Tokyo 2020: Cian O’Connor falls just short in pursuit of more Olympics glory

41-year-old bronze medal winner in 2012 and his horse Kilkenny will miss the team event

Cian O’Connor and Kilkenny finished seventh in Tokyo on Wednesday. Photograph: Julian Finney/Getty

Cian O’Connor and Kilkenny finished seventh in Tokyo on Wednesday. Photograph: Julian Finney/Getty

 

They say the only thing which comes close to that feeling of winning an Olympic medal is winning another Olympic medal. Cian O’Connor came within distance alright, only not just close enough after 30 of the best riders and horses came in one after the other into the magnificent Tokyo Equestrian Park.

This is the exact same spot somewhere in the vastness of Tokyo which hosted the showjumping at the 1964 Olympics, not far from Shibuya City, and dare I say what feels like a decidedly posh part of this old city. It would help convince anyone to take to this sport and the great shame yet again is that the surrounds of seating were left virtually empty.

It is nine years now since O’Connor won himself a brilliant bronze medal at the London Olympics, famously getting a late call-up to the final before completing the deal with his fate and faith: it’s also now 17 years since O’Connor had to give back the gold medal he originally won at the Athens Olympics, after his horse Waterford Crystal was found with a banned substance in his system.

In the heat of this Tokyo evening, O’Connor was sixth rider into the arena on his horse Kilkenny, and although clearing all 14 obstacles and tricky combinations, he finished a fraction outside the allotted time of 88 seconds - clocking 88.45. That’s what cost him the shot at a medal this time, as six riders went on to complete their ride inside 88 seconds, before Britain’s Ben Maher has won gold after fantastic final jump-off on his horse Explosion W, winning an individual medal at his fourth Olympics.

O’Connor finished up seventh best. He has been around this business long enough to know there are no excuses, although it emerged that his horse Kilkenny had a minor nose bleed in the event, which although later cleared by the veterinary horse inspection, means they won’t take part in the team event on Friday, where Ireland are among the medal favourites.

O’Connor would dearly love to ride for another Olympic medal, only the 41-year-old from Meath is not prepared to chance the wellbeing of his horse.

“Unfortunately he had a nose bleed at the end of the competition but the vets checked him over and he seems fine,” he told us. “We’re allowed to continue to compete but for me his future is more important. I’m going to mind him.

“When we came out he had a nosebleed and obviously being a grey horse, it was very obvious. Sometimes in this heat and humidity, horses have little capillaries that can bleed and the vets checked him here and washed him off and he recovered very well, heart-rate and everything was normal. They have capillaries which can burst - especially over the water jumps when they have to really stretch - but as soon as they washed him, it stopped.”

Still it means Bertram Allen, Darragh Kenny and first reserve Shane Sweetnam will form the Irish trio for the team event. Allen was out 25th in the final on board Pacino Amiro, picking up eight penalty points after knocking down two bars, his time of 84.64 being 15th best overall; next to last after the second best qualifying time was Kenny, riding VDL Cartello, and he also picked up eight penalty points in a time of 85.11 for 17th.

“I’m going to be on the ground and I’m going to help Bertram, Darragh and Shane,” added O’Connor. “Please God they can get a team medal and we will be back to fight another day. I’m just happy he’s in such good shape and he jumped so well throughout the qualifier and the final. To finish seventh in an Olympic final is not so bad and we’ll be back to fight another day.”

O’Connor admitted that prospect of winning a second Olympic medal was irresistibly teasing: “Yeah it would have been nice. Sometimes I think the bigger the course the better. There was still five clears here. If it was even harder there might have been only two clears and it might have suited me even more. That horse can jump anything. It doesn’t feel like the fences are too big for him. It’s interesting now, five horses jumping off for three medals. It’s a new format, they’re trying ths Olympic format, there are plenty of pros and cons to it.

“There is no room for error, a lot of good partnership got knocked out already so it’s quite tough, but it’s the same for everyone.

“It’s a young horse Kilkenny, and he jumped really well, I was happy with him. Maybe I was a bit cautious to the last fence, I just squared off, just a fraction over but he finished in the top seven at the Olympic Games so I’m happy with him.

“My horse jumped two of the biggest rounds he’s ever jumped and he didn’t touch a pole so I’m very, very happy with him. The other lads will look at their performances and try and see what they can tweak to try to be even better for the team competition.”

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.