The postponement of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics brings unprecedented challenges for the Chinese equestrian team. But having come to terms with the initial disappointment of the setback, China’s star rider Alex Hua Tian is embracing his sport’s redrawn landscape with an renewed sense of positivity.
The International Olympic Committee last week agreed to delay the Tokyo 2020 Games by a year due to the coronavirus pandemic－a decision Hua wholeheartedly backs but was nonetheless difficult to digest, given the far-reaching repercussions it will have for his hard work and planning.
“The postponement of the Tokyo Olympics is totally the right decision,” Hua told China Daily. “Holding the Olympics this summer would be impossible. As a generation, we are facing an unprecedented challenge.
“I certainly am positive now. I have to give up my dream this summer and wait for next year to take to the field with my horse and compete for my nation.”
The control measures to contain the outbreak had made it impossible for aspiring Olympians like Hua to prepare for and, in many cases, qualify for the originally scheduled Games, which had been due to take place in July and August this year. The 30-year-old has had to scrap his plans of competing in Europe this season and admits the sudden halt has not been easy to take.
“It comes with so many conflicting emotions. We’re not surprised, but that doesn’t dampen our disappointment,” Hua added. “As Olympic athletes, the Olympics are our whole world and our dream.
“But at the same time, I’m certainly relieved that the IOC has made the decision. That saved us from the torture of the last few weeks, when we questioned ourselves about whether we should train or not. Are we training for the peak of this summer or saving ourselves for next summer?
“Athletes are very philosophical people. We will peak and triumph over this emotion and disappointment. We will respond to this in a positive way. I hope, over the next year, the world can manage to deal with the pandemic and next year we can have a great Olympics for everybody.”
At the age of 18, Hua became China’s first equestrian Olympian at the 2008 Beijing Games, and remains the youngest eventer in Olympic history.
After missing out on London 2012, he bounced back to reach Rio 2016. Last May, Hua helped China qualify for the team eventing competition before booking his own individual ticket for Tokyo two months later on board Don Geniro.
However, his hopes of ensuring his other three horses also reached the qualification standard, aka the minimum eligibility requirement, by June have now vanished. Where Hua goes from here in the wake of the postponement remains unclear.
“The Chinese equestrian eventing team has to make decisions about what changes we need and what the plans are for 2021. There are a huge amount of details that need to be worked out,” said Hua.
“The date of the Olympics is yet to be fixed. We haven’t had a chance to address how and when our horses need to be shipped to Tokyo. We have to listen to the International Federation for Equestrian Sports (FEI) about whether our team qualification stands and whether our individual minimum eligibility requirement still stands. Or whether there’s anything else we need to update.
“I think the details will come up in the coming months. These things are hugely complex. We’re going to be positive throughout the process. When the details become clearer, our team will be able to sit down and look at those details. Also we are waiting for leadership guidance from our national federation, the Chinese Equestrian Association.”
London-born Hua is continuing to train and take care of his horses at his UK stables in Cheshire. At the time of writing, the UK counted 19,569 COVID-19 total infections with 1,228 deaths, and with the virus still spreading in Britain, Hua and his team are not taking any risks.
“The coronavirus outbreak is serious. As we all know Europe is at the center of the global pandemic, but wonderfully and amazingly, China is now on the down curve,” said Hua. “Worryingly, Europe and the UK are on the up curve. This is something that concerns us enormously.
“For the past few weeks, here at Pinfold Stables, we’ve already taken considerable steps to protect our team’s health and also the community around us. Our major focus is that our horses can get the best care they can during this challenging time.
“The government has taken a very important step to encourage social distancing. But we are going beyond that at our stables. So far we are able to travel to the stables to take care of our horses. At some point in the future, if there’s a full lockdown which prohibits us from traveling, we may have a contingency plan of relocating to the stables.”
One thing is for certain though－wherever he’s based and whatever the circumstances, Hua’s commitment to China’s equestrian cause is never in doubt.