Canadian show jumper Eric Lamaze is preparing for the 2012 London Olympic Games, and he's agreed to a series of interviews and updates. Read about how he chose his Olympic mount, what he thinks his chances are for a repeat medal, and what his predictions are for the final result.
How have you been preparing for the Olympic Games?
We just got back from Calgary, Alberta, and I spent last weekend in San Patrignano. Italy.
Calgary was an opportunity for me to make a decision on which horse I was going to ride at the Olympics, by figuring out my horses’ mileage and so on, so that’s what I did for four weeks.
It wasn’t an entirely smooth journey; I had a few problems towards the end. A young horse can get a little overwhelmed when jumping fences of that height. Also, the fences in Calgary take some adjusting to—they are wider in length, and the poles are different. I think for my horse—Derly Chin De Muze—it got a bit much, so she backed off towards the end despite having arrived at Calgary on top form.
The second week was the last U.S. Olympic observation trial, where she only received 1 time fault and knocked one down, so things were going well. Although we had some trouble towards the end, the good news is we’ve had enough time to put things back together.
I will be riding Derly in London. That decision is not solely mine; our chef d’équipe and selection committee have a big say in it, and it all came down to the fact that they saw more of Derly throughout the winter.
We purchased Verdi just in time to make him eligible for the Olympics, but my team happens to be a bit more comfortable with Derly. By this point I was very comfortable with both horses. When I say comfortable, they are both at different stages—I don’t know Verdi as well as I know Derly, but the latter is a year younger, which is a bit of a shame. This year has been about coming up with some new mounts, so these horses have had to step up to the plate a little earlier than was intended for them. I feel quite good about it though; I am looking forward to the Olympics.
What is Derly Chin De Muze like as a character?
She’s a great character and never puts a foot wrong. Derly’s only 9 years old, but she went everywhere from La Baule to Rome to Valencia to Florida and never did anything wrong until the third week at Calgary, where she had a mishap in a combination. I am unsure as to whether she stumbled on the backside of the triple or something, but she went down, taking me with her. The third week set me back a little, though Derly pulled herself together and jumped a nice round in the final week. In the grand prix however, I had to stop going into the triple combination, which was a little alarming, but she jumped it the second time, so we were back on track.
Derly’s normally very brave, and what happened in the last little bit is unusual for her. She’s extremely careful and very competitive, so you can see a horse like that being a little shaken up by the mishap we had. The fact that she’s careful is what makes her so good, but with being careful comes being afraid of the fences sometimes, so she was a bit shaken up, but we’ve just got to get some confidence back into her.
The London Games are a bit of a different situation than Beijing was for me. People ask if I’m going there to defend my gold medal; if I were riding Hickstead, I would feel that way, but this year is different, I am going there to try to help my country win a medal. As far as my individual goal, I don’t want to be negative, but I think it would be a small miracle to make it to the podium, given everything that has happened. We were caught off guard with figuring all sorts of things out, so my mission for this year is helping my team make it to the podium and I think we have a good chance of that. The final round at the Olympics is similar to competing in a grand prix, where it goes back to zero, so anything can happen.
Tell me about Team Canada.
Team Canada is doing good. Yann Candele is a reserve. Jill Henselwood has a bit of a funny horse—it can jump clear, but it also has a temperament. Ian Millar’s horse took time off and only did two weeks at Calgary. Tiffany Foster was also in San Patrignano, so she’s riding a lot. Tiffany’s on a fairly young horse of 10 years old, so we’re trying to keep him confident. For her it’s a big experience, and she’s very excited about it. When you get so close to a big event, you have to be very careful of all the details so that nothing goes wrong.
Who would you say is the individual to watch at the Olympic Games, and which team do you think is going to do well?
I think the Germans are the clear favorites, with Janne-Friederike Meyer, Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum, Marcus Ehning, and Christian Ahlmann making a strong team. As far as individuals, you’ve got to love Nick Skelton, who will be riding Big Star. I think he’s a clear favorite. After that, I think Steve Guerdat and Nino des Buissonnets will do well; I really like that horse, he’s careful and a good call for the Olympics.
Will you be staying in the Olympic village or elsewhere?
No, we will be staying in a hotel that is walking distance from the Park, which I am happy about.
When you’re in London and you’re settled, what does your schedule for the day entail?
All the events are during the day, whereas in Beijing they were at night. So it all depends on what order I go in, and I imagine there are close to 100 riders starting. If your show starts at 1 p.m., and you’re first to go for your country, you’ve got a busy morning exercising your horse, whereas if you go towards the end of the day, you can plan it a little differently. I do think it’s important not to veer off too much from your daily routine of going to the gym and so on.
Who makes up Team Lamaze?
We have quite a large entourage in terms of people helping us on a daily basis. I brought in Brent Balisky, who was actually Tiffany’s first coach, to help us out in Calgary up until the end of the Olympic Games. There is a lot to do, and he has been a big help as he is able to focus on things that I may not see. We have a team veterinarian as well as my own vet who look after the horses and will be there at the Olympics. My groom, Delphine Roustan, is obviously a key part of the team, who helps make everything work. That’s about all we can actually take to the venue.
Eric Lamaze, 44, has represented Canada at five FEI World Equestrian Games, four Pan American Games and the 2008 Olympic Games, where he won individual gold aboard Hickstead, the small but mighty stallion. He is a Rolex equestrian sports Testimonee and has topped the Rolex World Rider Rankings numerous times since 2008.