With a new coach coming in, the U.S. event riders are in the perfect position to regroup for the future.
Though I’m honored to write an analysis on the Olympic eventing competition, it’s certainly daunting to comment on the performances of my friends and those who I hold in such high respect. Because I was at the competition and had an outside chance to compete myself, I feel that I was uniquely positioned to analyze our strengths and weaknesses and therefore have the observations needed to help diagnose why we fell short.
My comments are in no way meant to detract from the performances of individual members. I believe they by and large performed at the top of their current competitiveness, and most looked better than I had seen them ever before. And that brings me directly to the crux of the issue: At the moment, even our best is not good enough.
While I’m going to try and do my best to give an honest opinion, it’s easy to be an armchair hero. I won’t say there should’ve been different or better riders put on the team. Currently, we aren’t able to field a team that can win a gold medal without a huge amount of luck on our side. Luck is nice to have, but it’s better not to depend on it.
There’s a lot we need to work on, but we have enough talented and fully capable riders in this country to bring home medals in the next four to eight years. If there’s one thing this year has taught me, it’s that you must embrace change and push forward to the future.
Luckily, our disappointment can be assuaged by a change of national coach. Hopefully, David O’Connor can use the nation’s emotion over losing to harden and mold our team back to competitiveness. I believe he will.
A New Process For Selection
The first thing is that it would probably be beneficial for our riders if the selection process were reworked. I can really only speak from my experience at the 2011 Pan American Games in Mexico, but I think my teammates would agree our team dynamic worked really well and benefited hugely from the selection process.
For the Pan Am Games, the U.S. Equestrian Federation was forced to make an early selection. Even when people had to be switched out, we knew the selection with enough time before the event that we were able to form a fully cohesive team. I am sure this contributed to our success.
While winning was nice, there is no comparison in competition between the Pan Am Games and the Olympics. What could be taken away from that trip, however, is that all members performed a personal best result. If the same had been done at the Olympic Games, we still might not have won a medal, but we would’ve been much closer.
I truly believe that because we were able to establish this team dynamic early in the game, all five members of our team were more supportive and able to help than we otherwise would’ve been.
In contrast, the Olympic selection seemed like a rat race to the finish. There was no time to establish a synergy before heading to the Games.
The top teams were more cohesive than we were. This will need to be fixed before the next team arrives on French soil the 2014 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games in Normandy. Now let’s look at how the competition unfolded.
Dressage: Attention To Detail Is Essential
My general impression of the dressage phase is that the level of eventing dressage has progressed to a point we aren’t achieving in our country.
Look at the difference between our guys and the Germans. The Germans never look rushed, and the horse’s head never moves. Everything is so polished, so surgical. We don’t have this same level of precision, yet. We looked as though we were trying to create brilliance while the best looked like they were allowing it. Preparation is the key to this difference.
Thinking back to the selection trials, there wasn’t one selection trial for our team that featured the modified test for the Olympic Games. I happen to know it was mandatory for the German team to ride this modified test for the coach back in January. They must’ve ridden the test in front of someone seven times before the London Games. While this may not seem so important, it’s that attention to detail that allows you to relax in the ring.
Our horses possess the same level of movement as those that carried their riders to the podium. We have just as talented riders with the same ability to sit on a horse; we lack the attention to detail. Again, this can and must be fixed.
Cross-Country: Safe But Exciting
Cross-country was a fantastic day for the sport in general. The course seemed to strike just the right balance of challenging enough, without being overly dangerous.
I was also fortunate enough to watch the test event last year. The jumps didn’t look like they were overly huge, but the course still caused some problems. Experienced three-star horses running a two-star test event even looked tired and labored around that course, so it was apparent that the optimum time would ultimately cause some people to make mistakes this time as well.
The course was challenging due to terrain and didn’t look like a fun cross-country course to ride. I had the feeling that it felt very much like being in a washing machine—similar to the Red Hills event in Tallahassee, Fla., but twice as long and with a mountain in the middle.
I bet riders were tired and relieved when they made it around that course. However, from my seat—and a spectator standpoint—it was just the type of course you’d like to see: safe but very exciting.
Though controversial, Greenwich was the perfect atmosphere for the Games. The pictures were amazing, and Olympic cross-country at the park will be a place that will never be forgotten and will be hard to top in the future.