USA, Germany, Dutch and Brazil tied in Rio; read George Morris’ comments

I know the Olympic show jumping has been a bit hard to follow, with the teams and individuals on seemingly separate tracks, as the opener on Sunday was only to place teams in the order of go, while for the individuals, it counted big time.

WEG sj day 1 sept. 2 no. 1341 x Lucy Davis Barron 300dpi
Lucy Davis, the youngest member of the U.S team, was clear today on Barron

So although the U.S. was down the line on Sunday, today American riders shone, with clears from Lucy Davis (Barron), Kent Farrington on Voyeur (the only one who also was clear Sunday) and McLain Ward (Azur). Just the best three out of four count, so anchor rider Beezie Madden’s toppled pole and water jump fault with Cortes C was the team’s drop score. Together with a rail from Sunday, that knocks her out of individual contention.

“It was a short seven up the first line, and maybe I was a little casual about the back rail, and then he clipped that,” Beezie said about her knockdown at fence 3.

“The water has been riding difficult all day. I just didn’t quite get across. I think he actually finished better than he started in the course, so hopefully tomorrow we’re in good shape.”

I had been thinking Cortes, her individual and team bronze horse at the 2014 WEG, wasn’t at his sharpest this season. It’s quite an art getting a horse ready for the Games, what with all the observation events and fitness required to get them to peak at the right time.

But as expected, the USA is leading after the first round of the team jumping, tied with the Netherlands (world champions), Germany (the faves to medal in Rio) and Brazil.

Brazil?

Let me blow my horn a bit; I did pick them as a key contender in previews, and not only because they are “at home” and the crowd is behind them. Having former U.S. coach George Morris on their side as coach is a big plus in any team’s book.

I spoke to George after today’s jumping at the Deodoro Equestrian Center and he emphasized, “I have two teams.” While he’s in the kiss-and-cry stand (where team officials and family observe competition) when the Brazilians are going, he is still thrilled that America is doing so well.

“I’m beholden to the States,” he said, and of course, the U.S. is beholden to him as well–not only for his team coaching, but also for his system of equitation and horsemanship that has been a key to American success.

He emphasized that he isn’t changing the riding style of his Brazilian team members; that isn’t his function in the relatively brief time he has had with them. Rather, he calls himself “a supporter,” who tries “to keep it all structured.”

One of his methods is going over and over–and over–the route of the course with each rider, to get it into their subconscious and give them confidence.

There had been a small kerfuffle when Rodrigo Pessoa–a former Olympic and world champion–was not named to the squad and selected as alternate, but based on current form, it turns out the right four were picked. Brazil had three clears and one 8-fault round today, and they’re riding high.

Course designer Guilherme Jorge (who we see so often in the U.S., he’s setting up house in Wellington, Fla.,) did it again with a route that enabled 21 of 69 starters to sail through with no penalties, while posing puzzles that stumped those at the lower end of the scale. That’s how it should be, and he’s a master of bringing the best to the top. Brazil is lucky to have one of its own so eminently qualified to lay out the floorplans on the country’s biggest-ever equestrian stage.

The 4.3-meter water obstacle was pesky once again, as it had been in Sunday’s round, and 19 faulted there, including Australia’s Scott Keach who fell off before the jump when his horse refused. It was seven strides from an oxer to the water (laid out going away from the ingate, which makes it harder), so riders really had to rev without overdoing it at the oxer as they thought about the H20.

The teams you’d expect to be near the top are France, fifth with just 1 time fault total (those time faults can be expensive, though) and Canada, with 4, in sixth place. (Keep an eye on them, they have Eric Lamaze, the 2008 individual Olympic gold medalist with the stellar Fine Lady).

Tied for seventh on 8 are Sweden and Switzerland. It was disappointing to see the latter’s defending champ, Steve Guerdat, have 8 faults–including the water–on Nino des Buissonets. The 2012 Olympic gold medalists in eventing and dressage repeated their feat here in the individual standings, and if Steve could have done the same, it would have been an unprecedented sweep for former champs. But he’s behind the tide right now, so it seems unlikely.

In the individual standings, Kent, the USA’s only double clear (Sunday and today), is tied with Germans Christian Ahlmann, Daniel Deusser and Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum; Peder Fredericson (Sweden), Pedro Veniss and Doda de Miranda (Brazil), Harrie Smolders and Maikel van der Vleuten, (Netherlands), Sergio Alvarez Moya (Spain) and Eric Lamaze (Canada).

“I wouldn’t say it’s massive in size yet, but I am sure that’s to come,” Kent said of the round one course.

Like George, he noted, “I think tomorrow will be significantly bigger. It’s exactly what you would expect at a championship level. The time allowed is quite short, which I think is going to be a factor either through time faults or rails down because of people worrying about the time. Obviously, I am thrilled with my horse. It was a great start for Team USA.”

Tomorrow is the team finals for the top eight nations. Be sure to check out my running commentary at www.twitter.com/@nancyjaffer.

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