Still on ‘Tops’ of the World – What Drives Edwina Tops-Alexander
By Aaron S. Lee
Eight stops into a 14-leg season and Australia’s Edwina Tops-Alexander once again finds herself on top of the Longines Global Champions Tour (LGCT) overall standings after yet another strong performance, which saw her finish seventh in Cascais, Estoril on July 12, giving her a current total of 176 points in the 2014 season.
With a solid showing, the diminutive Tops-Alexander, who stands just 164cm and weighs a feathery 49kgs, now commands an 18-point lead over her closest rivals – both men – Bassem Hassan Mohammed of Qatar who moved up to second on the leaderboard after finishing fourth, while Italy’s Emanuele Gaudiano is just one point behind Hassan Mohammed in third.
The equestrian world of show jumping, which evolved from the 18th century in England before making its Olympic debut in 1900 and settling into its current format in 1912, is one of only two Olympic sports where men and women compete equally against each other, with sailing’s mixed 49er class being the other. But according to Tops-Alexander competing against the men poses no real problems at all.
“It’s not at all harder and why would it be,” Tops-Alexander told Sportette from her home in Monaco following round seven competition in Paris. “There is only one reason why the men are so strong and that’s because the ratio of men to women is a lot higher. It’s not because they are so much better.
“In our sport the horse is the athlete and without a top horse you cannot go far. I think that the horse is 70 per cent of the reason why I’ve had so much success. Of course you need talent, a good management program and a lot of dedication but you first need an amazing horse to be at the top.”
Overall standings of the LGCT are determined by the placement of the rider in Grand Prix competitions. These Grand Prix are considered the highest form of show jumping and follow the International Federation for Equestrian Sports (FEI) rules which a rider leads their horse over a course containing 10 to 16 obstacles, with heights up to 1.6 metres and spreads of up to 2.0 metres.
The LGCT proudly boasts its 14 events across 12 countries as a ‘truly global sporting spectacle’ and with exotic locales such as Antwerp, Shanghai, Cannes, Monaco, Chantilly, Lausanne and Doha to name a few, it’s easy to see the illustrious allure of the sport.
The top 30 riders, including Olympic, world and regional champions from around the globe, jockey for a prize purse of more than $13 million (AUD), and for the right to be named the prestigious Tour champion. Tops-Alexander, a two-time Olympian (2008, 2012) with two LGCT championships (2011, 2012), clearly sits atop that list of riders as the one to beat.
In fact, Tops-Alexander, who began riding the Tour in 2006, is the first rider to earn over $1.5 million (AUD) in prize money in one season. It is an impressive resumé to say the least for the Sydney-native who started riding after visiting the Avondale Pony Club in North Turramurra at age 8 and borrowing the next-door neighbour’s horse before convincing her parents to buy her a horse of her own.
While fully appreciative of her Australian roots, Tops-Alexander told Sportette that she owes much of her success to her eventual move to the Netherlands where she met her coach – and eventual husband – Jan Tops in 2002.
“I think it was a great place to start because I had to make do with the horses I had and I learn to be a tough rider with out any fear,” said Tops-Alexander, who won the Australian Young Rider Championships in 1995. ”But I did learn a lot of bad habits which I wasn’t aware of until I came to Europe.
“I had to start from the bottom when I arrived in Europe and I really didn’t expect that. But the truth is that if I had stayed in Australia for the last 15 years of my life I definitely would never have had this success.
“The roots are in Europe and it’s a huge sacrifice with a lot of ups and downs but if you really want to be successful you need to be based in Europe.”
Now with more than 30 years of experience, the 40-year-old is looking to rebound after a disappointing fifth-place finish in 2013 and recapture a title now owned by Scott Brash (GBR), but she will have to do so aboard a new horse after announcing the retirement of her 18-year-old chestnut gelding, Cevo Itôt du Chateau, earlier this month.
The French-bred Itôt, affectionately referred to as “Toti”, was purchased by her husband, who is also the President of the LGCT, as a New Year’s gift in 2007. Tops-Alexander piloted Itôt to two Tour championships, two Olympic games, two FEI World Cup finals and a world championship. In total, Tops-Alexander rode the “once-in-a-lifetime horse” for six years, earning over $4.5 million (AUD) in prize money.
“Well I’ve been prepared for some time now so it was maybe easier like this to let it sink in,” confided Tops-Alexander. “But I always try to see the positive sides of everything and remember all the good moments that we had together. I actually wasn’t so emotionally upset during the ceremony because I knew his time was up. I’m very happy to see Itôt finish his career on the top and to have a wonderful life now at our stables.”
So with Itôt now enjoying the paddock, Tops-Alexander now turns her attention to a new horse, but with the same old ambitions.
“The main goals are to try to win the Global Champions Tour final again and to get on the podium for the World Championships this year,” she said. “So a lot of big goals I have to fulfill.”
But with so much already accomplished over the course of a stellar decade-long pro career, how does Tops-Alexander keep her focus on the task at hand?
“I try to just take one step at a time but of course becoming number one in the world ranking list has always been a goal,” Tops-Alexander told Sportette. “I don’t feel at all any added pressure because I’m human and we all make mistakes.
“I think this is why people respect me because I’m not afraid to have a bad day because at the end that’s what make you a better athlete. To be able to flight back again is hard but I love challenges.
“I always want to get the message across that no matter what you want to succeed in in life everything is possible. I really believe in this strongly.
“I know in life that when you have a passion there is often success at the end of the road.”
The ninth round of the LGCT commences on July 25-27 in Chantilly, France, before returning to Tops-Alexander’s former European base of Valkenswaard for round 10 from August 1-3. London (Aug. 14-16), Lausanne (Sept. 12-14), Vienna (Sept. 18-21) and Doha (Nov. 13-15) close out the remaining LGCT schedule.
Sportette guest contributor Aaron S. Lee is managing editor of sport in Australasia for Future Publishing and sports columnist for Eurosport, and can be followed on Twitter @aaronshanelee