In boxing, smack talk is a key component of the pre-fight ritual.
Even if you don’t follow the sport (*raises hand*), the sight of two ripped athletes, staring each other down on camera, whilst trading insults and self-aggrandizing statements is a familiar scene. Heavyweight legend Muhammad Ali is as famed for his trash talking prowess as he is for his signature rope-a-dope and Ali Shuffle.
And that tradition holds true in most mainstream sports.
In hockey and basketball, smack talk on the field of play is a favorite and frequently covered topic in the media. NHLer Sean Avery was notorious for his biting quips on—and off—the ice. The relentless trash talking of NBA star Larry Bird is the stuff of legend.
But if mainstream sports are renown for smack talk, the words exchanged between equestrian athletes can only be described as sweet talk.
While elite athletes in other sports are trying to get inside the head of their opponent to throw them off their game, show jumpers do the exact opposite. They help one another.
It’s entirely common to see the likes of American Olympians Kent Farrington, Mclain Ward and Beezie Madden in a mid-course-walk huddle, sharing their thoughts on the track and the best way to ride a line—for the other’s horse.
By the time, they get to the post-class press conference, the gloves are off and it’s a full fledged love fest.
It’s not as though any of these riders are ever aiming for second place, either. They’re fiercely competitive individuals. Just not in the trash talking arena, it would seem.
This Saturday’s $500,000 Rolex Grand Prix CSI 5*, the final of the 12-week circuit at the Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington, FL, was a prime example of the epically poor job jumpers do taking each other down with verbal barbs.
Olympic silver medalist Farrington, widely regarded as one of the fastest riders in the world, tackled the eight-horse jump by galloping to the first and never taking his foot off the gas. He and Gazelle held the time to beat in a blazing 37.82 seconds until the last combination, world #2 Ward and HH Azur, left out a stride out from two to three and sprouted wings to the last to shave four hundredths of a second off Farrington’s time.
Ward took the win. But did he take the opportunity to drop an Ali-inspired zinger along the lines of “If you even dream of beating me, you better wake up and apologize”?
No. No, he did not.
Instead, he and Farrington spent the entire press conference swapping compliments.
“[McLain and I are] great competitors, and we’re friends,” started Farrington. “I know if he’s coming at the end of the class, it’s going to take everything usually to win.”
To which Ward demurred, “Let’s be honest, it was a half an inch. It was great sport.”
Farrington continued with kind words for HH Azur—“He’s on one of his best horses and it’s one of the best horses in the world”—and also for Ward’s riding—”He had a tremendous round. I think it was an unbelievable effort from him and his horse.”
Ward could have followed the example of pro-athletes the world over and closed with even a good natured, “IN YOUR FACE, FARRINGTON.” What he opted for was the gracious (and true): “Sometimes [Kent is] in [the winner’s] seat, and sometimes, I’m in that seat. It goes both ways.”
In fact the only hint of boasting came when Ward said, “Obviously, she’s one of the best horses in the world” and even then it only works when the comment is taken out of context and the emphasis is added because he spends the whole statement before and after singing the praises of the team who nursed Azur back to health after she was injured last year.
All of which is to say that Farrington and Ward really need to step up their trash talking game already and set an inappropriate example for the rest of the riding world.
Isn’t it enough that they’re better riders than 99.9% of the world will ever hope to be? DO THEY HAVE TO BE BETTER SPORTSMEN, TOO?!
Fellow team USA member Lucy Deslauriers, it should be noted, took third with Hester. She also had nothing terrible to say. Typical.