Twenty-three years on from the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games, the Sydney International Equestrian Centre (SIEC) still hosts significant equestrian events including the Sydney International 3 Day Event (Sydney 3DE). This year, this important Paris 2024 Olympic qualifier also hosted two gold medallists from the 2000 Sydney 200 Olympics who were present to ensure that the sport is in great shape for the future.
Year 2000 Individual Gold and Team Bronze medallist David O’Connor (USA) and member of Australia’s gold medal team Stuart Tinney were back at SIEC to be part of the 3DE, but not as competitors. David was in Sydney as the FEI Course Director - Course Designer Specialist at a four-day FEI training seminar for Eventing officials, of which Stuart was a participant to refresh his accreditation as an official FEI course designer.
The pair of golden boys continue to live by their passion for Eventing through broad based participation and put back to the sport by giving time, officiating, and sharing their vast knowledge with riders and administrators. A major part of this ongoing commitment is to ensure that officials have sound, up-to-date knowledge of the sport and its rules to ensure that fairness and safety are managed in accordance with best-practice standards.
As former Olympic representatives these Eventing stars competed at top level, but on this occasion, they represent the FEI and EA in the quest to give back to their sport.
David was full of praise for the collective interests that have kept SIEC in such good order, he said, “it's staggering for me and exciting to see that the park is used so well and continues 23 years on. It is a true legacy for equestrian sport in Australia and that's really, really fun to see. The rings are great and they're keeping the property up to the level required from a sport point of view. From an Olympic point of view, there are legacies that can happen because a country hosts the Games and it's staggering for me and exciting to see that the park (SIEC) is used so well.”
“I competed in Atlanta and that site is still there, but not used for cross country, it is now mostly used for show jumping. Then there are venues in other countries that you'll never see again, so it's wonderful to come back to a true legacy for our sport.”
David looked back to how his formative years have taken him on to teaching officials and he said, “It started from the beginning as my mother was very involved and we were brought up in the sport. She was a judge and so we learned that you had to give back. I'm a huge believer that as athletes we need to give back to the sport. Because Eventing is not huge when you look at other sports, you have to take care of it. This is especially so in Australia, you have to take care of it, and pass it on to the next generations in good shape.”
“I think the scope of our responsibility for the sport is to see that everybody has their role and all roles are really important, no one is more important than another. The organisers, the officials, the riders, they're all equally important and can't be separated from each other.”
David said, “Everybody's got a bit of a different view and the experienced ones help the younger ones by asking, “did you know about this?” We all learn, that's why I love doing these things. If you can facilitate that conversation, the whole thing just explodes.”
Sydney Eventing fans were pleased to welcome David as he was to visit the venue of one of his most important wins a little over two decades ago. David was much valued for his input at the Eventing Officials Course and his lessons will live on through increased knowledge and more effective management as the FEI and EA move forward and meet the demands of modern equestrian sport.
Stuart was also delighted to learn from David while refreshing his course designer accreditation. Stuart said, “It just so happens that the director of this training course is David O'Connor, who I met 23 years ago here at the Olympic venue. It does seem strange to be seeing each other again in this situation.”
EA reflected on the déjà vu aspects of this competition at SIEC and Stuart agreed, “Yes, it has actually been wonderful. When you're here competing against another country, you're all separate and in your own little bubble. You are trying to give the best performance you can, so it's quite insular at the top level. Sometimes we don't get to hang out communally, especially at this venue as it is so large and spread out. It is just wonderful for David to come back and see that the venue is still here and used by many equestrians. What a legacy we have and how lucky we are to have a venue like this that has continued in the sport and is still used all the time.”
Stuart reflected, “I get a bit used to this legacy from the 2000 Olympics as I am here all the time and ride here quite a lot. It has been wonderful to look back, and then forward to the course design for this year’s 3DE, it is first class and I am very glad to be part of it.”
EA congratulated Stuart for his contribution as an elite athlete and commended his decision to go down the official’s route like David - especially in terms of FEI accreditation, and asked what made him decide to take this pathway in the sport?
Stuart responded, “It started quite a few years ago just at the low levels. While riding some courses, I felt that the distances were a bit awkward and strange to ride. I found myself getting involved and thinking that I would not mind helping out on the lower-level courses and this led to some course designing. As a rider, I have jumped a lot of tracks and had ideas about course designing. I quite like doing it, so that's how it started and the more I did, the more I enjoyed it.”
“The biggest thing now for our sport is the rate of change. We have more events using frangible technology and so many different rules. Officials must learn to comply with safety obligations and give each competitor the chance to be their best, I'm really trying to be proactive and work with that. Looking to the future and the way the sport is changing, I'm really interested in moving forward and presenting the best governance structure that we can.”
EA asked Stuart if he would encourage other athletes to become officials as a way of learning and putting back into the sport?
Stuart enthusiastically said, “Yeah, it would be great. We have such good athletes here in Australia and good competitive riders. So, if they are thinking they have time, whether they're still riding and have time or whether they ride less and have more time, it's a wonderful chance to give back to ensure that eventing has a sound future. I think it would be great to get some of those really good riders onto ground juries and in judging roles. Their specialist knowledge in dressage and other phases is huge, so it would be wonderful “If we can encourage people to come back and do that, and of course, designing as well and as a Technical delegate, which is a tough job, they have to have good all round knowledge and will be called on to organise events. I really take my hat off to this group of officials, they do a great job.”
EA appreciates the chance to share Stuart’s insights and hope this will encourage other athletes to join in nationally and then progress into the FEI. Stuart enthused, “It’s a whole new world at that level, you see so much and you can travel the world and get to see some great competitions and be part of the team. You get the best seat in the house really, don’t you?”
Stuart wound up the discussion saying, “If you've got an open mind, you never stop learning and there's so much to learn, so many more little titbits you can get from people and there's been some wonderful insights I've got from all of the presenters here. Their knowledge is huge and I'm very thankful. Being part of it all is cool.”
We thank David and Stuart for sharing their memories and the vision they have for Eventing as we move to a new era that aims to enhance the sport and deliver the highest level of safety for athletes and welfare for horses and hope that they act as an inspiration other Eventing enthusiasts to explore the opportunities of becoming officials and give back to the sport you love.
Article courtesy of Equestrian Australia