By sportswriter Wang Zijiang
LONDON, Jan. 1 (Xinhua) -- Alex Hua Tian, China's international eventer, said that his No. 1 objective in 2019 is to help the Chinese team qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games.
Hua Tian, who became the youngest eventer in Olympic history as an 18-year-old at his home Beijing Games in 2008, will kick off his fourth Olympic cycle after narrowly missing the London Olympics in 2012 and finishing eighth in Rio two years ago.
For the first time in history, Hua Tian does not have to fight by himself because China has the opportunity to have a team in the three-day eventing. Hua Tian feels excited that he can have the chance to help his teammates.
"This is a golden opportunity for us," he said in an interview with Xinhua. "We have some riders that are preparing for it. I have had quite a lot of experience already. The key is using my experience to try and help the other riders to understand that process and hopefully try to compete for a successful team qualification next year."
"For me it is the No. 1 goal for 2019."
Hua Tian, now 28, is very happy with what he has achieved in 2018. Riding horses with little international experience, he traveled 10 thousand kilometers from England to Indonesia to win a bronze in the Jakarta Asian Games to add to the silver he won in Incheon, South Korea, four years ago.
"The Asian Games was wonderful," he said. "I took a young horse, a horse that actually is very new to me. I've only competed with him for a few times. And I was really worried about the flight - it is the longest flight I have ever taken with a horse."
Hua Tian was very satisfied with the performance and also with the growth of his horse Spike, who is just nine years old.
"We have a very new relationship. I was really happy with him because he couldn't have done any better. I won a bronze. You always hope to do better. But I was beaten by two horses that were not more talented but more experienced. That makes me very excited because the future is very exciting."
A month after the Asian Games, he went to the US for the World Equestrian Games with a horse called Boris, also nine. They came last in the dressage test and eventually finished 45th out of the 84-strong field.
"With him I knew that we would not be very competitive, at that level with this inexperienced horse. But he fought his way back (after dressage) and he is a horse I am very proud of," he said.
Before the 2008 Olympics, few people in China had heard about Hua Tian's sport, which consists of dressage, show jumping and cross country, but since then he has had millions of fans in the world's most populous country and he has also become a household name and an ambassador of equestrian sport in China.
To further promote the sport in China, he founded a charity named The Horsemanship Movement with his friend Philip Wong and the charity will be officially announced open in Shanghai on January 9. He travels to China many times a year and his efforts turned out to be fruitful. The charity took the Solidarity Award from the world equestrian governing body FEI at its annual award ceremony last month.
"So far, it is very small," he said. "Over the last few years we've been working on the program, how it works, the implementation, the operation. The ambition is nationwide in the future. The charity is trying to help the industry raise its standard and raise its expectations as well."
Hua Tian said he is "cautiously confident" about the chance of qualifying for the Tokyo Olympics, when the qualification window opens on the new year's day.
"It's never easy," he said. "I have never been in a strong position. But the horses are fragile, even though I have four very good horses, injuries can happen, and I would not be surprised - I would be devastated but not be surprised - if for some reason it didn't happen. But all you can do is to be well-prepared, try your hardest and see what happens.
"For me, the new year is exiting. I wish everyone in China a happy new year," he added.