• Joined ESPN in 2011
    • Covered two Olympics, a pair of Rugby World Cups and two British & Irish Lions tours
    • Previously rugby editor, and became senior writer in 2018

The sumo wrestler statue that some riders believed had scared their horses during the individual show jumping qualifying has been removed ahead of the team equestrian events at the Tokyo Olympics.

The sumo wrestler and the cherry trees were swapped out before the start of the team competition on Friday. According to The Associated Press, the decision to change things up before the team events was made before the tournament by designer Santiago Varela, but the removal will come as some relief to riders and to their horses.

Earlier in the week in the individual show jumping heats, the statue at fence No. 10 messed up a few jumpers’ hopes of making the final on Wednesday. Housed in the corner of the arena, a sumo tower and rikishi (wrestler) made up one of the Japan-themed fences.

The Associated Press delved into the subject and found the sumo wrestler had caught the eye of a number of riders.

Great Britain’s Harry Charles said he “did notice four or five horses taking a spook” at the statue. He added: “As you come around, you see a big guy’s [butt].”

Ireland’s Cian O’Connor said: “There’s a lot to look at”.

Israel’s Teddy Vlock said: “It is very realistic. 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.”

Riders also spoke of the now-removed cherry blossoms positioned on the other side of the obstacle as another potential reason for the difficulties some riders and horses had found at that corner of the course as they hit rock bottom.

But the Japan-themed course has been changed ahead of the team event, with new fences installed depicting Himeji Castle, the Shinkansen high-speed train, calligraphy, a samurai, Shibuya Crossing and the farmhouses of Shirakawa.

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