Nearly one-third of the 75 starters made it fault-free through the first jumping qualifier at the Rio Olympic Games, but only one American–Kent Farrington on Voyeur–was among them.
Beezie Madden (Cortes C), McLain Ward (Azur) and Lucy Davis (Barron) each had 4 faults. That’s a total of 8 for the squad (only the three best scores count) but teams start on a score of zero in the first team qualifier Tuesday. So what was this class for?
It determines the order of go on Tuesday, with Germany and Brazil–the latter buoyed no doubt by a near-capacity cheering crowd at the Deodoro Equestrian Center–coming home on zero faults. The U.S. is tied with Britain, Sweden and Spain for eighth place out of 15 teams.
The class was crucial for individuals, however. Only 60 can come through to Tuesday, unless they are part of a team. For instance, a familiar face int the U.S., Daniel Bluman of Colombia, whose country doesn’t have a squad, won’t be seen again because he finished 63d.
But Penelope Leprovost of France, number three in the world, will reappear, despite a startling fall when her mount, Flora de Mariposa stumbled after the liverpool. Penelope lost her reins and her balance, tumbling off for elimination. So she can ride for the team, but has no chance for an individual medal.
It’s tough times for the French. A few days ago, that country’s world number two, Simon Delestre, announced he could not ride because his horse, Ryan, had a microfracture in his hock.
Still, it was good to see reserve rider Phillippe Rozier, along with Roger Yves Bost, working to fill the void with clear rounds.
Steve Guerdat of Switzerland is on track early in the game with a clear on Nino des Buissonnets to try and replicate his individual 2012 gold medal with that horse, the way Germany’s Michael Jung did last week on his 2012 eventing gold medal games mount, Sam. It will be interesting to see in the dressage freestyle tomorrow if Charlotte Dujardin of Great Britain can repeat her 2012 individual gold with Valegro. How cool if all three of the London Games’ individual medalists re-take their titles with the same horse!
Guilherme Jorge’s course for the first qualifier was his usual brilliant effort. If anyone ever deserved to design an Olympic show jumping course, he’s the one. The time allowed was just time enough to make sure riders didn’t dawdle, but they didn’t have to rush, either. I counted only eight time penalties.
Faults were spread around the route, which is a sign of great designing. Particularly influential was the last line, a double with an oxer one stride from a vertical, then five strides to an oxer before the finish line. I called the combination the “trouble double,” because so many either dropped a rail or came to grief there. McLain was nearly home when he had a rail at the “A” element.
We were breathing a sigh of relief when Lucy went through the double, only to topple a pole at the last.
Beezie was fine with the double, but earlier en route, a strong ride to the 4.3-meter water (which caused its own brand of problems, ie, leading to 4 faults for Dutch world champion Jeroen Dubbledam) seemed related to a brick down at the white wall that followed.
Some of those who were too cautious heading for a vertical/vertical/oxer, one-stride/two-stride triple found themselves with knockdowns at that location, so there was a lot to do and a lot to watch.
While the teams start fresh on Tuesday, there is an inkling of how things might go, even though it’s still a long way to the podium after that. The George Morris-coached Brazilians do benefit from the home side advantage, and they’re well-mounted. Canada, not among the early favorites, got clears from its 2008 individual gold medalist, Eric Lamaze on Fine Lady and from Amy Millar on Heros. Amy is the daughter of 10-time Olympian Ian Millar (he holds the record for Olympic participation, but did not have a horse for these Games.)
Her father was in the kiss-and-cry stand for family and staff, wearing his trademark cowboy hat, to cheer her on. Fellow Canadian Tiffany Foster on Tripple X, Ben Maher’s ride for the British 2012 team gold, had only one rail; ditto Yann Candele with First Choice. Canada was tied with the Dutch, the 2014 world champions; Guerdat’s Swiss and France on 4 penalties (again, only the top three scores count.) I don’t think the Brits have the horsepower to medal this time around. Qatar, seventh with 5 penalties, has super horsepower, but the riders lack experience at this level.
Dutch team member Jur Vrieling not only was eliminated from the class after his horse, Zirocco Blue, refused at two different fences, he also was disqualified for over-using the whip.
Rob Ehrens, the Dutch coach, said, “I’ve been a professional rider for 27 years and I know the feeling when everything goes wrong. But this should not happen and will not happen again. While Jur and Zirocco Blue are chasing medals, this has to be handled professionally.”
The rider’s explanation of the situation went this way: “I was encouraging him, saying ‘come on boy, don’t do this again’. I should not have given him these extra pushes. It is stupid, this happened in the heat of the moment, and it will not happen again.”
He will get a chance to start with the Dutch squad (which is tied with 4 faults with France, Canada and Switzerland) on Tuesday in the team qualifier, if the veterinarians deem the horse fit.
Nicola Philippaerts of Belgium, whose Zilverstar refused twice at the B element of the double combination, was eliminated and disqualified for over-use of spurs and will not continue, since he was competing as an individual.
As mentioned above, Monday is the individual final for dressage, the freestyle. Three U.S. riders: Laura Graves, Steffen Peters and Allison Brock, have qualified (no team can have more than three reps in the field of 18.) I will be tweeting on twitter.com/@nancyjaffer, so follow the action with me. And I’ll post another story later in the day in the On the Rail section at www.nancyjaffer.com.