Some 11,551 athletes will compete in the 2016 Rio Games, contesting 306 events in 28 different sports. All come to Brazil with the same dream—Olympic glory. But only a fraction will achieve it.

For all the months, if not years, of preparation, for all the agonizing effort that goes into qualifying, for all the personal sacrifice along the way, an athlete has less than an 8% chance of standing on an Olympic podium, waving tearfully to the crowd with a medal dangling from their neck. And that’s assuming they’re all equally capable of doing so.

The vast majority will return home empty handed, an impressive “Olympian” title their only consolation.

Japan’s Reiko Takeda is among the 92% majority as yesterday her Olympic dream died when she and her horse, Bardolino, crashed into an oxer during the third and final Individual Jumping Qualifier.

Takeda ©FEI/Richard Juilliart

Takeda ©FEI/Richard Juilliart

Takeda elected to retire, rather than attempt the fence again.

“If I ask him again he will try, but I didn’t want to make him,” said the 31-year-old. He’s my best friend. I just didn’t want to make him finish.”

Most riders in that situation would be disappointed. Takeda was devastated.

A petite woman barely 4’10” in height, she recounted the round in the Mixed Media Zone, a requirement of all Olympic athletes after their round.

“Okay, for my horse this is the first, like, big, big stage so I’m happy enough. He did such a good job. Yesterday, the first round also, he did such a perfect job so I’m so happy about it. Just…I’m so frustrated about today. When I crash, maybe I could support him more, you know,” she said, tears streaming down her face.

“But my leg is too short. I couldn’t do anything about [it]. Just frustrating, you know, because he jumped so good until there. I’m sure if good rider ride, then I’m sure he just kept going. Just my…I don’t have so much talent.”

It was a heartwrenching scene to witness, and one difficult to wrap your head around considering the remarkable road to that brought Takeda and her 10-year-old KWPH gelding to Rio in the first place.

Four months ago, they’d never even jumped a 1.50m class.

The Japanese rider, who trains with Will Funnell in England, picked up the ride three and half years ago. She’s developed Bardolino from the 1.20m division to Grand Prix. It was their performance in Hagen, Germany—just one time fault in a CSI4* Grand Prix—that helped Japan qualify for the 2016 Games.

“In Hagen, he jumped so easily. At that time we got the qualification for the Olympics, so we just kept going. He’s such a brave and careful horse, such a good heart,” she recalled.

Team advisor Paul Schockemohle named her to the Japanese squad. For a grateful Takeda, it was a chance to redeem a disappointing Olympic debut at the 2012 London Games—a burden she’s been carrying for four years.

“In London, I couldn’t get any good result in the first round. That was really my disaster. My horse was brilliant. I made a big mistake, so I just couldn’t forgive myself,” she admitted.

A clear round in the first Team Qualifier in Rio on Tuesday had her over the moon. Then yesterday’s elimination brought her crashing down.

At just 10, Takeda and Bardolino could conceivably contest the Tokyo Olympics in 2020, with the advantage of four more years experience under their belt. However, the Japanese rider says it’s out of the question.

“No,” she said. “A home crowd, it’s too much pressure.”

Instead, she’ll be spending the immediate future spoiling her affectionate horse.

“First, I want to give him a lot, a lot of grass, carrots, apples because he loves eating. I just want to give him a lot of food,” she said tearfully.


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