The Olympic Games, that was to be the moment for a seasoned and talented combination in show jumping; Nicola Philippaerts and his horse Chilli Willi. An unfortunate fall in March decided otherwise. Chilli Willi broke his front leg and could not be saved. Yet Nicola Philippaerts still wants to do everything to make the selection for the games.
The loss of Chilli Willi was unexpected and took a heavy toll. For more than a month and a half Nicola has not been able to talk about it in the media, but in the afternoon programme of Radio 2 Limburg he recalled that fateful day: "It happened in Wellington, Florida. We had bad luck and it was really heartbreaking to lose my horse there. It has not only been my best horse. It's also just the horse I've looked after every day for seven years. That's like losing a good friend."
But top athletes can't dwell on setbacks for too long. The Olympics are coming up fast so it is important to change gear quickly. "There is one Belgian combination less going to Tokyo so it will not be easy. I now have 'Katanga van het Dingeshof', which is actually a very good horse, I have had it for a few years now and it is coming up. So we will try to get as far as possible. There are still a few competitions where we can show what we are worth."
Who will eventually go to Tokyo will be decided by chef d'equipe Peter Weinberg. He has already looked into his cards and in normal circumstances would take the three highest ranked Belgian riders. Nicola Philippaerts is not one of them at the moment. But there is still one reserve spot and the names of the twin Philippaerts brothers are circulating as outsiders.
In any case it is not easy for athletes to prepare for possible participation in the Olympics. "The plan was to ride a lot in America, but that is where it went wrong. The corona pandemic has added a lot of uncertainties like travelling and all the measures you have to take. For the horses it doesn't matter, they travel in proverbial business class anyway."