After making history hurdling over obstacles, the local equestrian program hopes to produce more riders like Polly Serpell.
Mary Alberga, nee McTaggart, was in Nanjing, China, last week as Serpell, 16, claimed a bronze medal in the International Team Jumping event at the 2014 Youth Olympic Games. Alberga served as the national coach and said Cayman’s first ever medal at the competition, which is staging its summer edition for only the second time, should motivate other youngsters.
“We came in unknown, an underdog, so we proved ourselves,” Alberga said. “Polly scored and tied for first in the overall in our team, she came tied at the number one position in team, so we have really stepped up to the plate.”
“It will encourage all the little kids to become like Polly. They’ll always have somebody to mentor, and they will watch her and see her ride and copy her. I think it will be a huge boost in the sport itself and I think that is all you can really ask for.”
Serpell was part of an all-girls squad, dubbed Team North America, that featured Ecuador’s Macarena Chiriboga Granja, Guatemala’s Stefanie Brand, El Salvador’s Sabrina Rivera Meza and Maria Gabriela Brugal of the Dominican Republic. Serpell, on a borrowed 8-year-old Belgium warm-blood horse named Georgio Zan, had a flawless ride in the second and final round of competition, with zero faults. In round one, she registered four faults after falling off her horse.
As a result, her side amassed a total of eight penalties, ahead of the 16 penalties by Africa (South Africa, Senegal, Morocco, Zimbabwe, Egypt) 20 faults by Australasia (Australia, Hong Kong, New Zealand, Malaysia, Iraq) and 28 faults by Asia (China, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Kyrgyzstan, Qatar). Europe – Italy, Ireland, Great Britain, Sweden, Netherlands – won gold with no penalties while South America – Uruguay, Chile, Paraguay, Argentina, Brazil – won silver with four penalties.
For the team event, organizers grouped riders together on regional squads. Polly and Maria are the only two riders from the Caribbean, which was not enough for the West Indies to form the mandatory five-member team. The other girls all hail from Central America and with no competitors from Canada or the United States, the “North America” moniker is actually a misnomer.
The Cayman Islands Olympic Committee said in a statement that it was pleased with Serpell’s result. The statement reads, “The Olympic Committee commends Polly and the team for this historic accomplishment. The CIOC also commends the Cayman Islands Equestrian Federation for all of its hard work and preparation to get Polly to this level.
“This is truly a great moment for the CIOC and we would like to thank all of our top sponsors; DART, Moore Stephens Decosimo Cayman Ltd., Kensington Management Group Ltd., First Caribbean National Bank, Mr. and Mrs. Borel and Jean Louie David – whose sponsorship help develop Caymanian athletes like Polly.”
Serpell took part in the individual jumping segment over the weekend at the Xinzhuang Equestrian Venue. After making history for Cayman, she said she was overjoyed.
“I still can’t believe it. Me and my team are over the moon and I’m just so excited,” Serpell said. “I thought I would be a lot more nervous than I am. I went in a lot more confident than I thought.”
After training for nearly 11 years, Serpell seems destined for bigger achievements in the future. Alberga said Serpell is already one of the more experienced riders who regularly feature at the Cayman Islands Equestrian Centre.
Serpell says her next step is to carry her personal horse, Calidad, to victory in a major international event like the Olympics.
“That would be the ultimate goal, to take your horse to the Games and win the medal. That is the eventual goal. That’s when all your training has paid off.”
Cayman has five athletes competing across four sports in China. In addition to Polly, Morgan Lloyd, Cayman’s youngest competitor at age 15, competed in the women’s all-around artistic gymnastics competition. Pearl Morgan, 16, ran her 200-meter sprint heats in a time of 26.98 seconds. While she finished sixth out of seven runners, her time was good enough to advance to the C Finals. Sailors Pablo Bertran and Florence Allan are near the middle of the pack in the nine-race Byte CII, one-person dinghy class. Pablo, 16, recently recorded his first top finish by placing second in his seventh race.