Reluctant to talk about his health, Eric Lamaze is unrestrained about the changes to Olympic equestrian in 2020.
The most decorated show jumper in Canadian history with a complete set of Olympic medals, Lamaze is indignant about alterations to the format next year in Tokyo.
“It’s the worst thing that could have happened to our sport,” the 51 year old from Montreal declared Wednesday at Spruce Meadows.
“The Olympics are the biggest thing we have in our sport, any sport. Why screw it up for us?”
Under pressure from the International Olympic Committee to increase the number of countries participating in equestrian without adding more athletes to the Summer Games, the international governing body of equestrian instituted modifications for the 2020 Games:
- Show jumping teams in Tokyo will compete with three riders plus an alternate, instead of four plus a spare.
- Alternates can now replace a teammate during the competition, whereas a substitution could only be made before the first round previously.
- The throwing out of the lowest score among the four riders and the top three counting toward the final result has been eliminated.
Also, the individual event will now precede the team competition in Tokyo.
Lamaze says riders weren’t consulted before the changes. He says he feels team dynamics will be negatively affected and he believes the glamorous individual event should be the show jumping finale of the Games.
“It will be disastrous if you ask me,” Lamaze said. “All this for letting in countries that are incapable of riding at the Olympics.
“Killing our sport, so there are more flags around the stadium. Why? You know the Jamaican bobsleigh team? That’s what it’s going to be.
“We don’t want to see somebody get hurt. We don’t want to see somebody make a fool of themselves. It’s not cool.”
Winner of Olympic gold in 2008 with Hickstead and bronze in 2016 aboard Fine Lady, Lamaze also earned team silver with Ian Millar, Jill Henselwood and Mac Cone in 2008.
Lamaze, Tiffany Foster, Amy Millar and Yann Candele lost a jump-off for bronze in 2016 to Germany, which Lamaze insists was suspenseful and entertaining for viewers under the previous format.
“The discard [score] is so important. That’s what keeps it interesting,” he said.
Lamaze is more reticent when it comes to his own future.
He revealed in May that he’d been dealing with a brain tumour for a year and a half.
Lamaze hasn’t spoken publicly about treatment or prognosis, but indicated Wednesday he did not have positive news to share.
“It is what it is,” Lamaze said. “That’s all I can say. I don’t have an answer that you’re going to be happy with.”
Lamaze continues to ride though his illness, and ride well. He didn’t put a rail down Wednesday on either Chacco Kid or Coco Bongo.
Riding in a pair of jump-offs on the first day of the annual Masters tournament, Lamaze was bested only by riders with faster times.
Brazil’s Eduardo Menezes claimed the 1.6-metre Akita Drilling Cup aboard H5 Quinton with a winning time of 37.45 seconds.
Connor Swail of Ireland finished second with GK Coco Chanel in 37.87. Italy’s Massimo Grossato was third in 38.42 on Lazzaro Delle Schiave.
Ireland’s Daniel Coyne and Cita were victorious in the 1.5-metre TELUS Cup, 36.24 seconds ahead of Menezes and Ennebel Van Het Posthuijs of Brazil in 36.65.
Lamaze and Chacco Kid finished third in 37.22.
As for the prospect of representing Canada again in 2020, Lamaze’s response was a combination of uncertainty about his health and his frustration about what he feels is interference in equestrian’s showcase event.
“It’s my goal, yes. Don’t know if I’ll get there, but it’s my goal to go,” he said. “One show at a time for now.
“Having said that, I have mixed feelings because I don’t want to support it in some ways.
“I think all riders should boycott the Olympics to be honest and say, ‘If you don’t reverse this, we’re just plain not coming because this is not right.' "
The $4.3-million Spruce Meadows Masters continues until Sunday. Lamaze is expected to be on the Canadian team competing in a Nations Cup Saturday.
The tournament’s finale Sunday is the $3-million CP International Grand Prix.
Lamaze has won it twice (2011, 2007) with Hickstead. He’s the winningest rider at Spruce Meadows with career earnings of more than $6-million there.