Cian O’Connor ‘gutted’ after controversial end to Olympic qualifying bid

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Cian O’Connor says he is “totally gutted” after the Ireland showjumping team’s Rio Olympics qualification hopes were wrecked in controversial fashion at the FEI European Championships.

Irish equestrian chiefs have been thwarted in their initial attempts to salvage hopes of reaching Rio next summer after going through post-event appeals channels.

Ireland finished an agonising 0.380 penalties behind third and final Rio qualifiers Spain following a dramatic finale to the team competition in Aachen, Germany on Friday night.

Great Britain and Switzerland secured the other two Rio tickets on offer, with Ireland finishing seventh.

O’Connor, Ireland’s third of four team riders, had jumped clear approaching the 11th fence, but a member of the arena staff then appeared to run in front of him, before leaping into a flowerbed to avoid horse and rider.

O’Connor had the next fence down.

Had he completed a clear round, the 35-year-old London 2012 individual bronze medallist would have helped secure an Olympics place, especially as fourth team member Denis Lynch then left all the fences up.

O’Connor could be seen gesticulating angrily as he exited Aachen’s 44,000-capacity main arena on his somewhat inappropriately-named horse Good Luck, and while world champions Holland celebrated winning gold, with Germany finishing second, Switzerland third and Britain fourth, Ireland began an appeal process.

But an immediate protest to the ground jury was rejected, before a subsequent appeal was made to the appeal committee, with Horse Sport Ireland revealing both bids had been unsuccessful during the early hours of Saturday morning.

It is not yet known whether Ireland will take a further appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), but it is understood that the chances of that appear to be strengthening.

Ireland’s showjumpers have no further opportunity to qualify for Rio.

O’Connor said on his Facebook page: “Totally gutted following yesterday’s final team round at the European Championships in Aachen.

“As the matter is sub judice, I will not comment on the incident at this time.

“Good Luck jumped out of his skin all week, and if I may say so looked one of the best horses of the championship. Full marks to Denis Lynch for jumping two outstanding rounds in the Nations Cup (team competition), particularly in the second round where he jumped a crucial clear.”

Damian McDonald, chief executive of Horse Sport Ireland, the national governing body for equestrian sport in Ireland, said in a statement on Friday night: “We are very proud of the Irish team’s performance at the European Championships in Aachen.

“As regards the incident where an arena official ran in front of Cian O’Connor, causing interference, we will be pursuing this through all appeals mechanisms available to us within the rules of the international governing body, the Federation Equestre Internationale.”

The FEI later published its reasons for rejecting the Irish appeals.

A statement read: “Following an on-course incident in which a member of the arena fence crew ran across the track as Irish rider Cian O’Connor was turning towards the 11th fence during the team final at the FEI European Jumping Championships 2015 in Aachen, the Irish chef d’equipe Robert Splaine and athlete Cian O’Connor lodged a protest. The horse Good Luck hit the fence to complete the course on four faults.

“The protest was heard by the ground jury, who ruled that as the athlete had continued his round, they saw no reason to stop him by ringing the bell.

“Under Article 233.3 of the FEI Jumping Rules, the athlete had the opportunity to stop voluntarily due to unforeseen circumstances beyond his control, however he did not do so.

“The ground jury heard explanations from Robert Splaine (Ireland chef d’equipe) and Cian O’Connor, reviewed video footage of the incident, and ruled that the result would stand. Having been notified of the ground jury’s decision, the Irish chef d’equipe and the athlete promptly appealed the decision to the appeal committee.

“However, after a further full review of the incident, including hearing statements from all parties, the appeal committee ruled that the athlete had been given a full and complete right to be heard and stated that it would not overrule the ground jury on a field of play decision.

“As a result, the appeal committee rejected the appeal and upheld the ground jury decision.

“The decision means that the Irish team score of 25.960 penalties remains unchanged, leaving the Irish in seventh overall, with the qualifying slots for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games going to Switzerland (3rd), Great Britain (4th) and Spain (6th).”

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