After getting presented with his Individual Gold Medal for Show Jumping, Swiss rider Steve Guerdat pointed to his horse. His silent words were clear to the crowd. All those shouts of praise – my horse deserves that was what that finger was telling the crowd. That victory broke an 88 year drought for Switzerland. In the victory gallop he tossed his hat in the air as he and his horse dashed around the outskirts of the arena almost touching distance from the stands. The enthusiasm of the crowd was transferred to the riders.
That enthusiasm was heard loud and clear for all the riders, but especially Nick Skelton, who everyone felt had a good chance for a medal. But a rail down on the final round dashed his hopes. He was more concerned about disappointing the crowd that had been so supportive, but in fact he was still going home with his team Gold. That one ended a 60 year drought for Great Britain.
Silver medal honors went to Dutch rider Gerco Schroder with Ireland’s Cian O’Connor holding the Bronze. In the press conference Schroder said that he knew his horse had the talent. He just needed to keep his cool and ride like a champion.
Fellers Is Flexible
For the team from the U.S. this had been a bittersweet week and a bit of an eye opener. Some feel our selection process takes too much out of our horses. Others say we are in the center of a transition but that it’s already in the works and new riders and horses are about to emerge to bring home those medals in the future.
Although Beezie Madden did not make it to the individual finals she did take a moment to give me her thoughts. After winning a Gold Medal at the last two Olympic Games, this year it seemed like luck was simply not with our riders. That said, Rich Fellers pulled a rabbit out of his hat on the second round in the individual finals. While he dropped a rail and got a time fault in the first round, he was totally clear in the second round and finished eighth.
Luck was not with McLain whose 12 fault round finished it for him and Antares. There would be no second round for them. A disappointed McLain commented, “we will go home and rebuild.”
McLain also stressed the need to develop “other horses for the future.” With the horse power that is now out there, in order to be at the top you have to have not only talented riders but horses that are champions in every way.
Reed Kessler had 12 faults in the second round of the team finals and so that was their swan song. Yet Reed was positive and was able to explain every rail and a foot in the water (which cost her the rail down at the next fence). She was up for the challenge but agreed that there’s no way to get mileage at the championship level until you actually do it.
Having now achieved her dream she can’t wait to do it again. “Now that I’ve done it I can’t wait to come back and medal. I’ve never been in a real championship format, not like on this level where you have to dig really deep to jump these fences,” commented the 18-year-old and the youngest rider in the equestrian events.
Reed made a point that hit home. She noted that the show jumping events at the Olympics are just one week in your life. In fact, it’s just like going to another horse show. Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose but this is one horse show that when you win, you really win.
Beezie commented, “I am very happy that each of the US horse rider combinations, including Via Volo and I, were able to work together as a team and do well as a group with each of us contributing throughout the course of the team competitions.”
In the first qualifier Beezie had a surprising refusal but then in the team competitions she only had one rail down for four faults. She remarked, “The 4 faults was the best US Team score over a tough course so, I am incredibly pleased with Via’s performance. We have some of the best support in the world from our owners and sponsors to the USET and our fans. I personally want to thank Gwendolyn Meyer for her support as the owner of Coral Reef Via Volo, and my personal team of supporters including Abigail Wexner who owns Simon and Cortes C.
“All the owners of the US team horses deserve a huge thank you, as they are a vital part of the team that make going to the Olympics possible. At the end of the day, going home without a medal is disappointing and I think we as a team and as horsemen and horsewoman will go home and look within ourselves and examine what it is we need to do to become more competitive, more consistent and better prepared to win at the Olympic level.”
The importance of the horses was a theme that was discussed throughout the week. There was mention that the British horses had only been kept through the Games and now they will be sold. Other teams voiced the same comment. And you can bet if Totilas had not been sold and Edward Gal was still riding him the outcome could have been different.
Personally, I was glad to see the British team medal and silently I was cheering for Nick. The crowd was so geared up and behind these athletes that Nick felt badly about not being able to bring home an individual Gold.
But upsets seemed the name of the Game this year and at the press conference course designer Bob Ellis commented that he was surprised by the results, who climbed and who didn’t. But in the words of Reed Kessler, “The Olympics is just one week of your life and it doesn’t fully assess your riding ability. Nobody goes to every show each week and wins.”
Look at Nick Skelton; in his 54 year career he has yet to win an individual Gold Medal, but as Nick commented, “We got one gold. We would have settled for that before we came.”
One more day to go and one more very slim chance for a medal. The Dressage Grand Prix Freestyle, like the individual show jumping finals, starts on a clean slate. So, now the playing field is totally open.