It would be enough to break the heart of any athlete. Imagine dreaming of a place on your nation’s Olympic Games team, then being left out – but receiving the longed-for call at the 11th hour.
You rush to the stadium – and are turned away because of a red-tape blunder.
It is a nightmare scenario so ridiculous that it reads like a cheap movie script.
But it really did happen to Shropshire-based Brazilian three-day event rider Carlos Paro and, to his huge credit, he has put the whole fiasco behind him to concentrate on three major targets.
London 2012 is gone but Paro, who is based at Gordy and Sarah Edwards’ Somerwood racing yard, near Wellington, has his sights firmly on selection for next year’s World Equestrian Games, the Pan American Games in 2015 and then the big one – his ‘home’ Olympics in Rio 2016.
“Things had gone wrong all year before London,” said 34-year-old Paro, who represented Brazil at the Sydney Olympics.
“A lot of mistakes had been made and then a horse was selected that was never going to make it to the Games because it had already been unwell earlier in the season.”
That mount had to be withdrawn on the eve of the Olympics and Paro received the call that he was needed for the squad at equestrian headquarters in Greenwich.
“I was told there was just some paperwork to be done. I loaded my horse on the lorry and set off and I was just half-an-hour away when I was told my accreditation forms had never been sent to the International Olympic Committee and I could not ride,” he said.
“It was all too late. I was ready to kill someone. It was so frustrating to get so close.”
The blunder sparked a shake-up in the Brazilian team ranks. A new trainer – double Olympic champion Mark Todd – was appointed and it is now all systems go for Paro as he puts heartbreak behind him to chase his triple target.
And he finds himself in the luxurious position of going into this crucial three-year period with five potential team horses among the 15 in his stable.
“I actually feel very lucky,” said Paro, who has another big day to come next year when he marries fiancée Nicola Tootle.
“I might have missed London, but I am heading into three major championships with a very strong team of horses. I have potentially five who could come into contention for the team. I could have been in the position where I had nothing to ride at all.”
It’s a hectic finale to the season for Paro, with an autumn schedule that could make his team planning clearer.
Topping the agenda were the three-star international in Boekelo, Holland, where he qualified his two World Games prospects, and the world young horse championships in Le Lion D’Angers in France, with two seven-year-olds who could come into Olympic contention.
“It’s a real honour to go to that,” said Carlos. “They only take about 80 horses and I am lucky enough to have two.”
Papagayo’s Secret and Summon Up The Blood made the trip to Holland to undertake their first three-star challenge. The aim next year is that one of them will make the world team and the other will head for Burghley. Both will be aimed at the Badminton Championships the year after that as the Olympic pace steps up.
“Both are being prepared with the Olympics in mind,” said Paro. “That is my main goal.”
The young horse championship duo are Calcourt Landline, owned by Shropshire eventing enthusiast Fiona Edwards, and Monarch’s Exclusive, bred in the county by Philip Wardle and owned by Sarah Pritchard.
“By the time the Olympics come along they could both be ready. All four of these horses could be very good,” added Paro, who has been a member of silver and bronze medal-winning teams at Pan American Games.
A further string to his Rio bow comes in the form of Loulou, a nine-year-old owned by his fiancée, who combines eventing with running her own business. “Loulou is also a very nice horse and she could also become a team possible,” he said. “Because we have a lot of time, I am not pushing them. I am waiting for them to come to me and show me what they can do.”
As the host country in 2016, Brazil do not have to qualify for the Games and have formed three teams to make sure they have plenty of choice. As a member of the A team, Paro is trained by Todd and will head to Brazil in the new year to pass on that knowledge to the B and C teams.
It’s a sport that requires huge dedication, but Paro is more than happy to put in the hours. His own preparations will step up after Christmas through intensive sessions with dressage expert Ferdi Eilberg and he’ll then be travelling to Belgium to work on his showjumping.
He’s been in Britain for 10 years, basing himself here as there is no tradition of eventing in Brazil. His older brother Andre rode at two Olympics before going into the family farming business, but the younger Paro opted for full-time riding after university.
“My father always pushed us in sport, but he’s always asking me when I’m going to come back and work for him,” said Paro. “That’s not going to happen.”