Irish show jumper Denis Lynch had a rollercoaster week at the Aachen CHIO in Germany, and he started this week with very bad news.
On July 3, Horse Sport Ireland named Lynch as one of its two individuals to compete at the Games, along with Billy Twomey. Ireland had not qualified a team, but Lynch and Twomey’s individual results had secured the nation two individual slots for Olympic competition.
But on July 6, Horse Sport Ireland announced that it was withholding its final ratification of Lynch’s Olympic entry pending an investigation into an incident at the Aachen CHIO that took place the same day. And on July 9, they confirmed that they are withdrawing his nomination to the London Olympic Games. After a meeting in Dublin, which Lynch attended, HSI officials asked show jumping team manager Robert Splaine to choose an alternative individual rider. Cian O'Connor will take Lynch's spot with Blue Loyd.
Lynch, who was named for the Olympic Games on Abbervail van het Dingeshof, rode Lantinus on the Irish team in the Nations Cup at Aachen on July 5. The Irish team claimed third, but after the class, Lantinus tested positive during routine hypersensitivity testing. A follow-up test on the morning of July 6 also resulted in a positive result, leading the Fédération Equestre Internationale veterinarians at Aachen to disqualify Lantinus from further competition at Aachen.
Lynch released a statement about his removal from the Olympic team, providing insight into the hypersensitivity ruling with Lantinus at Aachen and expressing his concerns about the process of Horse Sport Ireland's officials:
"I would now like to take this opportunity to further clarify matters regarding events surrounding the disqualification of Lantinus and also relate a number of matters that my manager, lawyer and I find extremely strange and highly irregular," Lynch's statement read.
"I realize that the general public would not be aware of the process when a horse has displayed reason for concern before a show jumping event. I will therefore detail events as they happened last week.
"On Wednesday evening [July 4], Lantinus was presented to the FEI vets for examination as he had picked up a small wound on the left fore leg and an abrasion on the right hind leg sustained in the competition he participated in that day. These injuries were noted and a decision was taken by the Chef D’Equipe, Mr. Robert Splaine, the Irish team vet, Mr. Marcus Swail and I that Lantinus was fit to compete on Thursday. I would like to make it perfectly clear that I do not have the authority to make this decision by myself when competing for the Irish team and these decisions are always made in conjunction with the Chef D’Equipe, Mr. Splaine and the Irish vet, Mr. Swail. In fact, as stated in the meeting this morning by Mr. Splaine, the Chef D’Equipe has the final decision on the rider and horse competing at a Nations Cup event. He also stated that the Chef D’Equipe’s position is a highly pressurised and responsible position, an opinion I agree with entirely. It is certainly a very responsible position as the decision made by the Chef D’Equipe has had very serious consequences.
"Lantinus was examined again two hours before the Nations Cup on Thursday by the FEI vets who were satisfied he was fit enough to compete. Having competed in two very difficult rounds in very testing ground conditions, Lantinus was examined again and there were increased sensitivity around the noted areas and a further exam was undertaken at 8:30 a.m. on Friday. The sensitivity had not decreased and Lantinus was now considered hypersensitive within Annex XI of FEI Veterinary Regulations and on this advice; Lantinus was disqualified by the attending FEI vets. We had thirty minutes to appeal and following discussions with Mr. Splaine and Mr. Swail, we decided not to appeal and allow Lantinus to be treated. Our primary concern was the welfare of Lantinus and also I had no intention of Lantinus competing in any other event at Aachen.
"I would again like to state that at no stage, was there any inference from the FEI veterinary commission that the hypersensitivity was anything other than natural occurring. This is extremely important to note.
"Lantinus received no further sanction and was free to compete in the next show, should I decide. I was also free to compete in the remainder events at Aachen and I did so on Sunday in the Grand Prix where I finished best of the Irish in 13th place on my nominated Olympic horse, Abervail.
"My record regarding animal welfare is well documented. Last year alone, I raised almost €200,000.00 for the ISPCA to help in the trojan work that association undertakes.
"Hindsight is wonderful and I fully understand if the public wonder why a chance was ever taken with Lantinus in competing in the Nations Cup on Thursday but I’d like to put this decision into perspective also. In May, having won the Derby at La Baule, I broke two ribs and had nine stitches to my head. I was advised by my doctor that I would be unable to compete for at least six weeks. However, Mr. Splaine had continued to pressurise me into riding for Ireland in the Nations Cup as the Irish team were unfortunately struggling badly. In the meeting today, he said he kept a spot open for me at the Rome Nations Cup. This is true and it is also true that this was 12 days after I had broken my ribs !! He informed me at the time that I may be jeopardising my chance for the Olympic nomination if I was not back riding in the Irish team very soon. This is a spot that I had spent 14 months competing to secure for Ireland and succeeded by finishing top of the individual Olympic rankings. This was important as the Irish team, of which I was also a part of, failed to secure a team spot at the Olympics. Perhaps this gives an indication to the pressure that was exerted on me in Aachen to compete in the Nations Cup with Lantinus.
