Swiss horses begin Olympic lock-in

Why the long faces? Two Swiss Olympians begin their quarantine Keystone

While athletes limber up for the Sydney Olympics, 10 Swiss participants are beginning their preparations behind bars. Four weeks of near-solitary confinement are among the demands being placed on Switzerland's Olympic horses.

This content was published on August 8, 2000 - 18:17

Calvaro, Tinka's Boy, Dulf and Pozitano are among the star names doing time in quarantine cells specially built at the Neuendorf riding school owned by top showjumper, Willi Melliger. The horses used by the Swiss dressage team are being kept at Mettmenstetten in canton Zurich.

Both sets of horses will spend two weeks on home soil, where they will be monitored for any diseases or viruses, in keeping with Australia's strict quarantine rules. Then they will be transported to Frankfurt, placed on board a climatised freight plane, and flown to Sydney.

The 30-hour flight will involve stop-offs in Dubai and Singapore. Switzerland's four-legged medal hopes will be carefully protected from any outside contact throughout the journey.

Once they arrive 'down under', freedom is still a fair way off. The horses will remain in quarantine for a further two weeks, while the Australian authorities make sure they are clean of infection.

With Swiss Olympic glory possibly depending on the health of the horses, one might think this was a nervous time for the country's top riders. But Melliger claims not.

Melliger, who is hoping to go one better than the Olympic silver medal which he won at the 1996 Games, told swissinfo he had no fears about the horses' medical conditions.

"The only stressful thing is the flight," he said.

Melliger's team-mate, Beat Mändli, is also feeling relaxed about the quarantine process. "I don't think it's a big problem," he said. "Our horses are healthy. Otherwise they wouldn't be going to the games."

Unfortunately Mändli and Melliger's compatriots in the dressage team are struggling to match up to the healthy conditions of their mounts. The Equestrian Association announced at the beginning of the quarantine period that Christine Stückelberger had displaced some vertebrae and damaged her coccyx during a training session in Austria.

The 53-year-old rider is not expected to be in any danger of missing the Olympics but she now joins Daniel Ramseier (lumbago) and Françoise Cantamessa (asthma) on the team's sick-list. It seems a long period of seclusion could be the only way to stay fighting fit - and that's straight from the horse's mouth.

by Mark Ledsom

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