Sri Lanka’s Matilda set to waltz on her horse | Page 2 | Sunday Observer

Sri Lanka’s Matilda set to waltz on her horse

1 August, 2021
The first inspection of Matilda’s horse Chopin VA took place yesterday before they do the official round of practices today
The first inspection of Matilda’s horse Chopin VA took place yesterday before they do the official round of practices today

TOKYO, July 31. – Matilda Karlsson’s long-felt dream of representing her country in the Olympic Games will finally be a reality when she competes at the XXX11 Olympiad here on Tuesday (August 3).

She will create history by becoming the first Sri Lankan to compete in equestrian in the 125-year history of the modern Olympic Games.

She had the first inspection of her horse Chopin VA today before the official round of practices on Sunday.

Sri Lankan born Matilda Karlsson set to create history on August 3

But the big day for her falls on Tuesday when she finally gets into action with the qualifying round of the equestrian individual jumper category.

Those who qualify for the finals on Wednesday will have their second horse inspection after the event on Thursday.

Even then, until the moment she enters the Olympic Equestrian Park with her horse in three days time, every moment has been a challenging one for her.

Even after making a direct qualification, the first of the three Sri Lankan competitors to achieve so, she had to prove a point as the organizers were reluctant to enroll her as equestrian has never been a customary competing sport in Sri Lanka and giving various lame excuses.

She finally had to go before an international arbitration panel to prove her case to give new horizons to her dream. Every moment in her early life too has been a decisive and challenging one for her, since she was born on September 27, 1984. She was just three months old when her custody was entrusted to a caring Swedish couple who became her foster parents some 36 years ago.

But by now, she is a much more accomplished person – thanks to her Swedish parents and her partner Manfred von Allwohrden, a horse breeder in Germany. She considers her parents and Swedish jumpers Sylve Soderstrand and Rolf-Goran Bengtsson as the biggest influence in her career.

Matilda Karlsson says she took to horse riding as a way to spend time with her friends. "It was like a social thing because all your friends attended these riding schools. So you went because you wanted to be with your friends,” said Karlsson.

But as she grew older and her friends found new engagements in their lives, she still remained with her old habit. "I remained because I fell in love with the horses,” she added.

"I was never ever thinking of being an international jumper at this level. I never wanted to compete myself. I just loved grooming and hanging around. However, things changed. I now can't even imagine how I finally managed to become an Olympian,” she said.

But she had to face unexpected problems after she secured a quota spot for Sri Lanka in the individual jumping competition at the 2020 Olympic Games through ranking points obtained at CSI2 competitions held in Villeneuve-Loubet, France in December 2019.

Her results from the competitions were annulled following an International Equestrian Federation (FEI) investigation, which found that a number of competitions offering points towards Olympic rankings had been added to the schedule in Villeneuve-Loubet after the deadline for definite entries.

She appealed the decision to the FEI Tribunal but the case was dismissed in June 2020, despite the hard work of the Sri Lanka Equestrian Association (SLEA) and Romanian jumper Andrea Herck.

But Mathilda Karlsson with the help of Herck and the SLEA, successfully appealed the decision to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), which announced its final decision in April 2021. They decided that the FEI had made an error in approving schedule changes submitted by the French Equestrian Federation (FFE) and that the FEI could not annul competitions due to "human error".

Her ranking points and Sri Lanka's quota spot for the individual jumping competition were reinstated as a result by the 2020 Olympic organizers. "I thank all who helped and believed in us and stood by my side,” she said.

She even had to face another storm in life in May 2020 when a fire broke out at her Gronwohld Hof stables in Germany, where two horses died in the fire. A building was completely destroyed. "It was a bitter agony, making me think about it every day, especially when you walk past the burned down building,” she described the agony.

But as a dedicated and determined lady, she decided to fight back.

“It will definitely stay that way for a long time. It is important to stay positive because business has to go on. The fire was a terrible experience that I would not wish on anyone. However, despite such a horrible setback, my life is very privileged,” she said.

Equestrian first featured in the Paris 1900 Games, but its official debut took place at Stockholm 1912. Individual and team medals are awarded in each of the three equestrian disciplines.

Success demands complete harmony and trust between the human and equine athlete, with the rider communicating through their hands on the reins, legs and shifts in body weight to encourage the horse to respond.

The qualities of the horse are tested to the same extent as those of the human athlete. Germany has won the most gold medals in Olympic equestrian sport - 26 to be exact, reflecting the country's equestrian heritage and passion for the sport.

Michael Jung has dominated individual Eventing at recent Games, winning gold in both London 2012 and Rio de Janeiro 2016. Jung was destined to carve his name into equestrian history - both his father and grandfather were well-known equestrian athletes. Sweden, France, the USA and Great Britain are among the other leading nations in equestrian sport.