August 7 — London.
Last night the British show jumpers celebrated after taking their first team gold medal in sixty years, but tonight the dressage riders one upped that victory by doing something no British team has ever done before: winning team gold.
In fact, the Brits have never won a dressage medal of any color, either in the team or the individual competition.
“I know it is an old cliché, but this is the culmination of many years of dreaming about it,” said Carl Hester. “It has shot our sport into a totally different league.”
The U.S. team was basically out of the medal hunt after the Grand Prix test, and they dropped from fifth to sixth place after the Grand Prix Special. Steffen Peters and Ravel finished tied for seventh with Germany’s Kristina Sprehe on Desperados on 76.25 percent, and Peters will contest the freestyle individual final on Aug. 9, where the scores go back to zero.
The fight for gold actually felt a bit like the previous day’s jump-off. The Grand Prix and the Grand Prix Special were averaged together equally for the team score, and Team GB came into the Special just half a point ahead. The Germans and the Brits drew back-to-back spots, so the order of go featured a German rider and than a British one, allowing the exuberant crowd to easily compare the scores.
Dorothee Schneider didn’t give anything away as the first to go for the German Team with Diva Royal, and she finished on 77.57 percent.
But Hester gave the Brits a shot of confidence when he took a huge lead on Uthopia with 80.57 percent, earning two 10s for his second extended trot and another pair of 10s for his position.
“I was coming here with a slight lack of confidence because my last two scores had been in Fritzens, where I’d had a 75 and a 77,” said Hester. “They were the third highest scores for our team, but they weren’t what I was attaining last year. To get back up to that level again, it’s great. It’s phenomenal. I feel like a new man.”
The next match-up was Britain’s Laura Bechtolsheimer on Mistral Hojris against Sprehe on Desperados. Both riders made mistakes. Desperados had a massive spook in the corner by H and earned straight 4s for the passage there as well as having another little bobble in the final passage.
“My horse was nervous because of the atmosphere and all the photographers at the far end of the arena. It took away from my own concentration,” said Sprehe, 25. “Such a mistake is costly.”
Bechtolsheimer, 27, ran into trouble in the lines of two- and one-tempi changes where Mistral Hojris just got a bit stuck behind. “I felt as though it was fantastic, although my mistakes in the changes were costly and annoying,” she said.
But despite the mistakes, Great Britain pulled into a more serious lead with Bechtolsheimer’s score of 77.79 percent versus Sprehe’s of 76.25 percent.
And having Charlotte Dujardin, 27, as last to go left Team GB feeling confident. Helen Langehanenberg, 30, put forth a valiant effort with Damon Hill, but her score of 78.93 percent was only good enough for fourth place.
Dujardin didn’t even have a perfect test. For the first time during the Olympics so far she appeared to be feeling the pressure based on the frown of concentration on her face. A slight jig in the collected walk and a mistake in the one-tempis showed that the unflappable Valegro might’ve been feeling a little tense too, but the eight 10s he received for various movements including his extended trot, half-pass left, two-tempis, passage and the final halt more than made up for the mistakes, and he easily achieved the highest score of the test with 83.28 percent.
“I was a bit more nervous today going in,” admitted Dujardin. “I just wanted that gold medal so badly. I didn’t want to let anyone down.”
A Fantastic First
The possibility has been in the air for a long time that Great Britain might win gold with this dream team, but the riders still seemed a bit in shock after the medals were around their necks.
“It was very emotional for me. At the end of Charlotte’s test when I knew we’d done that, it wasn’t just about beating the Germans. It was about beating everyone else. Britain’s never done so in dressage,” said Bechtolsheimer. “I don’t think it’s sunk in completely yet. It’s an incredible feeling for all three of us. We’re really proud of each other and our horses.
“It’s a really fun team,” Bechtolsheimer continued. “Carl and Charlotte obviously work together, and I’ve known Carl since I was tiny because he started his career working for my dad. It’s a good dynamic. We all feel very comfortable with each other. We have a good laugh. Charlotte and I compete quite heavily over who does the dumbest blonde things. Carl sort of patronizes us. We have a great time. It means everything to stand on the podium with those two.”
Despite Germany taking team gold for the last seven Olympic Games, the three Olympic rookies weren’t at all disappointed to come away with silver. “Everybody asks us if we’ve lost the gold medal. No, we have won the silver,” said Langehanenberg. “We’re here with young and fresh horses. We’ve given our best, and we can be proud of this result.”
Americans Slot Into Sixth
After finishing fifth in the team competition in the Grand Prix test, the three U.S. riders would’ve needed to significantly raise their scores in the Special to get on the medal podium, and that was not in the cards. But despite dropping to sixth, the U.S. riders remained upbeat.