August 5 — London.
After one round of team show jumping at the Olympic Games, the biggest news isn't who will be going forward to the medal round, but rather who won't. Heavy hitters Germany, France and Belgium were all knocked out of the running, as well as the teams from Australia, Ukraine, Chile and Mexico.
But Team USA is still in there, squeaking in tied for seventh with Brazil on 8 faults apiece. (The top eight teams go forward.) And in first place? The team from Saudi Arabia, whose riders garnered just 1 time fault ahead of Great Britain, the Netherlands, Sweden and Switzerland, all tied on 4 faults.
The U.S. team had Rich Fellers to thank for keeping their medal hopes alive. McLain Ward started the day with a 4-fault round on Antares, who just had a foot in the water. Beezie Madden proved she’s the ultimate professional by putting yesterday’s elimination behind her, but she did have a rail down in the double at 5A with Via Volo.
It was a lot of pressure for Reed Kessler to shoulder, and the 18-year-old was determined not only to log a clear round, but also to avoid time faults, since she incurred one with Cylana yesterday. That enthusiasm for speed got her in well under the time allowed of 88 seconds, but she ended up with 8 faults, a rail at the B element of the triple combination and another at the Big Ben oxer at 9.
So it was up to Fellers and Flexible, and they delivered, posting a double clear over Bob Ellis’ London-themed course. “I’m thrilled with my horse, but I wish we were in a better position,” said Fellers. “We are all fighters, and we can come back tomorrow.”
Separating The Wheat From The Chaff
The purpose of yesterday's round was basically to give the horses a warm-up and separate out the less experienced riders without causing them injury. Today was the first round that counted toward the team result, and it still wasn’t massive. Of the 62 riders who jumped, 16 finished double clear.
“I think tomorrow is going to be a lot bigger, and we’re going to need it bigger to try to pull it back,” said Ward.
He blamed himself for Antares’ mistake at the water, which was the seventh fence on the course. “I think I was overriding him a little today, thinking that I wanted to make sure I had a good solid round with the hiccup we had yesterday with Beezie,” he said. “I was a little bit at him, and I got there a bit too early. He was too close to the fence, and then he went up a little bit. He’s a good water jumper. It was rider error.”
Ward said his knee, which he shattered in a serious fall in January, isn’t bothering him. “My knee feels great. It felt better yesterday with a clear round,” he joked.
Rideability continued to be his main concern with the 12-year-old Wurttemberger gelding (Araconit—Zuchtbuch Caprice, Cento). “The beginning of the course didn’t go exactly as I wanted. I wanted to do one less to the red wall [at fence 3],” Ward said. “He jumped a little high at 2, and I checked up. In the back of my mind, I think I was forcing things a little bit, thinking I needed to log a solid score. Maybe tomorrow I can let things happen a little more.”
Madden said Via Volo, a 14-year-old Belgian Warmblood mare (Clinton—Run Away, Heartbreaker), felt more relaxed today after their disastrous elimination at a double combination yesterday. “We jumped her over a combination when I came out of the ring yesterday. This morning I did some rails on the ground and one very low jump just to get the rideability better,” she said. “Yesterday was a culmination of things: the rideability, the fact that she was overachieving. I could have made a better decision to the double. Today we felt more together, and tomorrow I can ride her and trust her more.”
She thought the rail at 5A, the London Montage, was due to overriding. “It was a forward four anyway, so I had a little speed and I was overriding, so it made her a little flat,” said Madden.
Kessler was unfazed by the 4-fault rounds before her. “I really wanted to be the first American to bring home a clean round,” she said.
But it was not to be. She said the 10-year-old Belgian Warmblood mare (Skippy II—Verona van de Rutterhoeve, Darco) made a big effort at the first fence in the Great Fire of London triple, and she didn’t quite get the scope she needed for the second jump in the combination. However, Kessler blamed the rail at 9 squarely on herself.
“After having the time fault yesterday, in that long gallop [to 9], I just got a little too flat,” she said. “I don’t normally have time faults. I came out, and I was 4 seconds under.”
Fellers is one of 12 riders with no penalties so far, but he was completely focused on the team result for the time being.
“We only have 8 faults. It’s going to be a different course and a different day tomorrow,” he said. “That’s what’s great about sport. Anything can happen.
