Just a year ago, one of the most exciting conclusions to a medal event at the Youth Olympic Games (YOG) Buenos Aires 2018 came in equestrian, in the continental team event, where North America pipped Europe to the gold medal following a dramatic jump-off. Part of the victorious quintet – alongside athletes from Mexico, Haiti, Honduras and the USA – was Panama’s Marissa Thompson, who won her country’s first-ever medal of any colour at the YOG.
Part of the challenge in Argentina was that the athletes had to compete on horses that were provided by the organisers and allocated via a random draw, and were therefore unfamiliar to them. But this experience has already helped the fledgling career of Thompson, who was back in South America last month for the FEI Jumping World Challenge Final, where she acquitted herself well among mostly older rivals to finish fifth aboard another brand new acquaintance, Sofie.
Now 18, and having moved to Guatemala so that she can compete more regularly in competitions, the talented and likeable young rider looks back extremely fondly on a life-changing YOG experience, which has inspired her to dream of becoming the first-ever equestrian athlete from Panama to compete at the Olympic Games…
Q. It’s been a year since you made history by winning Panama’s first gold medal at the YOG. What did that mean to you?
A. It was the first medal for Panama in the three [editions of the Summer] Youth Olympic Games, and also my first medal as a rider, so I was delighted. I had such a good time with my team-mates. I didn’t know them at all until that week, but we formed such a good partnership and I loved that we were able to get the gold medal.
Q. What was the best part about being a member of Team North America?
A. In Panama it’s difficult to form teams, because we don’t have many riders. So for me to get the team experience at the YOG was great, and to get to know everyone was so nice. All the riders were excellent – very professional and very friendly – so we built a good partnership, and a friendship for life. We still talk, and we now have a group on Snapchat!
Q. Do you enjoy representing your country?
A. I love competing for Panama. To fly the flag for your country is always so special, as you get to do it only in international events. All of the people from Panama are very supportive, which makes me very happy.
Q. What was it like to live in the Youth Olympic Village?
A. It was amazing, and I don’t think I will ever go to another event where it will be like that. There were so many activities to share in with other people, so many different cultures, and everyone was so nice! I made such good friends from all parts of the world.
Q. Do you have any standout memories?
A. Yes, I remember that when we were in the jump-off for the gold medal, Mattie [Hatcher, USA] was going last – and she had to do a clear round in a fast time for us to win. My other team-mates and I couldn’t watch. We were hiding behind the tree, and we were praying! But one of my team-mates wasn’t nervous… In fact, he was making fun of us! Luckily, Mattie went clear. It was very funny.
Q. What did you learn from the YOG?
A. I learned that you can have good and bad results, but just getting the experience is the most important thing. The organisers put on an amazing event. I had never gone to something like that, and it actually felt like being at the Olympic Games. That made me dream bigger for the next Olympic cycle, so I can hopefully make it to Paris 2024.
Q. What have you been doing in the year since Buenos Aires 2018?
A. I went to Wellington [USA] for the first three months of the year to improve my riding, but I am based in Guatemala, working with my coach Giovanni Solares. I do online school all morning, and ride in the afternoon. And we compete at least twice a month, so it’s a heavy schedule!
I started jumping my first 1.50m classes this year, which I’m very happy about, and I just competed in the FEI Jumping World Challenge Final in Quito [Ecuador], where I placed fifth. It was very similar to the YOG, because borrowed horses were used for the competition. We just had one day to get to know the horse in the welcome class, and then it’s all or nothing. I loved the YOG, so when I qualified for the World Challenge Final I knew that it would be another great experience for me.
Q. What are your goals for the future?
A. [I’m] planning on going back to Ecuador next year for the FEI South American Championships for young riders. I got to know the country and venue well at the World Challenge Final, so I’m very excited to go there with my own horse. Then [there are] the Central American Games in 2021 [in El Salvador], and the Central American and Caribbean Games are in Panama in 2022, where I’m hoping to qualify for the home team and get a medal.
Further ahead, [I’ll be aiming] for the Pan-American Games [in Chile in 2023], and, hopefully, the Olympic Games in Paris in 2024.