In an exciting five-way battle for qualification for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games in Doha (QAT) today, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates scooped the two qualifying spots on offer to teams from Africa and the Middle East.
It was anchor rider, Abdullah Alsharbatly, who clinched a definitive Saudi victory with a brilliant double-clear performance from Alamo, while the UAE lined up in second, Egypt finished third, Morocco lined up in fourth and the hosts were eliminated in the second round.
The United Arab Emirates had the advantage at the halfway stage with just eight faults on the board. But the Saudis were close behind on nine while Qatar also looked strong with just 10. And Team Egypt were also well in touch going into round two with just 13 on their scorecard, discounting the uncharacteristic 23 collected by their last-line partnership of Nayel Nassar and El Conde.
The Moroccans however were already well off the pace when racking up 25 first-round faults, and although they rallied brilliantly second time out Philippe Le Jeune’s side couldn’t recover.
Led the way
Morocco led the way into round two, adding 16 more faults including just four each from Abdelkebir Ouaddar (Istanbull VH Ooievaarshof) and Abdeslam Bennani Smires (Davino Q).
And although Egypt’s Mouda Zeyada and If Looks Could Kill OH picked up 16 faults second time out, his team was still well in contention when Karim Elzoghby and Zandigo left just one on the floor while Mohamed Talaat and Chakra made it all the way to the final fence on Uliano Vezzani’s 13-obstacle track before making a mistake there and picking up an additional time fault.
If Nayal Nassar could show his usual form at his second attempt then Egypt would stay well in with a chance. But the 12-year-old El Conde had objected to the open water fence first time out, and when he did it again and completed with 12 on the board then the final Egyptian tally rose to 34.
Meanwhile the hosts began to look vulnerable as soon as the second round got underway with elimination for their opening combination. Hamad Nasser Al Qadi’s 14-year-old gelding Sirocco stopped twice at the triple combination, and when Saeed Nasser SA Al Qadi and Incredible W were eliminated for the second time in the competition then Qatar’s day was done because they could not finish with three scores on the board.
It was a tough on Rashid Towaim Ali Al Marri who had picked up just three faults in the opening round with Concordess NRW, and even more so for Bassem Mohammed who had produced a sparkling clear from Caletto Cabana, because they would not get the opportunity to go back in the ring again.
The Saudis got off to a shaky restart when their pathfinders Abdulrahman Alrajhi and Babalou HD returned a nine-fault tally at their second attempt. However a lovely clear from Khaled Almobty and the former Ellen Whitaker ride Equine America Spacecake steadied the ship, and when Ramzy Al Duhami and Untouchable made a dramatic improvement from their 17-fault scoreline in round one to put just six on the board this time out then things were very definitely looking better.
And then Abdullah Alsharbatly crowned their day with the only double-clear of the competition from Alamo, the horse that carried Switzerland’s Steve Guerdat to victory at the Longines FEI Jumping World Cup™ Final in Gothenburg (SWE) back in 2019, to leave his side on a finishing score of just 15 faults.
The UAE’s Abdullah Mohammed Al Marri and James VD Oude Heihoef and Abdullah Humaid Al Muhairi and Chacolu each had just a single fence down before their most junior team-member, 19-year-old Omar Abdul Aziz Al Marzooqi, picked up 10 faults with Dalida van de Zuuthoeve. That would be the drop-score when Mohammed Ghanem Al Hajri was last to go with G’s Fabian who returned with a total of nine and the final UAE tally would be 25 faults, plenty good enough to take that coveted second spot that will bring them to France next summer.
There were a lot of happy faces during the post-competition interviews, and it was a watershed moment for the UAE team when achieving their very first equestrian Olympic qualification.
“It was our mission to make history for our country, we never qualified for the Olympics as a team before,” Al Marri pointed out. “It’s been a long road, nearly seven or eight years planning and we failed the first time in Morocco so we were really desperate to qualify today. We had a lot of support from our Federation, our stables, our sponsors, the whole contingent from the UAE are supporting us, believing that we could do it today. We are so happy that we achieved it!” he said.
FEI president and IOC member Ingmar De Vos, FEI secretary general Sabrina Ibáñez and Mr Sami al Duhami who is chair of FEI Regional Group 7 were all on hand during the prize-giving ceremony in which the winning team from Saudi Arabia stood top of the podium.
Not surprisingly, London Olympian and individual world silver medallist, 40-year-old Abdullah Alsharbatly, was delighted with the winning result. “I’m really happy for my King, my country, for my team-mates and for all the Saudis. I’m over the moon!” he said.
Ramzy Al Duhami, who was on the Olympic bronze-medal-winning Saudi team alongside Alsharbatly in 2012 will be heading to his sixth Olympic Games next summer. “I’m so happy for myself and my team-mates, they made a really great performance and our captain Abdullah Alsharbatly, he has really done it for us today!” said the experienced 51-year-old athlete.
At 24 years of age Khaled Almobty is the youngest Saudi team-member. “Today is a day to remember for the rest of our lives! To qualify for the most important show in the world, the most important Games in the world – the Olympic Games – I’m very happy and proud of my team-mates for all the hard work they put in, and hopefully we can continue success in the Olympics!” he said.
Like the rest of his team, 27-year-old Abdulrahman Alrajhi was thrilled with the result. Asked how he felt about heading for Paris 2024 he replied, “I don’t think I will be able to explain it in words, because it’s plenty of hard work – not just me – the whole team has been doing it.
“We were fighting for the last four years because we didn’t qualify for the last Olympics and we were fighting so hard to qualify for this Olympics. I’m so happy and proud to be part of this – if I could be like this baby (Khaled) then I’d be proud! Ramzy is also a legend in this sport and Abdullah Alsharbatly is our machine, he really put in an unbelievable two clear rounds today that we are very proud of – thank you Abdullah!” he said as the celebrations began.
Saudi Arabia and The United Arab Emirates now join the list of countries qualified for the Olympic Games in Paris next year. The hosts from France are automatically qualified while Great Britain, Germany, Ireland, The Netherlands and Sweden qualified at last summer’s ECCO FEI World Championships and Belgium took the single qualifying spot on offer at the Longines FEI Jumping Nations Cup™ Final 2022 in Barcelona (ESP) last October.