By Susil Premalal
She may be the first ever showjumper representing Sri Lanka to qualify for the Olympics, but Mathilda Karlsson has targeted more than just participation at this year’s Tokyo games.
The Sri Lankan-born, Swedish-raised equestrian athlete, who is so far the only athlete from Sri Lanka to qualify for Tokyo 2020, on Thursday said that she had set her eyes on qualifying for the final stage of the showjumping competition, and maybe even challenge for a medal.
“I am very excited (about competing in the Olympics). I have surrounded myself with good people who will help me get to Tokyo very well prepared. My goal is definitely to qualify for the final round, hopefully (win) a medal. It’s realistic to make the final round when you look at the results I have had in the last year,” Karlsson said.
Karlsson’s qualification to the games was secured when she and her horse, Chopin VA, finishing second in the Olympic Ranking for South East Asia and Oceania at the end of the qualification period last month.
With the rules of competition tying the points a show-jumper accumulates in a season to the horse they use, Chopin VA will travel with Karlsson to compete in Tokyo.
In the last year, Karlsson has enjoyed a meteoric rise in the Longines FEI Jumping Rankings, making up almost a thousand places, and moving up to 280 in the rankings along with qualifying for the Olympics, although at one stage it appeared unlikely she would make the cut for the showpiece event.
With Chopin VA diagnosed with lyme disease, Karlsson had to make the difficult decision of allowing her horse to recover for five months, severely hampering her chances of booking her ticket for the Tokyo games.
But with Chopin VA returning to competition a month before the end of the qualification deadline, Karlsson and her horse were able to collect the 250 points she required to meet Olympic qualification. She hopes that the Olympics will be a platform for her to make even more ground in the sport.
“My target is to reach the top 100 in the world ranking,” Karlsson added.
Karlsson, born in Kandy, was adopted by a Swedish couple when she was just three months old, growing up in Kristianstad, Sweden before moving to Germany where her passion for equestrianism blossomed into a career.
“When I first came to Sri Lanka, I met Suranjith Premadasa. I was only here for a short period and it was the first time I came back since adoption and I was amazed by the country and beauty that I saw and the people that I met. It just felt really natural for me to switch to Sri Lanka,” Karlsson said of her desire to switch allegiances.
She said her adopted parents gave her everything she needed growing up.
“I was blessed to be adopted by parents who gave me all the love and support I needed to get where I am today. I had all the opportunities to pursue a career in something unusual in showjumping. I haven’t met my birth parents, and growing up I didn’t think about it so much because my adopted family was the family I knew, but now, growing older, I feel like it would be nice to meet my birth parents who thought about me and my future as a baby, giving me up for adoption and giving me all these opportunities I have received today,” she said.
Instrumental in helping Karlsson make the switch was President of the Sri Lanka Equestrian Association Suranjith Premadasa who has been a long-time promoter of the sport in the country through his riding school.
While saying he was proud of Sri Lanka having their first Olympic showjumper, Premadasa reiterated the need for facilities for the sport to thrive in the island.
“We don’t have a place of our own (for equestrian sports). If we had a place will would be able to set up stables and other facilities. Yes, horses are expensive, but if we have the space and can acquire retired horses we can develop an interest in the sport and get young people taking up equestrianism,” he said.