Yogi Breisner captivates BHS Hampshire audience
Team GB eventing performance manager Yogi Breisner gave a captivating talk at the BHS Hampshire annual meeting on Wednesday 3rd October. Speaking to the gathering at Sparsholt College, Yogi's theme was "The London 2012 Olympics, from selection to celebration".
Members were treated to the inside story on Team GB's eventing preparation, and most were surprised to hear that the 2012 plans started back in 2007 when London was awarded the Olympic Games! In the five years between the announcement and cross-country day at the Games, Yogi walked the course at Greenwich somewhere in the region of 70 times, and team hopefuls were also taken on numerous familiarisation trips. Of course the jumps were not in place, and these remained top secret until the venue opened, but because of the planning permission that had to be sought for use of the park, the route the course would take around the park was public knowledge (if one knew where to Google!). Indeed, once the ground work started to prepare the track, anyone could have found the lush green stripe of grass winding its way through the ancient parkland, and Team GB made full use of this to walk round and round the park, learning the terrain inside out.
Of course the test event, in July 2011, was a huge help in getting to know the venue, although it was on a smaller scale and used less of the park. Yogi chose three riders to take to the test event: Piggy French "for the experience, as London would be her first Olympics if she were selected and she had a couple of horses looking likely"... Piggy went on to win the test event with DHI Topper W, and was selected for London 2012 only to have both her named horses ruled out through injury; Pippa Funnell "because she'd been to Olympic Games before and could give useful feedback on the venue, and she had horses in with a shout for a team place"; and William Fox-Pitt "because he had a whole stable full of Olympic contenders, and was as good a bet as any to make the team"!
Unfortunately the German Federation bid successfully to host the 2011 European Championships, giving them the home advantage of running 12 combinations in the year before the Games. Seeing this many run in a Championship setting 12 months ahead gives the selectors a great chance to assess their horses and riders, but Britain will have to wait until the next Olympic cycle to make use of this tactic, having just won the bid to host the senior European Championships at Blair Castle in 2015, ahead of Rio 2016.
Yogi gave a fascinating array of statistics, and clearly has not only a ridiculously in-depth knowledge of his sport and the competitors, but an amazing memory for stats and facts! The team eventually selected (William Fox-Pitt and Lionheart, Mary King and Imperial Cavalier, Tina Cook and Miners Frolic, Zara Phillips and High Kingdom, and Nicola Wilson and Opposition Buzz) were analysed in depth, and Yogi explained how statistically, calculating on previous personal bests, Team GB could expect to be several marks adrift of Germany after the dressage phase, and could potentially be lying in 5th place behind Australia, New Zealand and Sweden as well. The rest of us may have broken into a cold sweat at this first-phase result, but because the team had the risks calculated and knew they could excel in the jumping phases, they were prepared for this game of catch-up. Germany though, Yogi explained, were likely to be caught only in the event that they made mistakes. Yogi also noted that, a year ahead of the Games, he had earmarked what he regarded as the four best horses in the world: Michael Jung's La Biosthetique Sam, Sandra Auffarth's Opgun Louvo (both German), Sara Algotsson-Ostholt's Wega (Sweden) and William Fox-Pitt's Oslo. Oslo was ruled out injured before selection, but the other three finished up on the podium in London!
Across country, Team GB did indeed excel, notching up three of the nine clear rounds inside the time (Nicola, Tina and Zara). It is well documented that Lionheart tired early on in the course, William Fox-Pitt using every ounce of his horsemanship to get the horse home clear but gathering 9.2 time penalties and effectively scotching William's chances of an individual medal. Yogi gave an interesting explanation as to what he thinks happened. Lionheart was as fit as any, and had proven himself on hilly courses before, so should have had no problem with the Greenwich track but he was running on empty by just over the 6 minute mark. The fact the horse came out on his toes and pinged his way clear around the showjumping course the next day proves he wasn't by any means physically exhausted though. The noise from the crowds at Greenwich was phenomenal, especially so for the British riders, with the course narrow and a sea of people lining the track - Yogi thinks Lionheart was simply shocked by it all, and choked up. This is not an unknown phenomenon on the racetrack, and does seem a logical explanation.
Yogi explained that, in all his years as team trainer, he has been working with the riders on a 'zero tolerance' poicy to time penalties in team situations. He was disappointed that between them, our three 'counting score' riders notched up 4 time penalties in the team show jumping - with Mary's 1.2 cross country time penalties, that 5.2 penalties could have put the team in to the gold medal spot, as they finished just 4.5pens behind the victorious German team. However, given the flawless performance of the Germans, and the fact the team always knew they would have to have a lot of luck on the day to get ahead, disappointment was short lived and the team were delighted to have "won a hard-fought silver medal, not lost a gold one". Hear hear!
Everyone enjoyed a fantastic evening, and hugely appreciated the time Yogi gave. His humourous and relaxed style added to the occassion, and his behind-the-scenes photos were a real treat. The nation's eventing fans wait with baited breathe to see what Yogi's next step will be, as he has gone on record saying the job will change as part of the Olympic review procedure. Team GB's eventers are lucky to have one of the most successful coaching staffs in equestrianism, perhaps even in any sport, and the BHS Hampshire audience that met Yogi on Wednesday evening will certianly be hoping he stays - they'll want to enjoy another talk after Rio!
A huge thanks to Yogi Breisner, and congratulations to Team GB's silver medal winning eventers: Tina Cook with Mr & Mrs Nicholas Embiricos and Sarah Pelham's Miners Frolic, William Fox-Pitt with Mr & Mrs Jeremy Skinner's Lionheart, Mary King with Mr & Mrs Edward Davies and Janette Chinn's Imperial Cavalier, Zara Phillips with Gleadhill House Stud Ltd's High Kingdom and Nicola Wilson with Rosemary Search's Opposition Buzz.