One brave Olympic athlete didn’t make it to the podium this week, but not because she got a low score. Dutch dressage rider Adelinde Cornelissen shocked fans when she quit the Games just minutes into the test after her beloved horse Parzival fell ill.
Parzival is Cornelissen’s horse. And, like all the Olympic competitors who traveled to Rio, Brazil, this summer, Cornelissen had been fighting for years to get to the Olympic games. She and Parzival were to compete in dressage, a kind of stylized riding.
“The first days in Rio went according to plan,” Adelinde Cornelissen of the Netherlands wrote on Facebook on Wednesday. “A relaxed flight, stabling good, training good. Parzival feels happy and fit.”
But after the smooth trip, things started to go awry. Parzival, who had competed in the 2012 Olympics in London and received a silver and bronze medal, was bitten by a poisonous insect on the head. His head swelled and he came down with a terrible fever.
“After double checking with the vets here they concluded he was bitten by an insect or spider or some sort of animal which produces toxics,” the 37-year-old wrote on her Facebook page.
Veterinarians rushed in to give Parzival fluids to reduce his fever. And soon he started to seem better. His fever dropped and the swelling of his head went down.
“I slept at the stables, checking up on Parzi every hour,” Cornelissen wrote. “I was not going to leave him alone!”
Cornelissen didn’t want to let her team down, and since Parzival looked better, and the veterinarians said he’d be fine, she decided to go ahead and compete.
However, after making only a few moves into the competition, the rider decided to quit the individual Grand Prix Wednesday.
The heartbreaking decision was made all the more difficult because it was likely Parzival’s final time at the Olympics, as the horse is 19 years old. Both rider and horse previously won individual silver and team bronze together at the 2012 London Olympics.
“When I entered, I already felt he was giving his utmost,” she wrote. “Being the fighter he is, he never gives up.” But it still didn’t feel right.
“In order to protect him, I gave up,” Cornelissen wrote. “My buddy, my friend, the horse that has given everything for me his whole life does not deserve this … So I saluted and left the arena.”
Although it must have been a difficult decision, Cornelissen knew that going for the gold wasn’t worth the risk it meant harming Parzival.
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