Who is Fouaad Mirza? The Indian equestrian who qualified for Tokyo 2020
India's No.1 eventer Fouaad Mirza sealed his berth for Tokyo 2020, slated to get underway from July 23, 2021, after meeting the necessary Minimum Eligibility Requirement (MER) in the CCI44* Long eventing competition in Baborowko, Poland on Sunday.
Mirza had earlier booked a Tokyo 2020 quota in 2019 after finishing the highest ranked in Group G for South East Asia, Oceania in the individual eventing category at the qualifiers but had to wait to meet the MER criteria and confirm his spot officially.
He is the third Indian individual equestrian to participate at the Olympics after Indrajit Lamba (1996 Atlanta) and Imtiaz Anees (2000 Sydney).
Let us know a bit more about Mirza:
Bengaluru-born Mirza had horse riding in his genes. His father, Dr. Hasneyn Mirza, is an equestrian veterinarian and passed on his love for the horses to his sons Fouaad and Aly Asker.
"I used to work on a stud farm, it was a family concern and we had some partners. Both Aly Asker (his eldest son) and Fouaad grew up spending a lot of time around the horses on the farm. I am a sixth-generation horseman, my father was an Army Officer in the 61st Cavalry, and commanded the President’s Body Guard," Dr. Hasneyn Mirza told Sportskeeda.
"Fouaad has always been very comfortable around animals and for a kid at the age of two, he was very bold. So once on our way to Ooty, we stopped in Mysore at the zoo, where we saw a panther in a harness being walked by the keeper. My wife asked the keeper if we could have a picture taken with the panther.
"So the panther was sat down on a small bench and she sat near it with Fouaad in her lap and suddenly Fouaad reached out to catch the panther's tail. The keeper was immediately panic-struck and said, 'Please don’t let the child hold the tail!' There was no way of predicting the panther's reaction to such an indignity of his tail being pulled by a two-year-old."
Asian Games success
At Jakarta 2018, Mirza became the first Indian to win an Asian Games individual medal in an equestrian event since 1982. It was Raghubir Singh who had bagged an individual gold medal at the 1982 Asian Games in New Delhi.
Mirza bagged a silver with a jumping score of 26.40 while Japan’s Oiwa Yoshiaki clinched the gold with a score of 22.70. Hua Tian Alex of China had bagged a bronze with a score of 27.10.
He was also a part of the Indian team, along with Rakesh Kumar, Ashish Malik and Jitender Singh, which bagged a silver medal in the team event with a score of 121.30.
“The 2018 medals really boosted people’s confidence to pursue the sport back at home,” Mirza told the fei.org.
“We're still at the grassroots and I think people still need to know more about the sport before they can really support me like they support their cricket team," he added.
Training under German legend
Mirza is in some bright company while preparing for Tokyo. He is based in Bergedorf, North-West Germany and is training under German equestrian legend Sandra Auffarth.
The 34-year-old clinched a gold (team event) and bronze (individual) in 2012 at the London Olympics, and a silver (team event) at the Rio Games four years later. Her long list of laurels also includes two World Equestrian Games gold medals (team and individual events) and four medals (team and individual) from the European Championships.
Retired his horse 'Fernhill Facetime'
Mirza won a silver medal in individual eventing at the Asian Games 2018 after scoring 34 points on his horse Fernhill Facetime and 30 on his second horse Toughingwood. It was, however, after the continental event that he decided to retire Fernhill Facetime due to an injury.
“Fernhill sustained an injury which potentially won’t allow him to return to the top level. We decided to retire him.The plan is to have Fernhill around Dajara 4 so she doesn’t feel lonely and have a friendly face around her,” Mirza told the New Indian Express in an interview.
There was an Equine Herpes Virus outbreak in Europe earlier this year. The EHV-1 virus is transmissible and Mirza's horse, Dajara 4, was isolated and all the events were cancelled till April. This meant he had to wait longer to confirm his Tokyo 2020 berth.
"Ideally I'd have liked to complete my MER earlier this year but because of the EHV, it was pretty much left to the last minute, which didn't help with the pressure, of course," Mirza told ESPN in an interview.
"But look, it's worked out in our favour. We're going to have a couple of weeks rest now and then crack on with our training. Before heading to Tokyo, we'd like to get into one more competition hopefully, so I'll have to take a look at the schedule and see when we can fit it in."
He had also participated in the CCI 3* event at Montelibretti in Italy in February when the news of the outbreak spread and then fell short of MER mark at an event in Strzegom, Poland last month.