"When I received the news that Lantinus was disqualified, I was distraught. I knew how this might be perceived but was confident that the findings from the Veterinary Commission would be that the hypersensitivity was naturally occurring. Nevertheless, it was the very last thing I needed. The reporting from various elements of the media was inaccurate and the attention it received was terrible but following the release of my statement on Saturday, the details of the matter were clarified and media attention calmed considerably.
"For the record, the measures implemented by FEI regarding hypersensitivity are excellent and ones in which I fully support. It is true that my horses have been deemed hypersensitive on two other occasions. One of these was as a result of mud rash picked up while competing in Falsterbo with Irish team. The horse, Lord Louis, was however allowed compete immediately the following day under the FEI regulations. The other occasion was in Rio where two other competitors also displayed symptoms of hypersensitivity. I realise having hypersensitivity once in a horse, is one occasion too many but to put things into perspective, I compete at approximately 50 events every year where there could be anything between six and nine classes. All my horses are continuously examined throughout the year at these events.
"A couple of matters during the last week that I found unusual were as follows. I had not had the opportunity to speak to my brother and manager about the matter before Mr. Damian McDonald, the Secretary General of HSI, had informed him what had unfolded. He then suggested to my brother that I withdraw my nomination for an Olympic place. This was before any report from the Veterinary Commission had been produced. This request was stated at the meeting this morning as Damian McDonald was one of three persons on the monitoring group who would make a decision on my nomination.
"For the record, one of the other two persons on the monitoring group was Mr. Marcus Swail, the vet who was part of the decision making process to compete Lantinus! The independence of the monitoring group has certainly raised concerns for us.
"Another matter that I considered unusual was the advice of the Chef D’Equipe at Aachen. I live two hours from Aachen and he advised me not to return to Aachen to compete. This is despite the fact that I was fully entitled to compete there. We also found it extremely strange that no effort was made by HSI to clarify matters on Saturday. Today, public perception was raised at the meeting by Mr. McDonald. Well, when no effort is made by the governing body to clarify matters when such an instance occurs, then naturally public perception will be suspicious in my opinion. Finally, to top it all off, my participation in the Nations Cup in Falsterbo this week was withdrawn by Mr. Robert Splaine with no explanation provided. This raises the question as to the extent of the support provided for me by Horse Sport Ireland.
"At this stage, we are considering an appeal. However, although we have the right to appeal the decision this morning, we have been informed no appeal process is in place. This again, we find very unusual.
"Naturally I am extremely disappointed with the decision this morning. We provided a full explanation for everything that was asked of us and no question was left unanswered so the statement that we had not provided a 'satisfactory explanation' is baffling.
"I would like to thank everyone who has sent so many kind messages to me over the last week and also for their support throughout my career. It means so much, particularly during some of the difficult times anyone goes through during their life/career.
"I would also like to wish Billy Twomey the very best of luck in London. He is a superb rider, gentleman and friend. If I decide not appeal or my appeal is unsuccessful, the other candidate who will be nominated will have my full support also. It is an amazing achievement to participate in the Olympics and I would dearly love Ireland to be successful in London.
"Today is a very, very, disappointing day for me but rest assured I will return stronger from the experience."
After high-profile doping offenses by Irish riders at both the 2004 and ’08 Olympic Games, Horse Sport Ireland officials embarked on a massive campaign to eliminate such infractions from Irish sport. In 2004, Irish rider Cian O’Connor won individual show jumping gold but had the medal revoked when his horse Waterford Crystal tested positive for prohibited substances. There was a scandal when the horse’s B sample was stolen before it could be tested, but in June 2005, the FEI stripped O’Connor of his medal and disqualified the Irish team, which had placed seventh, from the ’04 Olympic Games.
Then, in 2008, Lynch and Lantinus were also named in a doping offense at the Olympic Games in Hong Kong. Lynch had qualified to ride in the individual final at the ’08 Games, but a positive test result for the prohibited substance capsaicin eliminated them from the competition.
“Since 2008 a number of measures have been put in place to address what happened at the 2004 and 2008 Olympic Games,” said Horse Sport Ireland CEO Damian McDonald. “Since 2008 over 300 horses ridden by Irish riders have been tested during international competitions by the FEI, and all have tested negative, which is as it should be. The riders have gone out of their way to work with us on these issues, and I know they are determined to ensure that Ireland and Irish show jumping is represented with distinction at the 2012 Olympic Games in London.”