HONG KONG (AFP) — The Olympic equestrian events, meant to include Hong Kong in China's coming-out party, reeled from success to scandal as doping again cast doubt on the future of elite horse sports in the Games.
The suspension of four riders from Thursday's grand finale show jumping contest, after their horses tested positive for a banned substance, pointed to the possibility of systemic doping in the sport.
The incident resurrected the spectre of Athens in 2004 and Sydney in 2000, when show jumping team and individual medals were re-allocated due to doping.
It has also again raised questions about the continued inclusion of elite horse sports -- which cost more money and attract more competitors than any other Olympic sport -- in the Games.
A senior official with the International Equestrian Federation alluded to the long campaign from within the IOC to eject horse sports from the Olympics line-up.
At a press conference to announce the suspensions -- Bernardo Alves of Brazil, Christian Ahlmann of Germany, Denis Lynch of Ireland and Tony Andre Hansen of Norway -- Sven Holmberg, head of the FEI's jumping committee, noted all the horses had tested positive for the same substance.
"This is certainly a serious blow to the sport and we are well aware of the possible implications for the sport and its position in the Olympics," he said.
"The four cases tested positive for the same substance. I don't know if we can say it's a trend but it contributes to the seriousness of the case."
IOC president Jacques Rogge attended the final on Monday of the team show jumping event at the centre of the scandal, as the Norwegians will have to hand back their bronze medal if the B-sample from Hansen's horse returns positive.
Rogge's timing was a relief for the FEI as the final went to a crowd-pleasing jump-off, unlike the dressage which had spectators sleeping in the stands.
This doping scandal will not please the doctor who has put cleanliness at the centre his Olympics presidency.
And Hong Kong leaders who had hoped these events would allow them to bask in a little reflected Olympic glory will be angry and disappointed.
The Hong Kong Jockey Club (HKJC) spent about 150 million US dollars on these events after Beijing passed them on to the former British colony, along with a little political kudos, because of Chinese quarantine issues.
While most facilities revert to the racing industry, the legacy officials said the Olympics would leave behind has dissolved.
Horse sports, never popular in Hong Kong, look dirty and show jumping looks cruel.
Irish team vet Marcus Swail told AFP treatments containing the banned susbstance, capsaicin, were commonplace and "four grooms from other teams" had approached him to say they also used products containing the numbing agent.
The horses in question were among 60 the FEI said were tested -- 20 each from eventing, dressage and jumping of a total of 218. Samples were analysed at HKJC labs, considered among the world's best.
A club source wondered if the HKJC's ability to detect the agent had been underestimated as no positive tests for capsaicin have been returned before now though it has been testable for two years.
The substance is a by-product of chilli and its use points not only to widespread doping but cruelty in the training regimes for show jumpers.
It causes first hypersensitivity and then numbness, much like chilli does to the mouth and lips. Applied to the legs, it would cause the animal to lift higher to avoid hitting on the fences.
Denis Lynch, who came here with a team already aware of Ireland's poor reputation and desperate to avoid controversy, produced a pot of linement he said he used to warm his horse's muscles during training.
Lynch did not inform his team vet he was using the product, called Equiblock -- the label of which clearly states: "Contains capsaicin. Will not test positive".
Copyright © 2013 AFP. All rights reserved. More »