All posts by Nancy Jaffer

Rio show jumping under way; Germany, Brazil on top

 

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.

WEG sj day 2 Sept. 3 no. 1763 Kent Farrington and Voyeur 300dpi
Kent Farrington and Voyeur were clean for the USA in Rio. (Photo copyright by Nancy Jaffer)

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.

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Finally, it’s bronze for the US team in Rio

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.

bronze medal dressage team
The U.S. bronze medal dressage team: Allison Brock, Laura Graves, Kasey Perry, Steffen Peters. (Photo by Shannon Brinkman)

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.

 

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USA poised for podium in GP dressage

The U.S. climbed to third place (76.971) in the team rankings in Rio, with bravura performances by its last two riders under pressure, Steffen Peters with Legolas (77.614) now standing sixth individually, and anchor Laura Graves on Verdades (78.071), fifth.

Legs behaved himself and was good in his bogey movement, the one-tempis. Things look bright going into Friday’s Grand Prix Special, which will decide the medals.

“It’s going to be a tight, tight horse race, so to speak,” commented Steffen, but he notes team spirit has helped boost the USA.

“There’s so much camaraderie on our team. We’ve been training together for three months, and every day, we all watch each other. Every day we come to the barn and there is a big group hug.”

Laura and Diddy got 9’s for pirouttes and passage, balancing 5.9 in the one-tempis and 6.3 for a less-than-perfect lead change out of the zig-zags.

wc freestyle april 18 no. 8700 laura graves pats verdades 300dpi
Laura Graves and Verdades have a special relationship. (Photo by Nancy Jaffer)

“My horse was really super,”  said Laura, who is coached by Olympian Debbie McDonald.

“I’m very happy with the feeling he gave me today and the way the training is reflecting in the arena.I’m really happy with the pirouettes and the passage-piaffe, which is a talent for this horse, but not so much in the arena when he’s not sure where to be with his big legs. I feel that’s really improved in the last two months.”

The other team members, Allison Brock (Rosevelt) and Kasey Perry-Glass (Dublet) who rode on the first day of the Grand Prix, also will compete in the Special

Of course, Germany was dominant, with a team mark of 81.295. Britain was able to soar into second among the teams with Valegro’s 85.071 to put the Brits at 79.252. The world record holder in everything GP dressage got bouquets of 10s from the judges for movements from halt/salute to pirouette and extended trot.

This is likely Valegro’s last competitive outing. Why not go out when you’re ahead? Expect a big retirement ceremony at London’s Olympia show. Then maybe he’ll be performing exhibitions, but it won’t be the same without the giant of the sport.

The Netherlands is without the advantage of a drop score after Adelinde Cornelissen retired Parzival yesterday when the 19-year-old horse suffered ill-effects  of a bug bite. So the Dutch stand just behind the U.S. on 76.043, which means the U.S. team has to continue to produce top scores for the GPS if they want to fulfill their dreams and stand on the podium. Sweden (75.319) and Denmark (74.270) make up the rest of the six teams that will field all their riders in the GPS, along with the top eight individuals who are not part of a qualified team.

After the GPS, the top 18 will go for the individual medals. If Valegro keeps up his side, he should win his second straight individual Olympic gold medal with Charlotte Dujardin. Hard to believe Britain had never won a dressage medal until it took double gold at the 2012 Games.

World Number one Kristina Broring-Sprehe of Germany on Desperados stands second with an 82.257, even with a 6.4 for her horse’s not ideal zig-zag.  Right behind in third was her teammate, Isabell Werth on Weiheigold, with 81.029 as her country’s anchor rider. Depending on how she does in Rio, world number two Isabell is poised to overtake the Olympic medal record of Germany’s legendary Reiner Klimke (whose daughter, Ingrid, was on Germany’s silver medal eventing team in Rio).

Standing fourth is yet another German, Dorothee Schneider on Showtime, world number three. They were marked at 80.986. Figure the individual silver and bronze medals will belong to two of those three Germans.

It was nice to see the stands with a few more people today. The weather was better and the top riders of each team were going, so that was the lure, although as I’ve said, Brazil isn’t a GP dressage country. It finished 10th of 11 teams.

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Plenty of action on Rio GP Dressage day 1

You may have thought things would calm down once eventing moved out of the Deodoro Equestrian Center and the spotlight shifted to Grand Prix dressage, but no.

The biggest surprise of the day was Adelinde Cornelissen’s decision to retire from the ring partway through her ride with the 19-year-old Parzival, leaving the Dutch with a three-member team, no drop score and a real job to take the bronze medal they were predicted to win.

