privilege and an honour to ride for Ireland. The Irish enthusiasm for horses is unsurpassed in the world. We have a great team spirit in Irish dressage at the moment and it is becoming increasingly competitive in terms of the Team Ireland Olympic selection for Tokyo 2020.”
Following a lengthy delay, due to a technical problem with the scoring system, the results for the final three riders were announced 20 minutes after the class had finished. The placings remained the same as on Tuesday with Dujardin winning on 87.520 per cent, Hester placing second (84.470 per cent) with Fry, who is based in The Netherlands, again finishing third (82.620 per cent).
International jumping commenced on Wednesday when the in-form Darragh Kenny won the 1.55m jump-off class with the fastest of four double clears on his own and Ann Thompson’s 11-year-old Belgian Warmblood gelding, Important du Muze.