July 30 — London, England
Sue Benson intended to separate the Olympic winners from the also-rans by making the time tough to get on her twisty, hilly course in the center of Greenwich Park, and the cross-country results proved mission accomplished when Germany’s Ingrid Klimke on Butts Abraxxas tied with Sweden’s Linda Algotsson Ostholt on Wega for first place on double-clear rounds.
“You can just about scrap the dressage and start out again today. It’s all so close,” said Mark Todd, who was the only rider of the top three after dressage  to remain there. A single time penalty with Campino means the Olympic veteran from New Zealand still sits in third, .2 points behind the leaders.
And the scores are just as close in the team competition. Germany retains the lead, but time penalties accrued by Sandra Auffarth and Dirk Schrade closed the gap considerably. Great Britain stands in silver-medal position on 130.2, 5.5 points behind Germany, but less than 1.2 points ahead of Sweden, and the Kiwis are only 2 points behind them.
The U.S. team moved up to fifth place from seventh after dressage, but no U.S. rider finished inside the time. Phillip Dutton was the best-placed, moving from 22nd to 12th with Mystery Whisper after finishing 7 seconds over the optimum time of 10:03. Karen O’Connor sits in 24th place with 5.6 time penalties (14 seconds over), and Boyd Martin did an admirable job as the first rider on course with Otis Barbotiere, moving up 10 places to 26th with just 3.6 time penalties (9 seconds over).
Tiana Coudray incurred a stop at fence 3B, the Bandstand Rails, when Ringwood Magister came to it too quickly and slipped between the first and second fence in the combination. Coudray had the fastest 20-penalty round of the day and finished where she’d started: 42nd.
Twizzel stopped at 20A, the steep drop portion of the Royal Greenwich Borough, with Will Coleman. “I thought he was going off, and then all of a sudden we weren’t,” said Coleman. “I felt him hesitate, but when his front feet were over I thought we were home free.” The pair ended the day in 46nd place.
The drop at the Royal Greenwich Borough also proved the undoing of the dressage leader, Yoshiaki Oiwa of Japan. His brief fling with fame ended as quickly as it began when he plunged over the top of Noonday de Conde’s head after 20A.
The second-placed rider after dressage, Italy’s Stefano Brecciaroli, shifted down to 16th with Apollo van de Wendi Kurt Hoeve after they finished 29 seconds over.
Team Canada and Australia also had disappointing days. Three riders from Canada, Hawley Bennett-Awad, Peter Barry and Rebecca Howard, fell off, and Bennett-Awad suffered a concussion and a sacral fracture. Michele Mueller had a stop at fence 16, The Tower of London, with Amistad, leaving Jessica Phoenix as the one clear round for Canada on Exponential.
Christopher Burton started the day off right for Australia by making the time with HP Leilani, but then Sam Griffiths had a freak fall when Happy Times slipped and fell down on the flat. Andrew Hoy finished well with Rutherglen, but Lucinda Fredericks had a stop with Flying Finish at 18B, the narrow step up out of the Inland Waterways. Then her husband, Clayton, fell off Bendigo when the pair slipped after the drop at 20A.
Coming Up Quickly
“The course was challenging. It was up and down and turn,” said Ingrid Klimke. “Everything was coming quick, quick, quick. You had to be really quick thinking, and every second you had to go, go, go. I have the most wonderful horse. He made it easy for me. I always could catch up on the time.”
Klimke actually finished 8 seconds inside the time on her 15-year-old Thoroughbred-Hanoverian cross (Heraldik XX—Kira-Annabell, Kronenkranich XX). When asked if she’d maybe gone too fast, she replied, “Today is today, and I tried to go as fast as my horse wanted to go, and as fast as I can go. What was wonderful for me was that he was so fit and was galloping at the finish line like he could still go on.”
On the other hand, Ostholt was quite surprised to find she’d made the time with her 11-year-old home-bred Swedish Warmblood mare (Irco Mena 763—La Fair, Labrador 588).
“My horse doesn’t have much Thoroughbred,” she said. “Everyone lost seconds in the beginning, and I thought that she couldn’t run so fast in the end, like the Thoroughbred horses can, but she did. I was almost half a minute down on the time at six minutes, but in four minutes she managed to make up 30 seconds, which I think is amazing.”
Ostholt, 37, also revealed that Wega lost both front shoes on course. “I think I lost one quite early, but I don’t know. I think I lost it at The Chess Table [fence 12], somewhere there. I felt one leg slipping in the tunnel. And then I lost both. Poor horse. She really tried.”
