German showjumping coach expects medals in Rio

German showjumpers are hotly-tipped to medal at the Rio Olympics. In an exclusive interview with DW, coach Otto Becker speaks of his expectations and the careful preparation needed in a complex sport.

DW: Mr. Becker, you have nominated Ludger Beerbaum, Christian Ahlmann, Marcus Ehning and Daniel Deusser for the Olympics. Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum is the reserve rider. What were the deciding factors?

Otto Becker: We have looked not only at a single tournament but over a long time, especially this year's outdoor season. We decided a few weeks ago that these five riders, in some cases with two or three different horses, are ahead of the others.

Therefore, we nominated a five-member group early in order to use the horses even better and in a more targeted fashion. It was a very close decision and I'm very sorry for Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum.

You not only had to decide on the riders but had to register a particular horse for each rider. Will spare horses also be taken to Rio?

No, this is impossible because of quarantine regulations.The five riders will travel with their Olympic horses to Rio. If something happens before then, we can swap the horses at home. However, the animals must be on the so-called long-list, where we had to specify a selection of 10 riders and 15 horses a few weeks ago.

What are the next steps? When are you leaving and how will the horses get to Rio?

The horses fly on August 7 from Liege. The company Peden has organized flights to championships for over 25 years. It is a very long way but the horses are experienced and have all flown before.

We will get the hay in Brazil. Food can be ordered in advance, it is supplied by two or three major companies there. Overall, it is a complicated process to get the horses and all the equipment to Rio. It is a lot of paperwork, everything must be registered and logged. But we try to ensure that horses receive food they are used to.

Are there any special vaccinations the horses need to get before traveling to Brazil?

The animals have a horse passport and must anyway be vaccinated every few months. No special vaccination is necessary for Brazil but there will be a kind of quarantine. In the last two weeks prior to departure, horses must be monitored. They will be collected immediately after landing and put through a special 'corridor' to the stables in Rio.

On the way back it is the same. Our horses will not come into contact with other horses or animals. Otherwise, the return journey would also be very difficult. This is a trend of recent years. The International Equestrian Federation (FEI) has met with transport companies and national bodies worldwide to make this sort of travel possible.

The Olympic equestrian events will be held on sand. Have you visited the equestrian center in Rio in advance?

Last year, the German Equestrian Federation visited the venue with a group of eventers and their coaches. This always happens a year before because eventing covers all the disciplines - dressage, jumping and cross country.

We decided not to ride because other than the course, nothing was ready. But we got to know the size of the arena, got to know the sand and we already know the course designer from other tournaments.

The exact course and obstacles are not known beforehand anyway, but that does not matter. It is like all other tournaments. Since we do not know what the course will look like, we can not prepare much more than we have. But the FEI has top people who have always brilliantly organized championships. So we travel to Rio very reassured.

You have targeted a medal in Rio. How realistic is that?

We know from previous years that seven, eight or even nine teams will be in the hunt for medals. We must show our best form in Rio and be in top shape. Of course, in the end we also need a good run and that bit of luck to win a medal. Everything has to be right. We know that, but the goal with this team is still to win a medal.

All five are world-class riders, but that alone is not enough. I have experienced it myself at the 2002 World Equestrian Games in Jerez de la Frontera. At that time, all four German riders were among the top 10 in the world rankings, but we did not win a medal.

Has the German Equestrian Federation set a specific medal target?

There is an understanding between the German Olympic Association and the federation where it is hoped to achieve a certain number of medals. But I think everyone knows that Olympic Games are not a 'play on request concert'. You can not say that you will win this or that medal in this or that discipline.

The other nations are good too and also want medals. They have similar agreements with their associations. But to set goals and to achieve your goals are two different things. We have tried to prepare in the best possible way. Everyone is ambitious - the whole team around us, the riders too. But there are no guarantees.

Does it matter to you and your team that you missed out on medals in London four years ago?

No, not at all. We know that it all starts from scratch. A new Games, new luck. I think in the eight years in which I have worked with my team as national coach you can see the result. We have won the World Cup Final four times, brought home a medal at all European Championships and won the world title. At the Olympics in London, it was not easy. We had many problems beforehand but we still took a good team and could have got a medal if things had gone our way. Instead, it was sobering (to finish 10th in the team classification).

We are all experienced people and know that all previous successes and failures mean nothing in Rio. We start at zero, and we have to be fit and focused and put on our best performance.