Sumo scare? Riders say horses might be spooked by statue

Aug 3, 2021, 6:41 AM | Updated: 6:49 pm

KAMIYOGA, Japan (AP) — Equestrian jumpers aren’t keen on surprises. Neither are the horses, and it takes years of training to keep them from getting spooked.

Of course, no horse in Tuesday night’s Olympic jumping qualifier had ever seen anything like obstacle No. 10.

“As you come around, you see a big guy’s (butt),” British rider Harry Charles said.

“There’s a lot to look at,” Ireland’s Cian O’Connor added.

“It is very realistic,” echoed Israel’s Teddy Vlock.

Riders say a life-size sumo wrestler positioned next to the 10th obstacle on the 14-jump Olympic course may have distracted several horses in qualifying for the individual jumping final Tuesday night. A few pairings pulled up short of the barrier, accumulating enough penalty points to prevent entry into Wednesday’s finals.

The statue is positioned to the left of a jump placed in the corner of the arena. Hunched over and seemingly ready to attack, the wrestler is facing away from approaching riders, meaning that when they complete a sharp turn to take on the jump, the first thing horse and human see is the wedgie created by the wrestler’s mawashi.

“I did notice four or five horses really taking a spook to that,” Charles said.

Most of the course’s hurdles are decorated with a distinctly Japanese feel — geisha kimonos, a miniature Japanese palace, taiko drums.

None caught the eye quite like the sumo wrestler.

Among the horses alarmed by the setup was France’s Penelope Leprevost — a team jumping gold medalist in 2016. She wasn’t sure if the wrestler specifically threw off her 12-year-old stallion, Vancouver de Lanlore.

“Maybe,” she said. “We tried to relax our horses in the turn, and maybe they’re surprised to see a vertical so close. I don’t know.”

Vlock went 34th in the 73-horse field. After seeing others have issues, he and trainer Darragh Kenny of Ireland — also a competitor in Tuesday’s field — made a point of trotting their horses to the 10th jump before beginning their runs so the animals could look it over.

The hope was that familiarity would breed bravery.

“It is very realistic,” Vlock said. “It does look like a person, and that’s a little spooky. You know, horses don’t want to see a guy, like, looking intense next to a jump, looking like he’s ready to fight you.”

Vlock and Kenny both cleared the obstacle without issue. Kenny finished second with no penalty points and a time of 82.01, while Vlock fell short due to other issues.

Of course, it’s hard to know what’s in a horse’s head. Some riders chalked up the troubles to how close the jump was positioned to the turn. Others blamed the stadium’s bright lights that also led to concern at jump No. 1.

Medal hopefuls Scott Brash of Britain and Martin Fuchs of Switzerland believed cherry blossoms positioned on the other side of the jump were the more likely culprit.

Whatever the cause, it’s not surprising to Olympic veterans that there’s drama around the park. The Games have a reputation among riders for flashy course design, including an oddly shaped jump at Rio de Janeiro in 2016 that caused similar consternation.

“To be honest, you expect it in the Olympic Games,” Brash said.

And that’s OK with them.

“You know it’s going to be colorful coming here,” he added. “You know it’s going to be decorative. And it’s beautiful, you know? It’s fantastic. That’s what makes it a championship. If it was just plain old jumps, it’d be just like any other week.”

___

Follow Jake Seiner: https://twitter.com/Jake_Seiner

___

More AP Olympics: https://apnews.com/2020-tokyo-olympics and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

Serbia's Nikola Milenkovic, left, pushes Switzerland's Granit Xhaka during the World Cup group G so...
Associated Press

Serbia charged by FIFA for team, fans conduct at World Cup

DOHA, Qatar (AP) — FIFA brought disciplinary charges against Serbia on Monday for alleged misconduct by players and fans including offensive chants at a World Cup match against Switzerland. Tensions flared in the stands and on the field in a rematch of their stormy game at the 2018 World Cup that revived ethnic Balkan rivalries. […]
1 day ago
Louisville head coach Scott Satterfield walks down the sideline during the first half of an NCAA co...
Associated Press

Cincinnati hires Louisville’s Satterfield as football coach

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Cincinnati has tweeted that it has hired Louisville’s Scott Satterfield to be its next coach. Louisville was 7-5 this season under Satterfield and earned a berth in the Fenway Bowl, where coincidentally it will face Cincinnati. He replaces Luke Fickell, who recently left to become coach at Wisconsin. “Welcome to Cincinnati, […]
1 day ago
Spain's Ferran Torres scores a penalty, the third goal of his team, during the World Cup group E so...
Associated Press

Spain is prepared for penalties against Morocco at World Cup

DOHA, Qatar (AP) — Spain coach Luis Enrique gave his team a unique assignment following a penalty shootout loss to Italy at last year’s European Championship. “I told my players they have homework ahead of the World Cup. You need to take at least 1,000 penalties with your club,” Luis Enrique recounted Monday. “We can’t […]
1 day ago
Los Angeles Lakers forward Anthony Davis, left, dunks against Washington Wizards centers Daniel Gaf...
Associated Press

With 99 points in 2 games, Lakers’ Anthony Davis on big roll

Anthony Davis is healthy. His numbers have never been healthier. And, not coincidentally, the Los Angeles Lakers are playing like the team they expected to be. With 99 points in his last two games — his most ever in a span of two regular-season contests — Davis is doing something that few in the league’s […]
1 day ago
Moroccan soccer fans dance at the Souq Waqif during the FIFA World Cup, in Doha, Qatar on Sunday De...
Associated Press

Arab fans in Qatar rally behind Morocco at World Cup

DOHA, Qatar (AP) — Moroccans in Qatar are feeling the love from across the Arab world ahead of their country’s World Cup clash with Spain on Tuesday. After their own teams were eliminated from the first World Cup in the Middle East, many Qatari, Saudi and Tunisians fans in Doha are now rallying behind Morocco […]
1 day ago
Brazil's Neymar, runs for the ball during the World Cup group G soccer match between Brazil and Ser...
Associated Press

Neymar lookalike causes double takes at World Cup in Qatar

DOHA, Qatar (AP) — While one Neymar was about to make his return at the World Cup, another was going home after a short — and tumultuous — stint in Qatar. The real Neymar has recovered from an ankle injury and was expected to play Monday against South Korea in the round of 16, while […]
1 day ago
Sumo scare? Riders say horses might be spooked by statue