Kenki Sato claimed individual gold and helped Japan to secure the team title in Eventing at the Asian Games in Guangzhou, China today. The Buddhist monk, who finished 35th with his other ride, Hop and Skip, at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games™ in Kentucky in October, was lying second with Toy Boy after dressage and added nothing further to his score to take the individual honours ahead of Korea's Jai Sik Cheon.
Sato's team-mate Yoshiaki Oiwa took individual bronze, and Japan scored a convincing victory in the team competition, finishing with a 26-point advantage over the silver medallists from Thailand while China pipped the squad from Hong Kong by the narrowest of margins in the battle for team bronze.
Thailand's Nina Ligon was one of the hard luck stories of the three-day fixture. The US-based rider produced a great test from Chai Thai to take the lead after dressage last Thursday and was still out in front after a flawless cross-country run on Friday, but a single fence down in the both of the decisive jumping rounds left her just outside a medal position today. A total of 30 riders from seven nations - China, Korea, Hong Kong, Japan, Kazakhstan, Qatar and Thailand - contested the honours.
Headed The Leaderboard
The Japanese headed the team leaderboard after dressage but their advantage was slight as Thailand was just over two points further behind. Nina Ligon produced the best individual score of 40.60, but Sato was only 1.7 points in arrears after Ground Jury members Sumiko Suzuki (JPN), Brian Schrapel (AUS) and Tom Pantapa (THA) awarded him a mark of 42.30. And there was little separating the riders in third and fourth places either - Thailand's Kingwan Promton (Nice Nelly) scoring 42.70 and Japan's Yoshiaki Oiwa (Noonday de Conde) registering a mark of 43.80.
Ligon, who is trained by US Olympic silver medallist and three-time winner of the Rolex Kentucky Three-day-event Kim Severson, produced a great cross-country run to get home well inside the time her nine year old Dutch warmblood/Selle Francais gelding Chai Thai. A dual US and Thai citizen who competed under both flags as a junior, she elected to represent Thailand when she turned 18 last year. She was the youngest rider, and first woman, to win an individual equestrian gold medal for Thailand when taking team and individual gold at the Southeast Asian Games in Pattaya, Thailand in 1997.
Friday's 21-fence cross-country track included 31 jumping efforts, and only two riders exceeded the time-allowed of 5.40 minutes. A total of 21 riders completed with nothing to add to their dressage mark, but the team from Qatar disappeared from the reckoning when both Ahmed Al Badi (Wait and See) and Faisal Al Mapri (Graffiti de Lully) were eliminated, while the side from Kazakhstan was reduced to just three when pathfinder, Valeriy Chekalin (Armond), retired.
Although all the main individual contenders held firm, the cross-country phase provided a shake-up to the team leaderboard when Korea lost its grip on bronze medal position and was overtaken by China. The team from Hong Kong now lay fifth ahead of Kazakhstan in sixth place.
The first round of jumping decided the team medals and Ligon's luck began to run out when she left the a pole on the floor which dropped her to third going into the individual final. And one more mistake pushed her out of the medals - Japan's Oiwa staying clear first time out and adding just four in the next round to seal bronze behind Cheon and Sato who took silver and gold without a single addition to their score-sheets.
Sato's family have a long and distinguished connection with equestrian sport. His father, Shodo, was selected for the Japanese team for the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow but didn't compete due to the Japanese boycott and his younger brother, Eiken, competed on the Japanese jumping team at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games before coming out to score a surprise victory in the Rolex FEI World Cup™ qualifier at Mechelen in Belgium last December.
Riding Toy Boy, Sato finished 12th in the CIC 2-Star at Hunxe, Germany last July and was 17th in the CIC 2-Star at Schenefeld, Germany the following month. Earlier in the year he won the CIC 3-Star in Vairano, Italy with Hop and Skip. He has been riding since he was seven years of age, and believes his equestrian career balances well with his Buddhist background. "I like riding, and do what monks normally do, and I take both seriously" said the 26 year old who has completed a year's study at the Buddhist monastery where his father is the clerical leader. "My monk identification goes quite well with riding, and I am quite good at both" he pointed out after his great victory today.
He sees himself pursuing "a special life path" as he combines the two important aspects of his life and he showed his dedication to and appreciation of his equine partner, Toy Boy, when he added "I would like to thank my horse - we two have been supporting each other all the way here!".
Japan took team gold with a final score of 133.40 while Thailand took silver with 159.60 and China held on for bronze with a total of 164.90, while three great jumping clears left Hong Kong just 0.3 points further behind in fourth place.
Eventing Team Championship:
1 (Gold) Japan 133.40 - Noonday of Conde (Yoshiaki Oiwa) 43.80, Nid'Or Barbereau (Atsushi Negishi) 47.30, Marquis de Plescop (Takayuki Yumira) 54.20, Toy Boy (Kenki Sato) 42.30.
2 (Silver) Thailand 159.60 - Monarch Royal T (Pitaknon Weerapat) 102.80, Nice Nelly (Kingwan Promton) 50.70, Chai Thai (Ligon Nina) 44.60, Wlindswept (Impson Terri) 64.30.
3 (Bronze) China 164.90 - Zhendeyi (Jingmin Li) 60.10, Siqin Tariha (Tongyan Liu) 60.40, Caro Ciaro (Hua Yang) 53.10, Cervanto (Ruth Liang) 51.70.
Eventing Individual Championship:
1 (Gold) Toy Boy (Kenki Sato) JPN 42.30; 2 (Silver) Thomas O'Mally2 (Jai Sik Cheon) KOR 47.10; 3 (Bronze) Noonday de Conde (Yoshiaki Oiwa) JPN 47.80.
Facts and Figures
7 nations competed in the Eventing Team Championship - China, Hong Kong China, Japan, Kazakhstan, Korea, Qatar and Thailand.
The Ground Jury members were - at H, Sumiko Suzuki (JPN), Brian Schrapel (AUS) and Tom Pantapa (THA).
30 horse and rider combinations competed.
The individual champion, Kenki Sato, is a Buddhist monk.
The distance on the cross-country course was 2,950 metres. The time allowed was 5.40 minutes and the time limit was 11.20 minutes.
There were 21 obstacles on the cross-country track, with 31 jumping efforts.
The team from Qatar did not complete when two riders - Ahmed Al Badi and Faisal Al Mapri were eliminated in the cross-country phase.
The team from Kazakhstan was reduced to just three when pathfinder Valeriy Chikalin retired on the cross-country course.
There were only two eliminations and one retirement during the cross-country phase.
Thailand's Ligon Nina (Chai Thai) led after both the dressage and cross-country phases, but had a single fence down in both of the decisive show jumping rounds to finish just outside a medal position in fourth place.
For full results: http://www.gz2010.cn/en
Photo Caption: Japan took team and individual gold in the Eventing Championships at the Asian Games in Guangzhou, China today. The team, pictured here, included Yoshiaki Oiwa, Kenki Sato, Atsushi Negishi, Takayui Yumira - Sato (2nd from left) claimed the individual title. Photo: Laixiongmin.