BRUSSELS – Canada’s most decorated show jumper won’t compete in the Tokyo Olympics.
Eric Lamaze, owner of Olympic gold, silver and bronze medals, has withdrawn from Equestrian Canada’s short list for the Summer Games.
Three years of treatment for a brain tumour, the global COVID-19 situation and the inability of Canada to send a full show jumping team to Tokyo factored into his decision.
“My health is something that I take very seriously, and I’ve decided that Tokyo is not the best venue for me,” Lamaze said Monday in a statement.
“While my health is stable at the moment, there are several risk factors that have to be taken into consideration.”
Canada won’t compete in the team event in Tokyo and will send just one horse-and-rider combination.
Lamaze was among five athletes Equestrian Canada announced for its short list.
The 53-year-old from Montreal won individual gold and team silver in 2008 in Beijing aboard Hickstead, and an individual bronze in 2016 in Rio with Fine Lady.
Lamaze and Hickstead were inducted into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame in 2020.
Lamaze, who lives in Brussels, Belgium, feels the world remains in a precarious position because of the pandemic. Equestrian events are only now starting to return to the European calendar.
“With all that we’ve lived through this past year, and what we are still seeing with so many people living through horrible situations both in Canada and around the world, I’m not sure I would even feel right winning a medal,” Lamaze said in his statement.
“The Olympics are a celebration of the athletes and I don’t think we’re going to have a true celebration in Tokyo. It’s not the time to celebrate.”
Canada can’t send a show jumping team to Tokyo because it was stripped of its fourth-place finish at the 2019 Pan American Games in Lima, Peru.
Nicole Walker tested positive for a cocaine metabolite. She said she inadvertently ingested the substance drinking coca tea, which is a common drink in Peru.
The Court of Arbitration for Sport agreed Walker didn’t intentionally take a banned substance, but said it didn’t have the authority to overturn the Pan Am disciplinary commission’s decision that dropped Canada out of the fourth and final Pan Am qualification berth for Tokyo.
Lamaze’s withdrawal leaves Amy Millar of Perth, Ont., Tiffany Foster of North Vancouver, B.C., Mario Deslauriers of New York and Erynn Ballard of Tottenham, Ont., as Equestrian Canada’s Olympic candidates.
Lamaze, Ian Millar, Jill Henselwood and Mac Cone won a team silver medal in Beijing in 2008.
Lamaze, Foster, Amy Millar and Yann Candele lost a jump-off with Germany for the bronze medal in Rio.
“I’ve always associated the Olympics with riding for the Canadian team,” Lamaze said. “My success has been due to having my teammates there to pull together to be the best that we can be for our country.
“Having my owners there, my friends and fellow teammates, and all the fans is what makes the Olympics special for me. When you come into the stadium, and hear the fans screaming and see the Canadian flags waving, it raises you up to another level.
“As a solo act, I cannot see myself finding the motivation to dig deep enough to pull off an individual medal. I cannot be a true competitor without my team.”
Lamaze intends to compete in the 2022 world championship in Denmark, where Canada could qualify a team for the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris.
The owners of several of his horses, including Dieu Merci van T & L, support his decision to withdraw from the Olympics, he said.
“I thank Mark and Tara Rein for their complete understanding of the situation and for their ongoing support,” said Lamaze.
“With this difficult decision made, we can now concentrate on continuing to develop the fantastic young horses that we have in our training program.”