A Great Day for Germany, but the Aussies Hold Team Reins

German riders filled the top two places in the individual rankings as Olympic Eventing got underway at Greenwich Park in London (GBR) today with the first of two days of dressage. Ingrid Klimke, team gold medallist at the Beijing Games equestrian events in Hong Kong four years ago, steered Butts Abraxxas to a score of 39.30 for a narrow lead over Dirk Schrade partnering King Artus. The host nation’s Mary King and Imperial Cavalier slotted into third, just one penalty point further adrift, but it is Australia that heads the team standings.

A total of 37 horse-and-rider combinations lined out, but just seven of the 12 competing nations fielded three riders – the remaining four sending in just two of their five team members, while only one of the three-strong Dutch squad took their turn in accordance with the draw. So while the team leaderboard shows the Aussies on top, with a score of 133.20 for a four-point lead over Germany, and almost 17 points ahead of the third-place team from the USA, there is likely to be some considerable change when the action resumes tomorrow morning.

The atmosphere in the ring was electric from the outset, but America’s Boyd Martin and Otis Barbotiere kept their cool when pathfinders to score 50.70. That was immediately relegated by the 46.20 posted by Chris Burton and HP Leilani which gave the Australians a very strong start indeed. And when Sam Griffiths (Happy Times) put 45.79 on the board and Andrew Hoy (Rutherglen) was even more impressive with 41.70, then the men from Down Under were sitting pretty.

Hoy’s ride was confident and clean, and the four-time Olympic medallist is already assured of making his mark in London by matching the record set by America’s Mike Plumb for most Olympic appearances in Eventing by competing at his seventh Games. But another medal to add to the three team golds won at Barcelona 1992, Atlanta 1996 and Sydney 2000, and individual silver also in Sydney, would be a very nice bonus, and Rutherglen certainly looks fit and ready.

The Australian team has not had the easiest lead-in to Games time, with both Shane Rose and Megan Jones suffering the disappointment of horse injuries leading to a very late call-up for Griffiths just two days ago. But they seem to be coping with all the hiccups with consummate ease and look a real threat at this early stage.

Plenty To Cheeer About
The home fans were given plenty to cheer about when their super-heroine Mary King, whose career as an Olympian spans 20 years, produced yet another of her trademark polished performances with Imperial Cavalier. Nicola Wilson managed to contain the exuberant Opposition Buzz to kick-start the British effort with a mark of 51.70, but King’s 40.90 has pinned them into a secure position, and with Zara Phillips (High Kingdom), Tina Cook (Miners Frolic) and the inimitable William Fox-Pitt (Lionheart) still to come, the home side can look forward to further improvement.

King said her horse was “a bit tense and we made a few little mistakes, particularly at the last flying change, when I lost him. But I’m absolutely delighted to think this was probably the second best Olympic dressage test I have ever done”. The six-time Olympian was feeling very emotional as she left the arena to resounding applause – “I’m not going to cry but I’m close to it with the home crowd all around me and so behind me!” the popular 51-year-old admitted.

Pole Position
It was Klimke who clinched pole position, however, when upstaging team-mate Dirk Schrade with a test that oozed precision, power and accuracy. “I enjoyed the ride, he did a good job,” she said of the 15-year-old Butts Abraxxas. “He’s usually relaxed but he came into the ring a bit spooky,” she explained. “I was happy he listened to me. He was easy and supple to ride so I could go for the extensions, and he was relaxed in his walk so I was able to ride everything totally correct. When a horse is like that you have the chance to get everything totally correct”, she added

She’s already thinking ahead to Monday’s cross-country phase. “It’s a very beautiful course. When we walked it I thought that it’s very clear  to the horses what they have to do and that is good. On Monday I will see how Peter (Thomsen) goes. After he has gone we will have more information,” she said.

There is a lot more dressage to be seen before that happens however, and it is Japan’s Atsushi Negishi and Pretty Darling who are first into the arena tomorrow morning, while former World and European champion Zara Phillips, grand-daughter of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, will be a big crowd-puller when third to go of the remaining 36 who have yet to undertake their dressage challenge.

Facts and Figures
Eventing kicked off the equestrian sports action at the London 2012 Olympic Games in Greenwich Park today.
37 horse-and-rider combinations competed in the first day of Eventing dressage.
7 of the 12 teams were drawn with three riders in today’s start-list.
4 of the remaining five countries had just two riders in action while just one of the three-strong Dutch side did the test.
Australia currently leads the team rankings.
Individual leader is Germany’s Ingrid Klimke with Butts Abraxxas, a member of the gold medal winning side at the Beijing Games equestrian  events in Hong Kong in 2008.
Australia’s Andrew Hoy will match the record set by the USA’s Mike Plumb for most Olympic appearances in Eventing when competing at his seventh Games in London.
Hoy, who is currently lying fourth with Rutherglen, is a four-time Olympic medallist.

New Zealand’s Jonathan Paget (lying 6th) - “The fact that this is called the Olympics makes it special, but it’s the same size arena as in any  other competition.”
Jonathan Paget, talking about his former career as a bricklayer - “Yes, this (competing at the London 2012 Olympic Games) is much better than laying bricks! I did five years of it before I did an apprenticeship in horse riding, Even then I still used to lay bricks in Sydney and Queensland in the closed-season.”
America’s Karen O’Connor, talking about her horse’s preparation - “I changed him (Mr Medicott) into a double bridle this morning and I am grateful I did because I could keep pushing. That’s what saved my test”.
Great Britain’s Nicola Wilson, on being at the London Olympic Games - “It’s absolutely fantastic and the atmosphere when I rode into the main arena was amazing. The view from the arena is fabulous, but clearly I wasn’t looking at it that much. It really is a dream come true and something I’ve dreamed of since childhood.”
Australia’s Christopher Burton - “You’re always nervous the night before a competition. I didn’t march in the Opening Ceremony – Mum back in Australia was very disappointed – but I nodded off watching it on TV in the Village (next to the Stadium). Then at midnight there was this big bang and I thought we were being bombed – a but it was only the fireworks!”.

You can find all the results here

Photo caption: Germany’s Ingrid Klimke and Butts Abraxxas took the early lead in the dressage phase of Eventing at the Olympic equestrian events venue in Greenwich Park today.  Photo: FEI/Kit Houghton.