The horse had a bad reaction to an insect bite, and after treatment it was decided he should go for it.  But it wasn’t working and Adelinde retired early in her test. I remembered when he was eliminated for blood in the mouth at the 2010 WEG, and it was a bit of deja vu today to see him sadly leaving the ring.

Germany was as predicted, with Dorothee Schneider and the lovely Showtime getting the only score over 80 percent, 80.986, with Sonke Rothenberger, the youngest on the team fairly close behind aboard Cosmo at 77.329. That brought up another memory, his parents on the podium at the Atlanta Games 20 years ago.

Germany leads with an average of 79.157 percent, while Britain is at 74.921 after Fiona Bigwood finished third on 66.157 with Orthilia. Her score and that of Spencer Wilton on Super Nova, tied for seventh on 72.686, might be a case of “you ain’t seen nothin’ yet” after Brits Carl Hester (Nip Tuck) and  Charlotte Dujardin (Valegro) get finished tomorrow on the second day of GP dressage.

The USA’s Olympic debutantes were great. Allison Brock and Rosevelt tied with Spencer, while Kasey Perry-Glass is an amazing fifth with Dublet on 75.229. She was right behind Holland’s Edward Gal with Glock’s Voice, not quite where I expected him to be at 75.251. His total is the only one counting for the Netherlands at the moment, which technically puts the Dutch second or definitely not, if you average it with the non-score of Adelinde..

kasey perry-glass and dublet
Kasey-Perry Glass and Dublet had the high score for the U.S. on Wednesday. (Photo copyright Shannon Brinkman)

The U.S., which has an average of 73.357 for fourth (or third, depending on how you consider the Netherlands is, of course, aspiring to the podium that many felt would be dominated by Germany, Britain and the Dutch. As I said in my preview, I saw the Dutch as the weak link, which might enable the U.S. to grab the bronze. But watch out for Sweden, at 73.357. Denmark is sixth at 71.064.

After the second half of the team riders go on Thursday, the top six squads will compete for the medals on Friday in the Grand Prix Special. The standings could change drastically on Thursday, as such strong contenders as Steffen Peters and Laura Graves for the U.S. and Beatriz Ferrer-Salat for Spain have their turn.

Not many people were in the stands on a dull gray day, but then, GP Dressage isn’t a big sport in Brazil.

There was news on the show jumping front as France’s Simon Delestre dropped out following the revelation that his mount, Ryan, had a microfracture of his hock. As number two in the world, Simon was a powerful medal weapon for his homeland. He’s being replaced by Olympic veteran Philippe Rozier.

I hope you’ve been following my tweets at twitter.com@nancyjaffer. I’ll be at it again tomorrow, so check in with me.

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Jung is gold again, Nicolas silver and USA’s Dutton bronze in Rio

Few things in the Rio Olympic eventing competition have played out exactly as planned, but one important medal did, with individual gold going as expected to the (insert your own superlative here, fabulous is mine) Michael Jung of Germany and his stalwart mount, Sam.

They defended their title from London 2012, becoming only the third back-to-back winners of eventing Olympic gold in the history of the Games. They both are excellent in every phase and an incredible pleasure to watch.

Interestingly, Sam was Michael’s second choice for Rio. I was surprised at Rolex Kentucky when he told me Fischer Takinou was his first option for the Games, but after that horse got sick, he was back to 16-year-old Sam. And Sam, he had told me a year earlier, is his favorite horse.

And now everyone could see why. A doll in the dressage, even though he wasn’t first in that segment, he added nothing to his score through a tremendously influential cross-country course, a challenging first round of show jumping today and then the final round of show jumping, finishing on 40.9 penalties.

Despite a pole down and 2 time penalties, France’s Nicolas Astier and Piaf de B’Neville took the silver on 48, while the USA’s Phillip Dutton earned his first individual medal, the bronze, after six Olympics and two team golds for his birth nation, Australia.

Phillip wasn’t aboard the team’s first choice for him. But when Fernhill Cubalawn had to bow out, Happy (as Mighty Nice is known) was there to fill in. With a rail in the individual jumping, his score was 51.8, just ahead of Australia’s Sam Griffiths and Paulank Brockagh (53.1).

Sam’s countryman, Christopher Burton on 9-year-old Santano II was second after dressage to Britain’s William Fox-Pitt and Chilli Morning, but moved up to first after cross-country as a refusal and time dropped William down the ranks to 22d. Chris was first after cross-country and third after this morning’s first jumping round, but two poles pulled in the afternoon landed him in fifth place for the final standings.

