Swiss show jumper Steve Guerdat and his in-form horse Jalisca Solier are targeting medals in the team event and the individual competition at the Beijing Olympics.This content was published on July 11, 2008 - 17:00
The 26-year-old believes his positive mindset is his main asset. "I have the best possible team working around me, which allows me to focus on the job in hand and get my preparation right. I'm a happy man, and that augurs well!"
Alban Poudret, editor-in-chief of equestrian magazine Cavalier Romand and sporting director of the Geneva International Horse Show, considers Guerdat an incredible talent.
"Steve rides with a rare elegance and precision. He is one of those riders who help the horse instead of cajoling it."
Poudret adds that Guerdat is also a hard worker who has an intelligent and serious approach to horse riding. "He's a real grafter who knows how to navigate his horse round a course with sensitivity."
According to Poudret, both rider and horse are "at the top of their game". The only question is whether they would click together, yet they have managed to do so with stunning regularity.
"My horse is on top form," says Guerdat. "She's fought hard to try to win all the most important events this year so far, so why not at the Games as well? That said, everyone has their off days."
Guerdat makes no secret of his targets for Beijing. "A medal in the team event, first of all," he says. "With Christina [Liebherr], Beat [Mändli] and myself, plus a fourth rider [Daniel Etter or Niklaus Schurtenberger], we may even be in with a shout for gold."
The rules of Olympic competition stipulate that the clock be restarted for each round, so the medals will simply go to the teams that perform best on the day.
The fact that the horses will be travelling to Asia will also play a role, as will the hot and humid climate in Hong Kong, where the equestrian events will be held from August 9-21. As Poudret points out, horse racing in the former British colony traditionally grinds to a halt in August because the weather is so stifling.
"Perhaps I'm being a touch optimistic, but I don't think the weather will be the deciding factor," Guerdat insists. "Our horses are in top physical condition. They jump week in week out in all sorts of weather. Of course, we'll all sweat a bit more in Hong Kong and it might be tough in the heat, but I don't want to dwell on that."
In with a shout
Poudret sees Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland, the United States and Great Britain as the top medal contenders in Beijing.
"I would rate Swiss team as having a 60 per cent medal chance. They might just strike gold if everything goes right," he says.
Guerdat also has medal hopes in the individual jumping. He belongs to a group of around ten realistic medal contenders, not least because his mare Jalisca Solier has – in Poudret's words – been "primed precisely with Beijing in mind".
"I'm trying to give the horse the best possible preparation, so that she can fulfil her potential and outperform the others," Guerdat says. "I might not be one of the four or five hot favourites, but I'm one of around ten riders who'll be vying for a medal."
Experience counts for a great deal in equestrianism, yet Guerdat's relatively young age has been anything but a hindrance.
"His rise has been simply meteoric," Poudret says. "He's already ridden at numerous championships and given a splendid account of himself. He's a calm and collected guy who has this knack of stepping up to the plate at the major events."
"Beijing will be my second Olympics," Guerdat adds. "That's the advantage I have over some riders who have yet to make their Olympic debut. I compete against my rivals virtually every weekend of the year. My relative youth isn't an issue."
swissinfo, Pierre-François Besson
Steve Guerdat – son of Philippe, a well-known international rider – was born in 1982 in canton Jura.
He obtained his horse riding licence aged just 11 and was picked to compete in Switzerland's elite junior team at the age of 12.
At age 20, Guerdat was hired by Dutchman Jan Tops as top rider at his stable. Tops and Guerdat later parted company owing to a difference of opinion.
Guerdat later refused to give up his Swiss citizenship and become Ukrainian, a condition set down by a wealthy Ukrainian businessman who was prepared to bankroll his career.
He is currently based at a riding school in Herrliberg, overlooking Lake Zurich. Yves Piaget, former head of the watchmaking company of the same name, is currently Guerdat's sponsor.
Swiss junior champion in 1998, he also won an international event in Vienna in the same year at the age of 16.
A year later he finished third in the Swiss national championships. He subsequently went on to win a number of Nations Cup competitions and team medals at the European Show Jumping Championships.
World Cup Final: 6th in Las Vegas 2005; 3rd in Las Vegas 2007; 7th in Gothenburg 2008. Guerdat also already has numerous grand prix wins to his name.
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