Canadian equestrian jumping team makes leap from Lima to Tokyo 2020
Team qualifies Canada for jumping team berth at Olympic Games
LIMA, Peru — Canada's equestrian jumping team may not be leaving with a Pan American Games medal, but they still accomplished their mission in Lima.
The squad of Mario Deslauriers, Erynn Ballard, Lisa Carlsen, and Nicole Walker finished fourth in the team event on Wednesday, sealing a berth for Canada in that event at the 2020 Olympic Games.
Deslauriers says he's disappointed to leave without a team medal, but the Tokyo qualification was the real goal.
"That's what we came here for," the 54-year-old from Bromont, Que., says. "To win a medal would have been kind of nice. We were in striking distance when I went in the second time, and we were right there."
Brazil won gold, while Mexico took silver and the United States went home with bronze.
The Canadians finished the first round in fourth place, behind Mexico, Brazil and the U.S. The only Canadian with a clean ride in both rounds was Ballard, who credited her partner Fellini S with a pair of big performances.
"What more can you say, that horse jumped his heart out two rounds in a row," the 38-year-old from Tottenham, Ont., says. "I don't think there was a jump where [he] got lucky, every single jump you're like 'that's clear, that's clear.'
"It's a pretty cool feeling, jumping double clear in a place like this…that's a pretty big deal for me right now."
Deslauriers had a tough go in the first round, registering an uncharacteristic four jumping faults.
"My horse hasn't knocked two jumps down all summer," Deslauriers says. "I think he got a little rattled when he hit the second fence hard [during the first round]. I think that really disrupted the rest of my course.
"[The] second round was much better, I had the same distance the second time but he really made a great effort."
Direct Olympic qualification was awarded to the top three nations who hadn't yet qualified for a spot in Tokyo. The U.S. was the only team that had booked their place before the Lima Games, therefore Canada, Brazil, and Mexico locked up those crucial Olympic berths.
It was also the final chance for teams to get to the Olympics, and the pressure was placed on a roster that looked quite a bit different from the last time a trip to the Olympics were on the line.
Two mainstays were absent in Peru: Ian Millar, or "Captain Canada" as he came to be known as, represented Canada at 10 Olympic Games but retired from competition earlier this summer. Also missing from the squad was three-time Olympic medallist Eric Lamaze, who is battling a brain tumour and decided not to compete at Pan Ams.
Lamaze told the Calgary Sun earlier this summer that he did not want to jeopardize Canada's chance at medalling if he wasn't feeling 100 per cent.
Despite missing those familiar faces, Deslauriers says his new-look team was more than capable of doing the heavy lifting and not buckling under pressure.
That included the 25-year-old Walker, from Aurora, Ont., who was aboard Falco van Spieveld.
Walker says that wearing the red jacket brings with it an added pressure, but that was balanced by the opportunity to compete in front of Canadian fans and spend time with her teammates.
"There's way more pressure for sure with the Olympic qualification and obviously we [did] our best to get a medal," she says. "There's been a lot of [Canadian] fans in the crowd, being here all week with the team, and getting a chance to bond with them, it's been pretty special.
"Definitely a week to remember."