Irish Olympian Cian O’Connor expects to be much clearer about his Tokyo 2020 plans after competing for his country in Friday’s Longines FEI Jumping Nations Cup™ show at La Baule.
O’Connor, a two-time Olympian, will partner Kilkenny as part of a strong Irish team looking to perform well and get into form with less than two months until Tokyo 2020 begins.
Kilkenny, a grey gelding, is just nine years old but will work with O’Connor at this high-profile event at the iconic French venue as PSG Final continues his recovery from injury.
“PSG only started back last week and is just returning to full fitness,” O’Connor told FEI.org. “He’s due to jump the 1.45m in La Baule, but I’ll be with Kilkenny in the Nations Cup and probably the Grand Prix too.
“Kilkenny has been jumping very well of late and impressed in Florida in the winter and since then. He’s still only nine, but an event like this will be a really good learning curve for him as we experience the two quickfire rounds and the atmosphere and the tension.”
PSG Final did get a run-out at Valkenswaard earlier this week, but that was his first show since competing in Florida in March. PSG, once with Max Kühner, was O’Connor’s partner when they helped Ireland to victory in the Longines Jumping FEI Nations Cup™ Final in Barcelona in 2019.
As the clock ticks down towards selection deadlines in a busy year, O’Connor is determined to have options both for Tokyo and the European Championships in Riesenbeck soon after.
“You need choices at this level and ahead of these big events, and that’s why it’s so good that Kilkenny is getting this chance in La Baule,” O’Connor said. “We want to get a good result in La Baule and we are also looking to make sure our horses pick up experience.
“Chef d’Equipe Michael Blake has some big decisions to make in the coming weeks with both Tokyo and the Euros. He’s a very knowledgeable man and he’ll make those choices based of course on form and ability, but also we have to think about matters such as travel and the likely heat in Japan.
“Communication between athletes, owners and the Chef d’Equipe is vital to ensure the best decisions are made.”
Ireland will come up against some strong opponents in La Baule, in what is the second leg of the truncated 2021 Longines Jumping FEI Nations Cup™ season.
2018 champions Belgium are led by Pieter Devos and Niels Bruynseels, while Scott Brash and John Whitaker are among Great Britain’s entries. Switzerland again include stars Steve Guerdat and Martin Fuchs, while the French home team are sure to be competitive.
O’Connor’s teammates in La Baule include fellow 2019 champion Darragh Kenny as well as Bertram Allen and Shane Sweetnam.
“We go there with a decent team and our horses are up and running,” O’Connor said. “Often La Baule comes early in the season but there’s been a lot of preparation already in Florida and Rome.
“We should always appreciate these opportunities. You need to compete and take risks – we learn more by competing against the best and maybe even knocking a fence down than not taking part at all. It’s not enough to just get one good result and resting on that; we should build on that and look for the next improvement. That’s true of every country, not just Ireland.”
La Baule was the scene of a very good result for O’Connor and Ireland exactly a decade ago as they won the show in 2011.
O’Connor appreciates the picturesque Normandy surroundings, and is more broadly a big fan of the Longines Jumping FEI Nations Cup™ series.
“It’s lovely at La Baule with its great tradition and it being close to the sea,” he said. “The French love their horses and it’s great we can have at least some spectators now.
“I’m maybe old-fashioned but this means a lot to me. There are lots of different circuits these days but putting on the Irish green and representing my country is very special. It’s a very important competition and we all need to protect it by competing and making good decisions about how it can remain a priority for athletes.”