Eric Lamaze competing at Spruce Meadows this week will inspire his fellow riders, says a Canadian teammate.
Lamaze revealed during a television interview with a sports network in France last month that he’s been dealing with a brain tumour for over a year and a half.
His public relations firm confirmed Lamaze’s condition, but provided no further details.
The 51-year-old from Montreal, who won Olympic show jumping gold in 2008, does not want to talk publicly about his cancer at the National tournament.
Lamaze wasn’t at Spruce Meadows on Tuesday, but issued a statement.
“I have shared my story and now I want us all to move on and focus on sport,” he said.
“When I get to Spruce Meadows, I want to be treated like everyone else. I appreciate everyone’s thoughts, but I want to focus now on sport and hopefully strong results.”
Lamaze is the all-time leading money winner at Spruce Meadows at over $3 million.
The National, in its 44th year, is the traditional kickoff to the outdoor tournament season at the equestrian facility in southwest Calgary.
The tournament, Wednesday to Sunday, offers $1.35 million in prize money.
Saturday’s $500,000 Grand Prix is the premier event with the top riders in the world competing in the 1.6-metre competition. Lamaze is a two-time Grand Prix winner.
Vancouver’s Tiffany Foster, who has competed alongside Lamaze internationally for nine years, says his presence this week will be lauded by the riding community.
“He’s always been known as a real fighter in the ring,” she said Tuesday.
“Everybody knowing that he’s going through this, I think if you asked any rider on the circuit right now, they would tip their hat to him and have so much respect.
“When you see what he’s going through and how he’s doing it, he’s really pretty inspirational to me. When I think I’m having a bad day, I think about what he’s going through. It doesn’t seem too bad.”
Lamaze claimed Olympic gold in the individual event and silver in the team event in the 2008 Beijing Games aboard Hickstead.
He completed his set of medals with a bronze aboard Fine Lady at the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro.
Lamaze took a six-month break late last year, but returned to competition in April with Fine Lady and other horses from his Torrey Pines stable.
“I guess everybody deals with those things in their own way, but I know for Eric to be able to compete and do what he loves, that’s the best medicine,” Foster said.
“I think it just sort of shows again how much strength that guy has in him to do what he was doing all through the last year. The people close to him knew what he was going through. He just kept going.”
Changes for Team Canada on the road to Tokyo 2020
Ian Millar, 72, announced his retirement last month after competing in 10 Olympic Games for Canada.
He won team silver with Lamaze in 2008 as well as four Pan American Games gold in his career. Millar and Lamaze have been Canada’s international leaders for the last decade.
Canada’s team for this summer’s Pan American Games in Lima, Peru, will be named following The National.
Canada can qualify a show-jumping team for the 2020 Olympic Games by finishing in the medals in Lima.
World No. 1 Steve Guerdat of Switzerland, defending Grand Prix champion Kent Farrington of the U.S. and decorated American rider Beezie Madden are among the international stars competing at Spruce Meadows this week.
Lisa Carlsen of Okotoks, Alta., finished second to Farrington in the 2018 Grand Prix.
Carlsen was 22 when she helped Canada win team gold at the 1987 Pan Am Games aboard Kahlua.
Carlsen and Kahlua competed the next year at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, South Korea, where Canada was fourth in the team event.
Having established rapport with her “difficult” mare Parette, the 54-year-old from Okotoks, Alta., is angling for a return to the Pan Am and Olympic Games.
“A little bit of a rebirth,” Carlsen said. “I wish I had my horse Kahlua now in my career because I think he was a great horse and I didn’t know what I was doing back then.
“Now, I can bring a horse like Parette along, who has been a very difficult horse to bring a long, so my experience for sure has paid off for me doing that.”
Carlsen competed in her first Nations Cup for Canada in almost 30 years in 2018. Millar, Lamaze, Carlsen and Calgary’s Kara Chad were second at September’s Masters at Spruce Meadows.
“My goals have always been the Olympics again,” Carlsen said. “That hasn’t gone away.
“I just haven’t had the horse power behind me. I really feel this mare and I are coming into our own together and are a good team. I really hope I’ll be considered for the Pan Ams and maybe the Olympics.”