Costello Hopes to Head U.S. Eventing Team With Gold Medalist Dutton
In the spring of 2010, the United States Equestrian Federation named Bobby Costello to a search committee charged with identifying candidates to succeed outgoing U.S. Eventing Team coach Capt. Mark Phillips, who had announced his plans to retire as technical advisor/chef d’equipe after the 2012 Olympic Games.
By the time the U.S. Eventing Annual Meeting and Convention rolled around in early December, Costello and other committee members had identified zero candidates to fill the captain’s boots. Maybe that’s because no one had applied for it.
A member of the 2000 Olympic Team and a team gold medalist at the 2003 Pan American Games, Costello was approached by several people at the convention who urged him to apply for the chef d’equipe position. A chef d’equipe operates as a team manager, while the technical advisor assumes traditional coaching duties.
“A lot of people thought we didn’t need a coach, we needed a team manager,” Costello said from his home in Southern Pines. “I couldn’t disagree more.”
This week, Costello and two-time gold medalist Phillip Dutton announced they would be applying as a team for Phillips’ position. Dutton, who won team gold riding for Australia at both the 1996 and 2000 Olympics, would become the technical advisor while Costello would take on the chef d’equipe role.
Dutton, who became a U.S. citizen in 2006, has been one of the top international event riders for over a decade. The 47-year-old resident of West Grove, Pa., has ridden for the American team at the 2008 Olympics and 2010 World Equestrian Games.
Costello, 45, has been contemplating the next phase of his equestrian life for several years. He is still a force on the upper level circuit, and most recently placed 19th at the Fair Hill International CCI* with his thoroughbred gelding Dustin. He currently sits on the USEF Board of Directors, and chairs the USEF Eventing High Performance Committee.
If selected to lead the U.S. Team, both Costello and Dutton would retire from active competition after the London Games.
“In the past I said I’d compete until I was 40 or so, and then look to the next thing involving horses,” Costello said. “I feel this is the direction I really want to go ... helping the team.”
The concept of joint coaches is not unprecedented in international eventing. Canada, which recently captured Team Silver at the World Equestrian Games, is led by technical advisor David O’Connor (a U.S. team veteran and individual gold medalist at the 2000 Sydney Olympics) and chef d’equipe Graeme Thom.
“In a nutshell, the chef d’equipe is the team manager, or team leader,” Costello said. “Phillip would be responsible for coaching or organizing specialist outside coaches. My role would be managing but Phillip and I would both be involved in being part of what the other person is doing.”
Costello and Dutton became close friends during the 2000 Games. “He was still riding for Australia but he was in quarantine with us,” said Costello, who finished eighth individually in Sydney with the now retired Chevalier.
Costello laugh-ed. “Actually,” he added, “we really became good friends on the tennis court.”
At the convention and annual meeting in Scottsdale, Ariz., Costello and Dutton began casually discussing the possibility of applying for the U.S. position as a team.
“Phillip was a pretty obvious person to be the technical advisor,” Costello said. “We kept talking about it over the weekend and finally decided, ‘We have different strengths; we should do this together.’”
Both Costello and Dutton disagreed with the protests of several upper levels riders who thought the technical advisor role should be eliminated.
“We need that person to guide the young ones coming up,” Costello said. “If we really want to change the program for the better then maybe an all-encompassing role needs to be taken. Maybe it’s going to take two people.”
Under the direction of Phillips — who has been at the helm of the U.S. Team since 1993 — the eventing team won 23 medals in international competition.
Among those are team silver and individual bronze at the 1996 Olympics, team bronze and individual gold at the 2000 Olympics, team bronze and individual silver at the 2004 Olympics, and individual silver at the 2008 Olympics.
Phillips’ teams have won team gold three times at the Pan American Games (1999, 2003, and 2007) and team gold at the 2002 World Equestrian Games.
At the 2010 World Games in Lexington, Ky. — held on American soil for the first time — the U.S. could only manage a fourth-place team finish. The best individual effort by an American was (Australian ex-patriot) Boyd Martin’s 10th-place finish.
Once Costello and Dutton hit upon the idea of coaching as a team, Costello resigned from the search committee to avoid any conflict of interest. He recently spent two days brainstorming with Dutton in Pennsylvania, and expects to have a formal proposal ready to submit by the Jan. 31 deadline.
“After that, the search committee will whittle the number of applicants down and pick the people they want to bring back for the second round of interviews,” Costello said. “Then they’ll recommend a small number of people to the Active Riders’ Committee. The active riders have the biggest say in who the next coach will be ... as they should.”
If early returns are any indication, then Costello and Dutton are the ones to catch.
“Phillip and I have been very public about getting our names out there, and it’s been pretty well received,” Costello said. “We don’t know of anyone else who’s applying for it, but technically you can remain anonymous until the search committee announces the top prospects.”
A native of Hamilton, Mass., Costello has lived and trained at Tanglewood Farm in Southern Pines since 1990. And while he says Dustin is “quietly on the market,” he has not ruled out the London Games as a goal.
“I have a great horse,” Costello said. “I just don’t know how hard I want to push for it.”
Though he hopes to make a graceful exit from competition, Costello says he will never give up riding.
“I’ll definitely keep some young horses to bring along and play with,” he said. “And I love coaching, so I’ll still do some teaching on the side.
“But this next phase, I think, is going to be about helping our program be as successful as it can be … and by that I mean, winning medals.”
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