The host nation and defending double-champions from the USA scooped the first gold medals of the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games™ when spinning, slide-stopping and galloping to a convincing victory in the Reining Team Championship at The Horse Park in Kentucky today. They dominated the leaderboard when filling first, third, fourth and ninth places and their final score of 674.5 left them almost 10 points clear of Belgium in silver medal position while Italy took bronze. And it was an historic moment for the Belgians as they claimed their first World Championship title in this discipline.
"We were always trying for third place, so silver is a dream come true!" said Belgium's Cira Baeck afterwards. However the team effort produced by the Americans was exceptional and, as US Chef d'Equipe Jeff Petska said, "we came here under a lot of pressure - reining is a big sport on our home soil, but my boys really rose to the occasion".
Tom McCutcheon was first of the Americans into the ring today, and when his score of 224.0 with Gunners Special Nite put him on level-pegging with first-day leader Stefano Massignan from Italy it was clear the home runners were almost untouchable at the head of the leaderboard. But last man in, Shawn Flarida left nothing to chance with RC Fancy Step. "My ride was good and the noise coming from the crowd was deafening" said the 41 year old from Springboro, Ohio who, as leading money-winner in his sport in the US has a huge fan-club of supporters. "I was hoping we could be good today and my horse was really sweet. I'm very lucky to be part of a dream team of horses and riders that have won over $9 million between us!" he said after slotting into the number one spot on a score of 227.0 to seal the gold.
All of the US team members were medal winners at previous FEI World Equestrian Games but Craig Schmersal said today's victory was particularly special. "We may never put together another team like this - we have a great group of riders, and in 20 or 30 years I know I'll be proud and happy to look back and remember I was part of this" he said.
Belgium's silver medal was particularly creditable because first-line rider, Jan Boogaerts, only got the ride on Gumpy Grumpy a few weeks ago. "My own horse got a stifle infection and had to be operated on, I still don't know if he will ever see the show pen again but he's doing OK otherwise" he explained. After losing his own ride he called Belgian Chef d'Equipe Susie Baeck to explain the situation "and she went very quiet" Jan pointed out. But 30 minutes later Susie, who is sister to team-member Cira Baeck, called back to say "we want you on the team - you can have Cira's alternate horse" Jan explained - "so they're the ones who made sure I came here and I'm very grateful to them for that" he said.
As the US team fielded questions during the post-competition press conference they exuded a sense of great relief in having lived up to expectations on their home turf, but one reporter took them by surprise. As she looked up onto the podium at the line-up of the three teams she asked if the US side thought they won because of, or despite, the fact that they were carrying "more kilos of bodyweight" than all the others! The room exploded with laughter, but US Chef d'Equipe Jeff Petska was quick to respond when saying that "this is the World Championships, so we brought a bunch of heavyweights to a heavyweight party!".
The US heavyweights go into Thursday's individual medal decider full of confidence after today's result, but as Shawn Flarida pointed out "that's a whole other day" because all the riders start on a scratch score. "And I know that I will need to be better than I was today and my horse will need to be better than he was" he insisted. Tuesday's second individual qualifier provides those not already qualified with one final chance to make the cut. For now however, its time for the home team to celebrate a superb hat-trick of World Championship Reining titles.
1 - GOLD: USA 674.5 - Hollywoodstinseltown (Tim McQuay) 220.5, Mister Montana Nic (Craig Schmersal) 223.5, Gunners Special Nite 224.0, RC Fancy Step (Shawn Flarida) 227.0.
2 - SILVER: BELGIUM 659.0 - Gumpy Grumpy BB (Jan Boogaerts) 205.0, Whizdom Shines (Ann Poels) 219.5, Peek A Boom (Cira Baeck) 218.0, BA Reckless Chick (Bernard Fonck) 223.5.
3 - BRONZE: ITALY 655.5 - Smart and Shiney (Mrco Ricotta) 0, Yellow Jersey (Stefano Massignan) 224.0, Red Chic Peppy (Dario Carmignani) 216.5, Spat a Blue (Nicola Brunelli) 215.0.
For full results and startlists go to www.alltechfeigames.com
Facts and Figures:
This was the third time for Reining to be included the FEI World Equestrian Games. It was first introduced at Jerez, Spain in 2002.
The USA has won the Reining Team Championship on every occasion since it was first included in the programme of World Championship events.
A total of 10 teams competed including USA, Belgium, Italy, Austria, Canada, Germany, Brazil, Netherlands, Great Britain and Mexico.
Belgian team member Jan Boogaerts, when asked how a European-based rider had such a strong US accent "being such a small country we don't have many dubbed TV shows so I have watched a lot of American TV. I think my accent came from watching Bonanza and Chuck Norris and the Texas Rangers - that's where it came from!"
US Chef d'Equipe Jeff Petska "I feel blessed to be here, I was lucky to be born on the correct continent so that I can do what I do for these great guys".
Alltech - Founded by Dr Pearse Lyons, Alltech is a global animal health and nutrition company with 30 years’ experience in developing natural products that are scientifically proven to enhance animal health and performance. With more than 2300 employees in 120 countries, the company has developed a strong regional presence in Europe, North America, Latin America, the Middle-East, Africa and Asia. For further information, visit www.alltech.com.
The Federation Equestre Internationale (FEI), founded in 1921, is the international body governing equestrian sport recognised by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and includes 133 National Federations.
Equestrian sport has been on the Olympic programme since 1912 with three disciplines - Jumping, Dressage and Eventing. It is one of the very few sports in which men and women compete on equal terms. It is also the only sport which involves two athletes - horse and rider. The FEI has relentlessly concerned itself with the welfare of the horse, which is paramount and must never be subordinated to competitive or commercial influences. For further information, visit www.fei.org
The Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games™ is the World Championship of equestrian sport and runs for 16 days, from Saturday 25 September to Sunday 10 October. It includes eight separate disciplines - Reining, Endurance, Dressage, Eventing, Driving, Jumping, Vaulting and Para-Dressage - and this is the first time for the Games to be held outside Europe.
Audio Links: Interviews with US Reining Chef d'Equipe Jeff Petska and Belgian team member Jan Boogaerts.
Jeff Petska (Chef d'Equipe of US Reining team - gold medallists) http://www.lloydbell.co.uk/access/client_zone/Jeff%20Petska%20-%20Chef%20US%20rein%2026-9.mp3
Jan Boogaerts (Belgium team - Reining Silver) http://www.lloydbell.co.uk/access/client_zone/Jan%20Boogarts%20-%20BEL%20Rein%20Silver%2026-9.mp3
FEI TV - As well as live competition coverage throughout the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games™, FEI TV will make all competitions available post-event via VoD, plus an exclusive daily 30-minute VoD highlights show from the Kentucky Horse Park featuring the best of the day’s action, interviews, previews and reviews. There will also be lots of behind the scenes footage available. Check out www.feitv.org
Photo Caption: The US team claimed team gold for the third consecutive time in the Reining Championship at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games™ in Kentucky, USA today. Photo: FEI/Kit Houghton.