Olympic Equestrians Blame Sumo Wrestler Statue for Spooking Their Horses

Enough horsing around.
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A statue of a sumo wrestler startled some riders and their horses. Photo: Behrouz MEHRI / AFP

Olympic events are usually a serious affair, with members of the audience (if there is one) staying silent to avoid distracting athletes. But some equestrians in Tokyo 2020 were surprised by an unexpected guest on the racetrack: a hunched sumo wrestler.

During a qualifying event for an individual equestrian event on Tuesday, a statue of a stooped sumo wrestler placed left of an obstacle was the subject of much amusement. Riders cited the life-sized figure as a possible reason their horses got scared, potentially affecting their performance. 


“It does look like a person, and that’s a little spooky. You know, horses don’t want to see a guy, like, looking intense next to a jump, looking like he’s ready to fight you,” Israeli rider Teddy Block said, NBC reported. 

British Olympian Harry Charles said, “I did notice four or five horses really taking a spook to that.” 

Racetracks during equestrian’s jumping disciplines are often bedazzled with nods to the Olympic host city’s culture, to the delight of some athletes.

British jumper Scott Brash said such color in the arena was expected. “You know it’s going to be decorative. And it’s beautiful, you know? It’s fantastic. That’s what makes it a championship. If it was just plain old jumps, it’d be just like any other week,” Brash said, according to the Associated Press.

In Rio 2016, Brazil’s orange tropical flowers, palm trees, and statues draped with traditional garb were placed on the racetrack. At Tokyo 2020, some of the other decorations include statues of geisha, kimonos, miniature Japanese palaces, and taiko drums. 

Courses are designed to “challenge the communication and technical ability of the athlete and horse partnership,” with 12 to 15 obstacles laid out, according to the official Olympics website. Penalties are given if an obstacle is knocked out or the horse doesn’t jump over it. 

Equestrian debuted in the Olympics in 1912, at the Stockholm Summer Games. The sport has three disciplines, with both individual and team events. Equestrian’s last event, the jumping team final, takes place on Saturday.

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