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Canada earns Olympic equestrian qualification

John Pearce of Canada riding Chianto competes in the speed competition of the World Jumping Championship at the World Equestrian Games in Lexington, Kentucky, October 4, 2010. REUTERS/John Sommers II

JOHN SOMMERS II

With most of their Olympic mounts injured and Olympic champion Eric Lamaze suffering a broken foot, the Canadian show-jumping team still managed to qualify for the Olympics against one of the toughest fields ever assembled at the World Equestrian Games in Lexington, Ky. Wednesday night.

Half the team had never competed at a world championship before.

A team that included Lamaze, John Pearce of Stouffville, Ont., Yann Candele of Caledon, Ont., and Jonathon Millar of Perth, Ont., finished fifth in the team event Wednesday night against a record 27 nations that competed.

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The top five teams automatically qualify for the 2012 London Olympics.

Chef d'equipe Terrance (Torchy) Millar still can't believe it. He said, with three-quarters of the 2008 silver-medal winning Olympic team missing, a good result in Kentucky would be making the top 10 teams that advanced to the second round. "Eighth would be great," he said. "A top five would be a super bonus."

"Our next big thrill would be if we could get two guys in the final four," he said.

Millar was referring to the individual competition, which continues on Friday. The top four finishers return for a final on Saturday in which they ride each other's horses.

Currently, Lamaze is in fourth place, while Pearce is in fifth place, individually. The leader is Rodrigo Pessoa of Brazil. Lamaze is only .590 faults behind Pessoa, while Pearce is .900 short.

"You've at least got to be in a position to do it, and we sure are," Millar said.

The Canadian team benefited from the demise of the U.S. team, which had been first after the first speed class, and fourth after the first round on Tuesday. But a rash of mistakes tossed them back into tenth place overall.

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The United States won the Olympic team gold medal two years ago. "Things just didn't go their way tonight," Millar said. "It's horse sport. Anything can happen."

Millar said the Canadian team could even have been second, because Candele seemed headed for a clear round Wednesday until disaster struck late in the course and he incurred 12 faults. Had he even had one rail down (or four faults), Canada would have won the silver medal behind Germany.

Germany won the gold medal, delivering three clean rounds, for a total of 17.80 points.

France was second with 24.32 faults, while Belgium leaped from eighth after the first round to third, with a total of .24.70.

Brazil finished fourth with 26.49, just edging Canada at 27.93.

The United States finished with 38.69 faults, well behind a Saudi Arabian team that also fumbled in the second round.

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Both Lamaze and Pearce, who rode for Canada at the 2000 Olympics, delivered clean rounds, while Jonathon Millar, the 36-year-old son of nine-time Olympian Ian Millar, picked up nine faults.

"I would say we've exceeded our expectations coming to these championships, given the season we had with horses hurt," said chef Terrance Millar.

Ian Millar, Jill Henselwood and Mac Cone were the members of the 2008 Olympic team that did not compete in Kentucky because their Olympic mounts were injured. Henselwood was an alternate, with a second-string mount.

In recent years, Canada has had to go to the last-ditch qualifying competition at the Pan American Games to get to the Olympics - and one year, they didn't even qualify a team at all - but now Terrance Millar said the pressure is off.

However, the chef d'equipe said Canada will still send as strong a team as it can to the Pan Am Games in Guadalajara, Mexico next year. "It's very useful to do," he said.

But this week, the individual competition remains and Millar is looking forward.

Pessoa leads with 2.800 faults, while Philippe Le Jeune of Belgium is second with 3.100, Carsten-Otto Nagel of Germany is third at 3.240, Lamaze fourth at 3.390 and Pearce fifth at 3.700.

Others will have a tough time making up ground, but Millar says there are still two tough rounds to jump and anything can happen.

Ward is 26th, and Mario Deslauriers, who switched allegiances to ride for the United States after years as a Canadian rider, is only 52nd after a tough Wednesday.

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