Mark Todd also ran into equipment issues when the buckle on his reins came undone at fence 6. “They were sort of hanging loose in my hands. I just had to gather them up and hope like hell I didn’t lose one. If I had, I would’ve been in serious trouble,” he said.
But the eventing legend, who already holds two individual gold medals, wasn’t going to let anything stop him. “I felt like over the last few minutes of the course I’d got off and had to carry him,” he joked when he looked as winded at the finish as his mount. “I don’t think I’ve had to work so hard for a long time. I was a bit puffed.”
They also survived a hairy moment at the final fence, when Todd knew the time was going to be very tight. “I came into the last fence, and I was thinking, ‘I’ve got to keep galloping. I can’t take a pull,’ ” he said. “I saw a bit of a long one, and I just prayed that he’d pick up. He didn’t. He put down again, and we clobbered it. Luckily it was a pretty soft brush, and we got away with it. You’ve got to take chances, and I don’t think that cost me the one second.”
He dismissed the .4 penalties for finishing 1 second over the time as “annoying” but said he was thrilled with the 10-year-old German-bred gelding (Contendro—Pink Dame, Pinkus).
“I’m third. The horse is a good jumper. We’ll just have to see what happens,” said Todd. “He jumped two clear rounds here last year in the test event. He’s normally a pretty good jumper. We’ll just have to hope it goes well tomorrow.”
Fighting For The Team
While the U.S. riders aren’t completely out of the medal hunt, they’ll have to show jump clean and hope the four teams in front of them run into trouble.
Boyd Martin did everything right in his role as pathfinder, but he wasn’t thrilled with the position Chef d’Equipe Capt. Mark Phillips chose for him.
“It definitely wasn’t my choice,” said Martin. “I was quite against the idea because I think the judging can be quite shonky at the beginning of the competition, and it’s exactly what I thought. But in a team situation I think his way of thinking was that Otis is a good strong cross-country horse, and he would take the pressure off the other guys a little bit. I give Mark credit for that because it looks like it’s paid off.”
Before Martin set out, the U.S. riders had planned to take it easy around two corners on course, one before fence 4, The Royal Herb Garden, and again near the end of the course. He thought he might've been able to make the time by going faster in those places, but he also said the hills took a lot out of the 10-year-old Selle Francais (Quidam de Revel—Java Barbotiere, Veneur de Baugy).
“My biggest worry before going out was him slipping around the turns. He’s not a very good turning horse; the course didn’t really suit him,” said Martin. “He’s a gutsy horse though, and he kept trying until the end. I didn’t have much horse at the end.”
On the other hand, Karen O’Connor had her hands full with Mr. Medicott by the finish. She joked that her arms were longer.
“He started out like a gentleman, but as we got further into the course, and I started to balance him more, he started to pull more,” she said.
She said her most terrifying moment actually came after they’d passed through the finish flags. “I was like, ‘Slow down because there’s a sharp turn.’ He was like, ‘I got it.’ I was like, ‘Really, are you sure about that, because I don’t think you’ve got it,’ ” recounted O’Connor. “The next thing I know, I’m coming off the inside rope, and he’s going straight for the outside rope, and the crowd is scattering. I thought he was going down. But he’s such an athletic horse, and he righted himself and then powered out of it.”
After Will Coleman and Tiana Coudray’s problems on course, it was up to Phillip Dutton to put in a clean and fast round for Team USA.
“I was a little worried that Mark was going to tell me to go slow and get a clear round, but he didn’t. He just said go for it,” said Dutton. “It was good. I wanted to go out and have a clear round whether we had two clear or we all went clear.”
But he admitted the twisty course wasn’t much fun to ride.
“You don’t have much time to enjoy it; it’s just flat-out from the start to the finish,” he said. “[Mystery Whisper] is not a Thoroughbred, so his top speed is not as high as some of them. I had to not steady up on the way to the jumps. He’s very rideable, he just goes in a loose ring snaffle, so I can trust that he’s going to come back easy.”
And despite losing his helmet cover as he ducked under trees in order to find the shortest routes, he said he didn’t think he could’ve gone any faster to make the time with the 12-year-old Australian Warmblood (Richmeed Medallion—Socialite, Salute).
The horses will jog up in the final horse inspection at 8:15 a.m. BST, and show jumping begins at 10:30.
For full results visit the London 2012 website.