Double clear today put miracle William (recovered from a critical head injury suffered last year) into 12th place. It wasn’t the medal the British rider had sought, but still, who would have thought he’d even be competing in Rio after an accident from which a lesser man would still be recovering?

Boyd Martin, the only other U.S. rider coming through to show jumping, dealt well with a tired Blackfoot Mystery, an ex-racehorse who did others of his former profession proud. He wound up 16th with two poles in the first round this morning and three this afternoon. Boyd and the horse are a good match; they both gave all they had to give.

Mark Todd of New Zealand, the last person to win back-to-back eventing gold (1984 and 1988 with Charisma), was in sight of a medal after cross-country, but dropped to 11th after four rails with Leonidas II in the team jumping, where his nation gave up its medal hopes. At 60, he was hoping for a medal. That obviously didn’t work out, for him or the Kiwi team, but he made a terrific comeback in the individual round that put him seventh.

At the Pan American Games last year, I was impressed by Brazil eventing team member Ruy Fonseca’s sportsmanship when he lost gold with a knockdown by his horse, Tom Bombadil, at the last fence. Today, he did that one better. When Tom stopped at a jump and bumped down a rail, Ruy tumbled over his head. Unfazed, he stood, smiled and cheerfully replaced the errant pole in the cups. Cool guy.

Guilherme Jorge, who will design the grand prix show jumping courses later in the Games, made the route shorter for the second round today (these horses have done a LOT of jumping, after all) and the time allowed was more lenient than in the morning.

I will be keeping an eye on Grand Prix dressage starting tomorrow, so follow my comments on Twitter.com@nancyjaffer and return to nancyjaffer.com for another story in the On the Rail section.

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Eventing gold for France, Germany silver, Aussies bronze

The team eventing at Rio ended with France (169 penalties) getting its second-ever Olympic gold medal in the sport (the first was 2004), as New Zealand dropped out of contention with, surprisingly, four rails from Sir Mark Todd.

Australia’s leading man, Chris Burton, had two rails with the 9-year-old Santano II as his team claimed the bronze (175.3) rather than gold as a result, while the usual flawless clear from Germany’s defending individual champ Michael Jung and Sam boosted that nation to silver (172.8) after consecutive team golds at the last two Olympics.

The tight 80-second time allowed on the course designed by the brilliant Guilherme Jorge of Brazil caused problems, as riders pressed their horses to make it and often slid rails in the process.

The top 25 are coming back this afternoon to jump for individual medals. Unlike the world championships, the Olympic criteria will not allow two medals to be given for one effort; hence the second jumping round for individual honors. Just what horses need after a grueling cross-country.

The U.S. did not finish a team after Clark Montgomery and Lauren Kieffer’s problems on yesterday’s cross-country, but Phillip Dutton had only 1 time penalty this morning on Mighty Nice and remains in contention for individual honors, standing fourth with 47.8 penalties, a mere 2.2–less than a rail–behind Chris Burton. Michael Jung leads the way to defend his 2012 title on 40.9 penalties, while Nicholas Astier of France is third with 45.6  after his clean round. Boyd Martin is coming back, too, with Blackfoot Mystery, but the ex-racehorse had two rails in the morning session which leaves him at 58.9 in seventh place.

Other team placings were New Zealand (178.8), fourth; Britain (252.10), fifth; Netherlands (252.6) sixth and Brazil (280.9) seventh with huge support from fans for their home country. Good on them for finishing ahead of such strong eventing countries as Ireland, Canada and the U.S. Only the U.S. and Russia failed to finish without three riders completing through cross-country. The Russians had just three riders to begin with, and one didn’t start cross-country.

I will keep you posted; check back later this afternoon and meanwhile, I’ll log a running commentary with my posts on twitter.com@nancyjaffer.

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U.S. event team out at Rio; Boyd and Phillip in individual race

rolex ky cc april 30 2016 phllip dutton and mighty nice 300dpi

Everyone said Frenchman Pierre Michelet’s cross-country course would make a difference in the Olympic eventing standings and boy, did it, just as it had in the 2014 World Equestrian Games.

It was a real Olympic cross-country course for the first time since the 2000 Games in Sydney. There was nothing soft about it and plenty of thrills and lots of spills (but happily no serious injuries) along the winding route at the Deodoro equestrian center in Rio.

