Asian Games 2018: Fouaad Mirza rides on talent, bond with mount to end India's medal drought in individual eventing

Take some luck, mix it with persuasion and persistence and you won’t get much. Fouaad Mirza, living a dream by becoming the first Indian to win an individual medal in the challenging three-day eventing competition at the Asian Games since 1982, showed that without the main ingredients of talent, honed by hard work, these are probably like garnishing that only add value.

The 26-year-old’s tryst with two Asian Games silver medals almost never was, and it needed all the cajoling skills of a handful of diehard believers that led to the team arriving in Jakarta. “As athletes, we know that we sometimes presented with unwanted situations for which we cannot plan or prepare for. We have to fall back on a strong mental outlook to deal with,” he says.

The only civilian with three army riders in the eventing team, he was in with a great chance to win and join 1982 hero Raghubir Singh as the only Indian to win an individual eventing gold medal. “I threw the gold away, could have approached that second jump with a bit more energy,” he says, reflecting on the drop that gifted Japan’s 42-year-old Oiwa Yoshiaka his second gold after 2006.

Fouaad Mirza became the first Indian since Raghubir Singh in 1982 to win an individual eventing medal at Asian Games. AFP

Fouaad Mirza became the first Indian since Raghubir Singh in 1982 to win an individual eventing medal at Asian Games. AFP

Yet, it is clear that he has his heart in place, loving his horse to bits. “He is the real athlete here,” he says of Seigneur Medicott. “And I am glad I have been able to share a great relationship with him. It is not the easiest of things to ask of a horse to endure long flights, but I am delighted with how he has enjoyed the competition.”

It was a treat to watch Mirza showcase this wonderful relationship with his horse in ample measure over three days. The dressage on the first day was a breeze and installed them in the lead. During cross country, the Bengaluru lad’s desire to conserve his mount came through tellingly when he did not push for an early finish during a clear round.

“We realise that the horse is an intelligent animal and cannot be forced to do anything he doesn’t want to,” Mirza says. “We have to understand what it feels and communicate with it accordingly. Finishing sooner in cross country would have tired Seigneur Medicott and I would rather have him fresh for the jumping.”

A measure of how important the horse’s feelings are can be ascertained from the decision of Hong Kong rider Su Yu Xuan to not present his mount, Diva De Lux in jumping. “She felt amazing in cross country and came home in good form and putting us in a good spot for show-jumping. Unfortunately, she was not quite right this morning and after doing our best, we decided not to present her,” he said.

Born into a family that has loved horses for generations, it was easy for him to forge a beautiful bond with Seigneur Medicott from October last year. “He is a wonderful horse and I am fortunate that I have been able to work with him,” he says of the 12-year-old bay gelding. The pair earned a podium for the third time in seven competitions.

Mirza is also ready with a show of gratitude for Embassy International, which has supported him in Project Jakarta. “I have spent a lot of time training with Bettina Hoy, without the comfort of help that we get back home in India. I do not think this would have been possible without the generous and unstinting support of Jitu Virwani (of Embassy International),” he says of his benefactor.

Of course, it also helped that in his role as Equestrian Federation of India (EFI) vice president, Virwani pulled a few strings and ensured that all the planning and the investment that had gone in securing the two medals would not go waste. He got Indian Olympic Association’s (IOA) support at a crucial time, especially in getting the EFI to reconsider its president’s stance of not sending the team.

Despite the upheavals within the board rooms, Mirza did not stop training for a moment. “Of course, it was upsetting to hear that the decision to send the team but, along with my coach, Bettina Hoy (German Olympian), we focussed on how I could improve my horsemanship and on how my horse and I could deliver the results for India,” he says.

If you peruse the results closely, you will figure out that the defending champion Korea, China, and Hong Kong – all expected to be front-runners for the team medals – missed out for a variety of reasons. Korea and Hong Kong each saw one elimination in cross country and a withdrawal ahead of jumping, China sent only three riders, one of whom was eliminated in the cross country.

Of course, the result is what matters in the end but in a country for which the Asian Games is the apogee of equestrian sport, it is not unreasonable to expect transparency. EFI’s noble intentions went for a toss when it made a series of changes, including in the rider-horse combination that left Rajesh Pattu (BGS Captain Morgan) cooling his heels in Germany.

It would be interesting to hear from EFI why it did not follow the pecking order that it had chosen. Was its decision based on sporting issues, or was it something else? After all, the changed combination did not live up to expectations despite a solid start in dressage.

Jitender Singh (Dalakhani Du Routy) slid from fourth to 20th with 92 points.

Yet, it is just as well that the team came to Jakarta and changed the colour of the medal. Considering that it did not pick Shruti Vora for individual dressage, there was little chance that India would have sent only Mirza (Seigneur Medicott) and end the drought of individual eventing medals, dating back to 1982, when its riders and their horses swept all three medals.

For that alone, Mirza will remain grateful to those who backed the team’s entry in the Asian Games competition. In return, he held himself together admirably under stress after dropping a bar on the second jump. “I had to quickly address the next question that was coming up,” he says, sharing his learnings about each jump as separate challenge rather than as one composite task.

When you hear such a well-articulated response, you know that luck, persuasion and persistence are just the garnishing. His talent and his partnership with his mount were the foundations on which he realised a dream for himself, his grounded family and for India.

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Updated Date: Aug 27, 2018 17:50:58 IST

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