Qatar’s show-jumping team and Palestine’s dressage rider Christian Zimmermann will make history during Rio 2016 this August by participating in their countries’ first ever Olympic equestrian events.
Qatar was the first country in the African and Middle Eastern region to qualify to Rio’s show-jumping event. It claimed the Olympic spot granted to the top-ranked team in Group F (Africa and Middle East) by winning the second stage of the Furusiyya 2015 FEI Nations Cup Jumping series that took place in Abu Dhabi. Qatar successfully seized the ticket to Rio from Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Morocco and the United Arab Emirates, who all competed in Abu Dhabi for the single Olympic berth.
The Qatari show-jumping team is coached by Dutch equestrian Jan Tops, an Olympic gold medalist and European champion. The team consists of six of the country’s finest riders: 2006 Asian Games and 2011 Pan-Arab Games gold medalist Ali Al-Rumaihi, the highest ranking Qatari rider Sheikh Ali Ben Khalid Al-Thani, 2015 Longines World Champions Tour gold medalist Khalid Al-Imadi, 2016 Doha Tour Grand Prix champion Faleh Al-Ajmi, the first ever Qatari rider to win a Longines Global Champions Tour Grand Prix Bassem Hassan Mohammed and the youngest rider to reach the FEI Equestrian World Cup final, Hamad Ali Al-Attiyah.
The team has proven its distinction regionally and internationally, becoming one of the best teams in the world. Apart from its riders’ individual victories, the team won bronze at the 2011 Pan Arab Games and gold at the 2014 Asian Games. It also reached the final of the 2015 FEI Nations Cup and has been a serious competitor at the Longines Global Champions Tours as well.
Horse riding is a highly appreciated activity in Qatar since Arabian horses are considered a part of the nation’s heritage. According to Qatar News Agency , horses are held in high regard, believed to have played an important role in the Qatari founding fathers’ battle for independence from the Ottoman Empire.
"There are always difficulties in any sport, and for this sport the horse becomes the challenge," says Bassem Hassan Mohammed. "Equestrians interact with living things and our success depends on them and there is always something new with the horse, either it is injured or not feeling well psychologically.”
Qatar’s determined equestrian riders are heading to the 2016 Olympic Games among the country’s largest ever Olympic delegation . Since its debut at the 1984 Los Angeles games, Qatar has earned four bronze Olympic medals. Nonetheless, its Olympic committee has been exploiting its resources to enhance the sporting level in Qatar and support its athletes. It has launched the #YallaQatar campaign on social media to introduce the Qatari athletes taking part in Rio 2016 with videos showcasing their achievements, hopes and motivations.
On the other hand, two German-born Palestinians are representing Palestine at the Rio Olympics: long-distance runner Mayada Al-Sayad and dressage rider Christian Zimmermann .
Zimmermann qualified to Rio by virtue of the top finish from Africa and the Middle East in the individual FEI Olympic ranking. He will thus be the first horse rider to take part in the Olympic Games on behalf of Palestine, which has only competed in the athletics, judo and swimming categories, without yet achieving an Olympic medal. In 2014, Zimmermann became the first Palestinian rider to compete at the World Equestrian Games. He has also participated in the Equestrian Grand Prix.
In addition to Qatar and Palestine, Egypt and Morocco will participate in Rio’s equestrian competition by sending one rider each to the individual jumping event.