Favorites, both teams and individuals, fell by the wayside. The last water was highly influential, as many riders had trouble managing a straight enough line to take a second brush there, or on the way out to jump a narrow frog, which had yellow strips painted on it at the last minute so it would be more visible to horses.

The USA’s Clark Montgomery, who looked going into the Rio Games as if he had a shot at an individual medal with Loughan Glen, found himself on a horse who wasn’t interested in going cross-country today and retired after refusals that showed the horse’s mindset all too well.

Then his teammate Lauren Kieffer had a twisting jump at a vertical gate with Veronica, and both hit the ground. Neither was hurt, but for a second I flashed back to Veronica’s former rider, Karen O’Connor, who broke her back in an eventing career-ending fall with that mare.

That finished the U.S. for team medals, but pathfinder Boyd Martin had only 3.2 time penalties with the thoroughbred Blackfoot Mystery to hover in sixth place on 50.9 penalties, not too, too far from the podium. Then six-time Olympian Phllip Dutton rode brilliantly as anchor of a team that no longer was in play to bring Mighty Nice home with 3.2 time penalties as well for a score of 46.8 in fifth place. The most dramatic moment of his ride came when he lost his stirrup as “Happy” jumped sort of sideways over a brush. But Phillip persisted, got the stirrup back and nearly made the optimum time.

Australia leads with 150.3 penalties, little more than a show jumping rail ahead of New Zealand (154.8) while France is third with 161. But the Aussies and Kiwis have only three riders still in the game, so no drop score. Even more important, they are out as a team if one of their horses fails the Tuesday morning trot-up. France, third with 161, still has four riders participating.

Germany, favored to take the gold again, has only three riders with the elimination of former reserve rider Julia Krajewski after three refusals. They are on 172.8. Britain dropped to seventh with 252.1 penalties as overnight leader from dressage, William Fox-Pitt, dropped from  first to 22d after a refusal with the stallion Chilli Morning. It was the end of a fairytale for William, who struggled back from what could have been a career-ending head injury and seemed in line to realize his dream of an Olympic individual medal.

Burton Christopher, AUS, Santano II Olympic Games Rio 2016 © Hippo Foto - Dirk Caremans 08/08/16
Chris Burton of Australia, the leader in Rio eventing after cross-country with Santano II. (© Hippo Foto – Dirk Caremans)

 

Australia’s Christopher Burton moved into the lead with Santano II, adding nothing to his dressage score of 37.6. Ditto defending gold medalist Michael Jung of Germany, clean on his dressage score of 40.9 with Sam and 14 seconds under the optimum time to boot. France’s Nicholas Astier also was fault-free to stand third with Piaf de B’Neville.

New Zealand’s Mark Todd, the two-time Olympic individual gold medalist (1984 and 1988) had two time penalties for 46 total in fourth place. On paper, Phillip and Boyd don’t have an ideal shot at a podium spot, but with the horse inspection yet to come, and show jumping course by ace grand prix jumping designer Guilherme Jorge yet to come, never say never.

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No tidings of joy for U.S. eventers in Rio

The U.S., seventh after the first day of eventing dressage, moved up to a tie (137.5 penalties) for sixth with New Zealand today after the conclusion of the first phase at the Deodoro complex.

All is not lost, with a tough cross-country test slated for tomorrow, in which the riders must be as clever as French course designer Pierre Michelet. Expect a lot of glance-offs on tricky corners if they don’t deal properly with his signature style of distances.

So things could change, but perhaps more among the top four than below that. Germany leads the way as expected on 122 penalties, with 122.2 for second-place France (I told you to watch them in my Rio preview). Australia is third at 126.4, followed by Britain (127.7), whose William Fox Pitt held his first-day edge on Chilli Morning in the individual standings.

Nice to see Ireland in fifth (135.6), as eventing is the only discipline in which that country has a team this time around. (You remember all the controversy over them not qualifying a squad for the show jumping).

A lot was expected of the U.S. team, being coached for the first time at the Olympics by 2000 Olympic individual gold medalist David O’Connor. But it wound up with pathfinder Boyd Martin on Blackfoot Mystery being the discard score (47.7) in 35th place out of 65 starters. Lauren Kieffer stands 33d on 47.3 penalties after a slightly tense Veronica bobbled in the flying change sequence and was marked with 4’s for the collected canter.

Temperatures were in the low 90s, with uncovered grandstands that looked to me to be 70 percent empty (and I’m being generous here.) Beach volleyball, I noticed, wasn’t a sell-out either. The dressage arena still has plenty of atmosphere, which has affected some of the horses.

