Riders say a life-size sumo wrestler positioned next to an obstacle on the Olympic jumping course may have distracted several horses when qualifying for the individual jumping final on Tuesday night, reports the AP.
Some pulled up short, accumulating enough penalty points to prevent entry into Wednesday’s finals.
The statue is positioned to the left of the tenth jump, in the corner of the arena. Hunched over and seemingly ready to attack, the wrestler is facing away from approaching riders, meaning that when they complete a sharp turn to take on the jump, the first thing horse and rider see is the wedgie created by the wrestler’s mawashi.
“As you come around, you see a big guy’s butt,” British rider Harry Charles said. “I did notice four or five horses really taking a spook to that.”
Most of the course’s hurdles are decorated with a distinctly Japanese feel – geisha kimonos, a miniature Japanese palace, taiko drums. Yet the sumo wrestler while quintessentially Japanese, was by far the most startling.
France’s J – a team jumping gold medalist in 2016 – said she wasn’t sure if the wrestler specifically threw off her 12-year-old mount, Vancouver de Lanlore.
“Maybe,” she said. “We tried to relax our horses in the turn, and maybe they’re surprised to see a vertical so close. I don’t know.”
“It is very realistic,” said Israel’s Teddy Vlock, who made a point of trotting his horse Amsterdam 27, an 11-year-old Holsteiner gelding, over to the 10th jump before beginning his run so it could look the wrestler over.
“It does look like a person, and that’s a little spooky. You know, horses don’t want to see a guy, like, looking intense next to a jump, looking like he’s ready to fight you,” he said.
In the end, Vlock cleared the jump but fell short due to other issues.
Some riders blamed their horses’ skittish behaviour on how close the jump was positioned to the turn. Others blamed the stadium’s bright lights that also led to concern at jump No. 1. Some believed cherry blossoms positioned on the other side of the jump were the more likely culprit.
Whatever the cause of that troublesome jump, the Olympics have a reputation among riders for flashy course design.
“To be honest, you expect it in the Olympic Games,” one rider said. “If it was just plain old jumps, it’d be just like any other week.”