EVENTER Camilla Kruger, who made history by becoming the first-ever Zimbabwean to earn a ticket to compete in an equestrian sport at the Olympic Games, says competing at the Rio Games later this year will be the pinnacle of her career.
BY DANIEL NHAKANISO
Kruger and her horse, Sam the Man (also known as Biarritz), qualified for the Rio Games after finishing top of the Federation for Equestrian Sports (FEI) Olympic qualification standings for Africa and the Middle East.
“I am overwhelmed, it is a dream come true for me,” Kruger, who is based in the UK, told Standardsport in an interview this week.
“I have always dreamt of going to the Olympics to represent my country of birth. Plus, I feel very honoured and proud for the country to be the first-ever Zimbabwean to represent at the Olympics for an equestrian sport.”
“The qualification process took place between March 2015 and March 2016 and there was a place available for only one rider from the whole of Africa and Middle East. So for one to qualify you have to be the highest-ranked rider in this category to get the place within this time frame. I did very well last year and managed to hold the ranking position by the cut off, which was March 6 2016.”
Kruger will line-up in the eventing competition, one of the three Olympic equestrian disciplines where a single horse and rider combination compete against other combinations across the three disciplines of dressage, eventing, and show jumping.
The 29-year-old rider said she had set herself a target of finishing in the top 15 in the Rio Games set for August 5 to 21, but would be aiming to challenge for a medal at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
“I am very much looking forward to Rio with Biarritz. He is a very talented horse and still so much more to give, so Rio will be fantastic exposure and experience for him. At these games, I am aiming for a consistent performance and top 15 finish. But I have big plans for the next Olympics,” she said.
Although now based in Surrey in the UK, Kruger’s passion for eventing — and ex-racehorses — came from her upbringing on her family’s farm here in Zimbabwe.
“I have always loved the outdoors and horses from a very young age. My family has always been involved in race horses in Africa and I learnt to ride on the retired ones on our farm. This is where my love and passion started and I knew from a young age that I wanted to pursue a career with horses. They are beautiful and incredible animals. I have always been very sporty and competitive so that’s where the ambitions came with horses, so Olympics was always the ultimate goal,” said Kruger, who attended Cumnor House School and then Eastbourne College in the UK.
Kruger is expected to be part of a relatively big contingent of 12 individual athletes who have so far qualified for the Rio Olympics led by seven-time Olympic medalist Kirsty Coventry and the women’s football team, the Mighty Warriors.
The other individual athletes include sprinter Gabriel Mvumvure, Gavin Sutherland of archery, clay target shottist Mike Nicholson, female marathon runner Rutendo Nyahora and rowers Micheen Thornycroft and Peter Purcell-Gilpin.
Zimbabwe will also have three representatives in the men’s marathon race in Rio, as four athletes —Wirimayi Juwawo, Pardon Ndhlovu, Gilbert Mutandiro and Cuthbert Nyasango — already have a qualifying time.
The number of local athletes is expected to increase with additional athletes in other sporting codes such as golf, athletics, swimming, cycling and Rugby Sevens still in contention to qualify for Rio 2016 before the July 18 entry deadline.
Equestrian at the Summer Olympic Games
Equestrianism made its Summer Olympics debut at the 1900 Summer Olympics in Paris, France. It disappeared until 1912, but has appeared at every Summer Olympic Games since. The current Olympic equestrian disciplines are dressage, eventing, and jumping. In each discipline, both individual and team medals are awarded.