Lots of breaks in the trot, some jigging in the walk and distracted flying changes. Hey, even defending champ Michael Jung of Germany on Sam had a flying change problem yesterday that moved him down today to fifth place (40.9). His teammate, Ingrid Klimke on Hale-Bob OLD slotted in ahead of him in fourth (39.5).

A lovely ride from France’s Mathieu Lemoine on Bart L earned two 8’s and a 7.5 for his final flying change and he wound up third with 39.2. Do you think the French know how to ride Pierre’s cross-country courses? I’ll bet they do.

U.S. anchor rider Phillip Dutton on Mighty Nice was doing mighty nicely, getting 7’s for his extended and medium walk, and then had a scrambled flying change. That put him at 43.6, good enough for 15th place to become the top American. Clark Montgomery, who had that honor yesterday, moved down to 24th with his score of  46.6 from yesterday.

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Rio Day 1 eventing dressage, where’s the USA?

rolex ky sj no. 1731 william fox-pitt 2012 headshot 300dpi
William Fox-Pitt took the lead in Rio for the first day of eventing dressage. (Photo by Nancy Jaffer)

Good on William Fox-Pitt of Great Britain for coming back from a devastating head injury that kept him off a horse for months last year. He had a lovely dressage test in Rio today with Chilli Morning to take the lead in the eventing with a score of 37 penalties.

“All along Rio has been my target, totally. It was unrealistic, but it was mine,” William said.

“I was in a coma for a couple of weeks and my sight was quite dodgy, I went from blind to seeing double, so when I started jumping, there were two jumps. It’s been a journey, but I’ve had so much support! Mentally I was very tired, I probably still am. I feel like I’m waking up, but slowly.”

With much respect, admiration and congratulations to William, I have to say that personally, I preferred the test of Australia’s Chris Burton, which earned a 37 on Santano II. I like the more flowing way that horse moves.

Everyone anticipated that defending Olympic champion Michael Jung of Germany would top William and Chris, but his score got a debit when Sam FBW anticipated a lead change and switched from the counter-canter in the serpentine, which earned him a lowly mark of 4 for that movement. He wound up with 40.9 penalties, good enough for third individually.

With half the riders on 12 teams gone (the rest ride Sunday), Germany as expected leads the way on 82.5 penalties. Australia is second (83.9), Britain third (84.2) and France fourth (85.4). The U.S. is seventh on 94.3. Boyd Martin earned 47.7 (17th place) with a competent ride on the thoroughbred Blackfoot Mystery, for whom dressage isn’t a strong point. The big anticipation was for today’s other U.S. rider, Clark Montgomery on Loughan Glen, touted by many (including me) as an individual medal possibility.

But Glen kept anticipating, breaking into the canter from the trot on the rail and in the half-pass, as well as switching off from the counter-canter to be marked at 46.6, good enough for 10th at this point.

Any hope of a comeback to medal territory for the U.S. will hinge on how tough the cross-country is and whether it can scramble the scores for those able to handle it. You probably can bet Michael Jung will finish on his dressage score, but what about the others?

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Who’s your pick for Olympic medals? These are mine

It’s here, finally, the often-controversial but long-awaited Rio Olympics.

Saturday morning the eventers start off the equestrian competition with their dressage phase, so it’s time to offer my thoughts on who will win the medals.

The least-predictable of the equestrian disciplines is eventing, because cross-country can throw a wrench into the efforts of the most accomplished horse/rider pairing. And while sometimes the Olympic cross-country is considered a touch soft (the better for those from less-advanced eventing countries to get around without major disasters) the fact that Frenchman Pierre Michelet is laying out the route means this course should be quite decisive.

Pierre was the designer for the 2014 World Equestrian Games in Normandy, where his technical track and the hilly terrain took their toll. Deodoro, home of the equestrian competition in Rio, also has hills, and as in Normandy, a good number of riders doubtless will find they don’t know the answers to some of the designer’s questions.

The man with all the answers, however, should be defending individual titleist Michael Jung of Germany, a former world champion who will be aboard his most experienced mount, Sam FBW.

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Will Michael Jung and Sam repeat their 2012 Olympic success in Rio? (Photo by Nancy Jaffer)

Michael is going for double individual gold. If he achieves it, that will be the first time it’s been done in the sport since 1988, when Mark Todd of New Zealand achieved it on Charisma.