“I didn’t think the Olympics would be easy,” he continued. “It was unfortunate yesterday with Beezie. That was a little jolt to the whole team. We had some unlucky things today. McLain wasn’t really pleased with how he got to that water. That happens. He’s a very accurate rider. That’s not going to happen again. Beezie was, like anybody, riding a little bit defensive after yesterday and maybe overrode a little bit into the double there. That’s not going to happen again. We can rebound.”
U.S. Chef d’Equipe George Morris switched Fellers to last in the order, instead of leaving Madden as the anchor. “That was strategically a good decision,” said Fellers. “I just like clear rounds. I don’t care when I go in the order, if I’m first or last. All I think about is what it’s going to take to keep the rails up.”
Although the 16-year-old Irish Sport Horse (Cruising—Flex, Safari) doesn’t jump with classic form, Fellers knows exactly what he needs to do to get the most out of the stallion. For instance, he knew the open water might be an issue. “He’s never been a classical water jumper. He doesn’t jump up much. He jumps out, and he’s small, so that’s tough when he doesn’t get in the air much,” said Fellers. “I gave him a little reminder; I tapped him with my stick off the ground, which I do occasionally when I really want a clear water jump. It made him a little aggressive when he landed, but fortunately we had time, and I had a dog leg turn to get him on his hocks.”
Tight Team Competition
Tomorrow’s second round of team competition will be the Saudis’ to win or lose. Prince Abdullah al Saud rode Davos to a perfect clear today as did Ramzy al Duhami with Bayard van de Villa There, and Kamal Bahamdan added only 1 time fault with Noblesse des Tess. Abdullah Waleed Sharbatly, who almost missed the Games due to a ban for controlled medication substances but received a last-minute reduction to his suspension from the Court of Arbitration for Sport, was the drop score with 4 faults on Sultan.
“My mare was amazing,” said Bahamdan. “There was only one moment when I let her down, and I relied 100 percent on her heart to bring us through.”
“I cannot describe my feelings. I am so happy,” said al Saud, who jumped in the steady rain that persisted throughout the morning. “What with the weather, the London bus and the Tower Bridge [jumps on the course], I felt like I was sight-seeing today.”
Of the eight teams that will jump for the medals, two will only have three riders. Brazil’s Wilexo, ridden by Carlos Motta Ribas, was withdrawn today after the horse stopped out at the third fence on course yesterday.
“In the warm-up the day before he had a big leg,” said teammate Rodrigo Pessoa. “In the first round he wasn’t good. He didn’t really want to go. The horse is 9 years old, and he wasn’t going to improve anything today, so our vet pulled him out.”
Canada is also down a rider due to a controversial decision by the Fédération Equestre Internationale Veterinary Commission. Tiffany Foster’s Victor was disqualified under the FEI’s hypersensitivity protocol. Click here to read the full story.
Lisen Fredricson, who fell off Matrix yesterday, rode today and posted a 4-fault round for Sweden. She ended up going to the hospital after her fall and was very sore. “I had an injury to my hip and thigh, and this morning I was 99 percent certain that I would not be riding today,” she said. “But I worked the horse and made the decision to ride. I could’ve done better, but it’s very difficult to focus your mind when you are hurting in your body.”
French rider Simon Delestre nearly came to grief at the final fence on the course with Napoli du Ry. His right rein broke at the bit as he was heading toward the jump, and the horse veered left. Somehow, he managed to re-present his horse and cleared the final fence, only incurring 4 faults for the stop and 2 time penalties.
The second round of team competition will begin at 2 p.m. tomorrow BST. Of the 52 riders who will jump, 22 will only be fighting for a spot in the individual rounds. This includes many riders from the eliminated teams such as reigning World Champion Philippe le Jeune of Belgium as well as his three teammates, Germany’s Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum and Marchus Ehning, and France’s Kevin Staut, Olivier Guillon and Delestre.
The remaining 30 will jump for their teams. Most of those will also hope to make the individual final, but some, like Madden, were eliminated from the individual competition on the first day. Only the 35 riders with the best scores from all three rounds will go forward to contest the individual medals, and only three riders may compete from any one country.
Find full results on the London 2012 website.