Eric Lamaze jumps back into competition as Spruce Meadows' season gets underway
Canadian equestrian star recently revealed his battle with a brain tumour
With the 2020 Tokyo Olympics nearing, there's a lot on the line as the equestrian season gets underway this week at Spruce Meadows.
The National marks the beginning of summer competition at the famed venue near Calgary, with four events running over the next five weeks.
The opening weekend is particularly crucial for Team Canada, which must name its 2019 Pan American Games squad by June 21. A podium result in the team event at the Games in Lima, Peru will secure a spot at next summer's Olympics.
Despite the high stakes, all eyes will likely be on Canada's top-ranked rider and only Olympic equestrian gold medallist — Eric Lamaze.
The 51-year-old from Montreal revealed last month that he has been battling a brain tumour for the past year and a half. He briefly stepped away from the ring, but has been competing sporadically throughout the spring.
Lamaze has enjoyed great success at Spruce Meadows as the all-time leading money winner. He remains adamant that this weekend be about sport and not about his recent health revelation.
"I have shared my story and now I want us all to move on and focus on sport," he said in a statement.
"When I get to Spruce Meadows, I want to be treated like everyone else. I appreciate everyone's thoughts, but I want to focus now on sport and hopefully strong results."
With his stable of dependable horses on hand – including Olympic bronze medal mount Fine Lady 5 – Lamaze has a good shot at those strong results he's looking for.
Other Canadians ready to make their mark
While Lamaze returns to familiar ground, it's a season of change for the rest of the Canadian show jumping team as summer competition begins without one very notable name.
Team Canada stalwart Ian Millar announced his retirement from international competition in May. Captain Canada, 72, had represented the country at 10 Olympics – often anchoring the team event.
He'll be at Spruce Meadows to coach his son Jonathan and daughter Amy, but the absence of his veteran presence in the ring leaves room for other riders to emerge and make their mark on the Canadian equestrian landscape.
Lamaze proteges Tiffany Foster and Kara Chad could be riders to watch this season. Foster, 34, of North Vancouver was a part of the Rio Olympics team that just missed out on bronze after losing in a jump off with Germany, as well as a member of the Pan Am Games gold-medal winning squad in 2015.
Foster had been mentored by Lamaze before bursting on to the scene as a part of the BMO Nations' Cup team in 2011 at Spurce Meadows' Masters tournament – helping Canada to a second-place result. She's a strong candidate to represent Canada again at the upcoming Games.
Chad, 23, of Calgary is currently being trained by Lamaze. She became a member of the national team in 2014 and travelled as a reserve to Rio in 2016. With a few more seasons under her belt since then, good results this week could help punch her ticket to Peru.
Mario Deslauriers could step into Millar's formidable shoes as another veteran presence for Team Canada. The 54-year-old of Bromont, Que., returned to compete for Canada in 2017 after pursuing a career opportunity south of the border. A fourth-place finish in the North American tournament's Queen Elizabeth II Cup at Spruce Meadows helped aid in that transition.
Lisa Carlsen is another veteran hoping to return to the Pan Am and Olympic Games. The 54-year-old of Okotoks, Alta., reemerged last season as a potential choice after helping Canada to a second-place finish in the Masters' Nations Cup in September. She was also the runner-up in the Nationals' marquee Grand Prix event last year.
Carlsen last represented Canada on the big stage at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, South Korea.
"My goals have always been the Olympics again," Carlsen told the Canadian Press. "That hasn't gone away."
International stars return
American Kent Farrington is back once again. The 38-year-old of Chicago is currently ranked eighth in the world, but could see that number climb with a successful stretch over the next month.
And history has proven that he is the king of the ring at Spruce Meadows, having won the 1.60-metre Grand Prix – and its $500,000 in prize money – last year as well as in 2012, 2013 and 2015.
Current world No. 1 Steve Guerdat will also be on hand. The Swiss star is an Olympic champion but is still looking to complete the Rolex Grand Slam of show jumping by winning the four consecutive designated Grand Prix events over the course of the season.
Scott Brash of Great Britain completed the feat in September of 2015 at the Masters when it required only three stops. The Grand Slam was expanded to four events in 2018.
Guerdat and his mission are sure to draw some attention, but Lamaze's presence will be the main draw for the equestrian community looking to rally around one its most admired competitors.