When I find myself in a difficult position, wanting to give up, I will think of Laura Graves and her determination as she went in to the arena in Rio this afternoon to claim bronze for the USA, the first dressage team medal since 2004 for the country.
It was a must-do moment. She and Verdades were cool and delivered, a score of 80.364 that put the U.S. over the Netherlands in a very tight, tough race. The Dutch were handicapped by not having a drop score when Parzival dropped out the other day after suffering ill effects from an insect bite, but that’s the way things go in both sport and life.
Coach Robert Dover had a vision of this moment for years, and he made it come true with the help of Debbie McDonald, who was the developing dressage coach (really like the assistant senior coach) and then the personal coach of Laura and Kasey Perry-Glass (Dublet). Veterans Steffen Peters and Legolas also stood strong for the team, as did Allison Brock–like every team member except Steffen–in her first Olympics. She rode Rosevelt and was coached by Michael Barisone.
Laura has been a study in persistence ever since she got Diddy as an unruly weanling. Through fall after fall, and even one that broke her back, she persisted and established a relationship with the 14-year-old son of Florett As. It has paid off over the years, but never as much as today, when her horse’s talent and her nerves of steel ruled the arena.
Germany won the gold by a mile with 82.577 percent, followed by Britain (77.951)–even with a less-than-perfect performance by Valegro with Charlotte Dujardin up. The U.S. had 76.363, not so far from silver, while the Dutch were fourth on 74.991.
Isabell Werth topped the Special on Wiehegold OLD with 83.711 percent. Her team gold makes her the most decorated Olympic equestrian athlete ever. Charlotte stood second with 83.025 even with a break into the first half pass, scored at a lowly 3.7, not the sort of score you associate with the horse that holds every world dressage record.
Laura’s fifth place matched her final mark at the 2014 World Equestrian Games, when she burst upon the world scene to a chorus of, “Who is that?” There is still a chance to better that mark on Monday, when the freestyle is held for individual honors, with the top 18 competing. Steffen made the cut at 14th. Allie just missed it, finishing 19th. Kasey wound up 22d.
“We’ve captured the elusive 80 percent – it does exist,” said a thrilled Laura, who was one of only five riders to score above 80 percent.
“I knew the test was going well, but you just always hope that your reflections match up with the judges. I had no idea going into the ring what I needed for a score and to see my teammates so happy and then to achieve my personal best score–and a score I’ve been reaching for–was just icing on our cake today.”
If you want to see highlights of the Grand Prix Special, go to MSNBC at 5:15 p.m. today.