At the same time, Michael is expected to lead the German team to gold. He will be backed up by current world champion Sandra Auffarth on Opgun Louvo and veteran Ingrid Klimke (her father was individual and team dressage gold medalist at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics and brought medals home from a bunch of other Games as well.) She will be on Hale-Bob Old.

Andreas Ostholt, the fourth member of the team, was replaced in the wake of So Is Et losing a shoe. Even though Andreas’ horse passed the jog, team officials didn’t want to take a chance. Julia Krajewski was chosen to take his spot with Samourai du Thot. But remember, only three scores count.

Even so, anything can happen, and there are other teams that have a good shot at the medals. Australia, New Zealand, fast-rising France and perhaps even Brazil, with the home country wind at this squad’s back.

Britain looks to be weaker than usual, though you can’t count out any squad that has William Fox-Pitt. Will he be the same William he was before a devastating accident last fall took him out of the game for months? We’ll see.

The U.S. has Olympic experience in Boyd Martin (Blackfoot Mystery) and especially Phillip Dutton (Mighty Nice), who earned Olympic team gold twice with the squad from his native Australia before becoming an American. Games newbies Lauren Kieffer (Veronica) and Clark Montgomery (Loughan Glen) should be well up to the task. Experts consider Clark the best chance the U.S. has for an individual medal, and the team shouldn’t be counted out of the medal race. But figure that after Germany, France and New Zealand have shorter odds to stand on the podium.

Dressage, in contrast to eventing, is the most predictable of the equestrian disciplines. As U.S. coach Robert Dover puts it, “regardless of whether it’s Germany, Rio or London, we’re still basically in a sandbox that’s exactly like the sandbox in Wellington or Aachen.”

Germany is incredibly strong, with numbers 1, 2 and 3 on the international ranking list offering an air of invincibility for its squad. Kristina Broring-Sprehe (Desperados FRH); Isabell Werth (Weiheigold OLD) and Dorothee Schneider (Showtime FRH) are unlikely to be nudged off the top step of the podium, even with a British team anchored by Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro, the record holders for the Grand Prix, the Special and the Freestyle. Charlotte’s mentor and 2012 gold medal teammate, Carl Hester, will be right in there with Nip Tuck, and the two other members of that squad should support the stars admirably for silver.

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Could Valegro end his competitive career with another individual gold for 2012 star Charlotte Dujardin? (Photo by Nancy Jaffer)

The Dutch could be contenders for the bronze, but if there is a weak link among the potential team medalists, they’re it. And the U.S. has been working hard for a chance to ascend that podium with an impressive squad of Steffen Peters (Legolas), the only Olympic veteran; Laura Graves (Verdades), Allison Brock (Rosevelt) and Kasey Perry-Glass (Goerklintgaard’s Dublet). Sweden would seem most likely to be fifth.

Individually, Charlotte looks as if she will claim her second Olympic individual gold in what likely is Valegro’s last competition. Pick two of the Germans for the other individual placings.

Show jumping also may go to the Germans to make it an equestrian clean sweep for that nation (Christian Ahlmann is the world’s number one at the moment), but this actually is the USA’s chance for gold. Kent Farrington (Voyeur) and McLain Ward (HH Azur) are fourth and fifth in the world rankings, behind France’s Simon Delestre and Penelope Leprevost. Also on the U.S. team — the same one that took bronze at the 2014 WEG, with the exception of HH Azur — is Beezie Madden (Cortes C), individual bronze medalist at the WEG, and Lucy Davis, who has turned in fault-free round after fault-free round on Barron in the selection observation events.

The French, obviously, are a real threat, but the British–who took gold in London four years ago–have only one returning rider/horse combination, Nick Skelton on Big Star. The Dutch, world champions, can medal if they ride up to their 2014 level.

Teams less likely to figure, but still in with a chance are Sweden, Qatar, Ukraine and maybe Brazil, with former U.S. chef d’equipe George Morris coaching.

The 2012 individual gold medalist Steve Guerdat of Switzerland (also the 2015 World Cup champion) is trying for his double on Nino des Buissonnets.

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Perhaps 2012 individual show jumping gold medalist Steve Guerdat of Switzerland will have a repeat on Nino des Buissonets. (Photo copyright by Nancy Jaffer)

What are the odds of all three individual gold medalists repeating their 2012 London success in Rio, with the same horses, yet. It’s an interesting and exciting possibility.

But the USA could have a show jumping spoiler in McLain, who’s ready for the biggest moment of his career.

If you saw the opening ceremonies, you’re geared up for the Games. Whether it’s via computer, tablet, phone or TV, be sure to follow the equestrians and cheer them on.

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