Ellina Mhlanga Sports Reporter
THE Zimbabwe Equestrian Federation will be sending two athletes to the World Jumping Challenge final in April for the first time after qualifying for the two slots for Southern Africa.
The Challenge will be staged in Morocco from April 22 to 24 and Zimbabwe will be sending two riders — South Africa-based Joanne Roberts and Judy Riddle. The two riders will also be representing Southern Africa.
Zimbabwe are in Zone Seven together with Botswana, Kenya, Mauritius, Namibia, Swaziland and Zambia.
Usually two athletes from two different countries qualify for the Challenge but the Zimbabwean riders had a good season last year which saw the two — Roberts and Riddle — claiming the two slots for the finals in Morocco.
The Zimbabwe Equestrian Federation secretary-general, Gayle Hanssen, said the qualification is proof of the work that has been put in to grow the sport locally.
“We believe that we have managed over the last four to five years to increase the ability of our top athletes and this is particularly evident when we see that we have qualified two individuals. We have never done this previously although we have qualified one athlete for the 2012, 2013 and 2014 seasons.
“The Zone will be represented by two Zimbabweans. This is fairly unusual, generally it is from two different countries. In Southern Africa, we qualify two riders for this event,” said Hanssen.
Hanssen said the two riders made the cut last year in a competition held in Harare. “These athletes and their horses qualified at three events in Harare in March, June and July 2015. This was the first time the competition was run over three legs and the combined scores over all three legs counted to award a place in the final. This really shows that the Zimbabwean athletes are able to perform consistently over a period of a few months to score the required points.
“Zimbabwe have been participating in the Challenge for many years, probably around 20 years,” said Hanssen.
Zimbabwe have had a fair share of success at the event with Charley Crockart scooping gold in 2014 in South Africa, a big improvement from 2012 when he won bronze in Venezuela.
In 2009 Bulawayo-based Paula King claimed silver in the same competition staged in Chile and Hanssen said they are optimistic of good results in the forthcoming event in Morocco.
“We have medalled in the past. Zimbabwe considers that they have good prospects for a medal or maybe two in this competition. Judy Riddle has medalled in this competition in 2005 in Germany. At this point of her career she was competing for Kenya.
“There are three levels to the Challenge — C at 1.1m height, B at 1.2m height and C at 1.3m height for jumping. We have been increasing our participation, particularly at the A level, which is the only level that qualify for the final.”