In a series of competitions that could hardly have been choreographed to better effect, Canada claimed the team title while America’s McLain Ward clinched individual gold in Jumping at the Pan-American Games 2015 in Caledon Park, Toronto, Canada.
Thursday’s team tussle was an intriguing battle that proved unpredictable to the end when Argentina filled silver medal spot ahead of the USA in bronze. And it continued in the same vein today when the individual medals were decided in a two-way jump-off for gold and silver as well as a five-way race for the bronze. Venezuela’s Andres Rodriguez went head-to-head with Ward, and although he had to settle for silver his result reflected the consistent theme of the week. The quality of the sport in the region has improved beyond recognition in recent years, and the normally dominant sides had to fight very hard indeed to claim their fair share of the spoils.
Olympic qualification was also hanging in the balance since the action began last Tuesday, and it is Canada and Argentina that have claimed the two team berths for Rio 2016 while two individual qualifying spots have been earned by both Colombia and Venezuela, and one each by Uruguay and Peru.
Course designer, Canada’s Michel Vaillancourt, gave them a gentle introduction on Tuesday when 30 of the 50 starters jumped clear. However it was a very different matter two days later in the team competition, when just four of the 40 team members managed to return a zero score in the first round.
A total of 10 nations - Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Guatemala, Mexico, Uruguay, USA and Venezuela - fielded teams, and it was an unpredictable thriller to the very end. The host country was expected to breeze into one of the Olympic qualifying spots, but at the halfway stage it was Colombia and Argentina who looked set on the road to Rio while Canada was sharing third place with Brazil, Chile lay fifth and the hotly-tipped Americans were lying sixth.
Clears from Daniel Bluman (Conconcreto Sancha LS) and Roberto Teran Tafur (Woklahoma) meant that the single time fault collected by Fernando Cardenas (Quincy Car) was all the Colombians had to count going into the second round. The Argentinians were next in line with two, but Canada carried six, hampered by a seven-fault discard score from Tiffany Foster who had a stop with Tripple X. This meant they had to include the single error from Eric Lamaze (Coco Bongo) and the single time faults of pathfinder Yann Candele (Showgirl) and anchorman Ian Millar (Dixson). But the Canadians and Americans both rallied brilliantly second time out, the host country adding just one more time fault to their tally while all four US riders were foot-perfect.
So when Argentina’s Ramiro Quintana (Whitney), Matias Albarracin (Cannavaro), Luis Pedro Biraben (Abunola) and Jose Larocca Jr (Cornet du Lys) added six to their scoreline, the Canadians sneaked ahead of them by a single penalty point to clinch the gold because the Colombians had disappeared from the reckoning with 14 on their score-sheet second time out. And eight faults for Brazil allowed the USA overtake them for the bronze.
Legendary Canadian team member, Ian Millar, said, “we wanted this so badly for our team and our country!” He acknowledged what a close finish it was, only a single time fault pinning Argentina into silver medal spot. “The last horse (from Argentina) had to have a fault of some kind....and it came down to a fraction of the second in the end”, he admitted.
They may have been nudged out of gold medal spot, but Argentina’s Ramiro Quintana praised the last-to-go run from Jose Larocca Jr - “we needed a clear round and he brought it home” he said. Larocca commented, “it’s huge for Argentina, it’s been many years since we have had a medal at a Championship like this so it’s very important, very encouraging to the young riders in our country.”
Today’s individual final was another nail-biter that went right to the wire, and Larocca was one of just three, from a starting field of 35, who returned a zero score in the first round to leave him on level-pegging with America’s McLain Ward and Venezuela’s Andres Rodriguez. But a mistake in the second round saw the Argentinian battle it out in the five-way jump-off for bronze that took place between all the four-fault riders before the final contest for silver and gold began.
And Larocca was pushed off the medal podium when America’s Lauren Hough added nothing to her first-round error with Ohlala to take the bronze. “I had to fight hard for it!” Hough said after producing the only clear of this jump-off. “For my horse this was her first Championships but she’s done events like Aachen and she seems to get better as the week progresses. I would say the fault I had in the first round, I was too polite at the double planks, but I had a nice position in the jump-off, the three ahead of me had rails down but the one behind was a quick horse so I took a bit of a risk” she explained.
Venezuela’s Rodriguez led the way in the jump-off for gold, and left the door open when racing home with Darlon van Groenhove in the fast time of 39.45 seconds, but leaving one element of the double on the floor. “I was a bit too careful at the first part and had the back part of it. I was very fast because I knew McLain was coming behind, so I risked a bit”, he explained.
Ward kept a cool head to return a clear in 42.89 to take the individual title, admitting that, as so often happens, luck played a part in the end result. “My game plan was to ride the first five fences fast to try to win it two ways - if I had a fence down I would still be fast enough - and I was lucky at the last (fence), I gave that a bit of a rattle. But I’ve never won a big one without a little bit of good fortune!” said the 39-year-old three-time Olympian. Talking about his horse, Rothchild, he pointed out, “I knew the courses would get bigger as the week went on and that would suit him, he’s a blood horse and a stamina test suits him, but today I knew I couldn’t make a mistake - it was a tough day’s work!” he said.
Teams: GOLD - Canada 7 faults: Showgirl (Yann Candele) 1/1, Tripple X (Tiffany Foster) 7/0, Coco Bongo (Eric Lamaze) 4/0, Dixson (Ian Millar) 1/5
SILVER - Argentina 8 faults: Whitney (Ramiro Quitana) 5/0, Cannavaro 9 (Matias Albarracin) 1/6, Abunola (Luis Pedro Biraben) 0/5, Cornet du Lys (Jose Larocca) Jr 1/1
BRONZE - USA 12 faults: Rothchild (McLain Ward) 4/0, Lilli (Georgina Bloomberg) 4/0, Ohlala (Lauren Hough) 4/0, Gazelle (Kent Farrington) 5/0.
Individual: GOLD - Rothchild (McLain Ward) USA 0/0/0 42.89
SILVER - Darlon van Groenhove (Andres Rodriguez) 0/0/4 39.45
BRONZE - Ohlala (Lauren Hough) USA 4/0/0 42.15.
A total of 10 nations lined out for the Pan-American Games 2015 team Jumping title. Only 4 horse-and-rider combinations jumped clear in the first round of the team competition. The time-allowed of 83 seconds proved difficult to get in the first round when 28 of the 40 starters picked up time faults. In round two of the team competition, 24 riders collected time faults. Course designer was Canada’s Michal Vaillancourt who was individual silver medallist at the Montreal Olympics in 1976. The top-35 according to cumulative penalties over the first and second competitions qualified for today’s individual final. Nations with four riders in the top 35 sent forward their three best-placed combinations. America’s McLain Ward won individual gold with Rothchild. He was on the winning US team at the previous Pan-American Games in Guadalajara, Mexico in 2011 where he also finished individually fourth.
The list of teams so far qualified in Jumping for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games now includes, Brazil (automatic qualification), France, Germany, The Netherlands, Sweden and USA (placings at Alltech FEI World Equestiran Games™ 2014 in Normandy), Canada and Argentina (Pan-American Games 2015 in Toronto, Canada), and Qatar (best ranked team from Group F).
The next major Olympic qualification opportunity is at the forthcoming FEI European Jumping Championships 2015 in Aachen, Germany, 11-23 August where three places are on offer to the best ranked teams from Groups A and/or B.