Lexington, KY - The Alltech Arena was a sell-out house with old and new fans of the equestrian sport of vaulting as the men's and women's freestyle final was contested at the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games on Saturday, October 9. The crowd was treated to the world's best vaulters who put on a fantastic show for a vocal and appreciative audience. The top 15 from each division were invited back to compete for a medal.
Lead up for the women was the Gold-medal champion for the 2006 Aachen Games - Megan Benjamin aboard Urfruend Rosengaard (a 10-year-old Oldenburg owned by Kirsa Kristensen) lunged by Lasse Kristensen. Despite her strong performance, there was too much room to make up to move into a medal position. Benjamin, 22, of Saratoga, CA, finished her 2010 WEG effort just off the medal podium in fifth place on her freestyle score of 8.465 and her final composite score of 8.165.
"I did my entire routine. That's all I can ask for," said Benjamin. "I did everything that I could." She said that she might have a slight disadvantage because she went so early in the round. "That's just the way the sport works," she said. "I'm just glad I could give Kentucky that performance."
The second vaulter to enter the ring was Alicen Divita, 21, of Redwood City, CA, and Giovanni (a 13-year-old Mecklenberger owned by Julie Divita). Her lunger was her mother, Julie Divita. Her score didn't quite match her Round 1 freestyle performance. Today she earned a score of 8.250 to finish on a four-round score of 8.082 and seventh place overall.
The final vaulter in the women's competition was the U.S. Team's Mary McCormick, 27, of Woodside, CA, aboard Sir Anthony Van Dyck (a 19-year-old KWPN owned by Sydney Frankel). Once again vaulting to Lenny Kravitz' "American Woman," she thrilled the crowd with exceptional movements and gymnastics. It was a brilliant ending to the week-long competition that put the athletes through their paces. In fact, her freestyle score of 8.680 was the highest of the day for the women. McCormick's lunger was Carolyn Bland.
"It was just one step at a time and feeling the horse and going with it," said McCormick. "This crowd is unbelievable...it's overwhelming."
Just missing a medal on a score of 8.680 for her freestyle and a composite score of 8.270 for the competition, McCormick was upbeat and pleased with her efforts.
"It's a bummer, but I came into this competition saying that all I wanted to do was my best," she said. "And I feel like I did that and I'm not disappointed. It would be great to take a medal home but this is some seriously amazing competition. They would have had to make a mistake for me to get in there."
McCormick disclosed that she had plans to compete at the WEG in Normandy, France, in 2014. "I have to set up a four-year plan and get going with that," she said. "But, for now, it's going home and lots of trail riding with Van Dyck."
At the end of competition, it was a Gold medal for Great Britian's Joanne Eccles aboard WH Bentley on a final score of 8.413. A pair of German vaulters - Antje Hill aboard Airbus and Simone Wiegele aboard Arkansas - took the Silver and Bronze medals respectively on scores of 8.322 and 8.281.
In the men's competition, Montana native Todd Griffiths, 30, returned to perform his freestyle to the ballad "Angels" aboard Lanson 16 (a 12-year-old Hanoverian owned by Jan and Betsy Garrod) lunged by Jessica Ballenger. Leading the U.S. effort, he looked confident in his flowing and expressive freestyle, but took a bit of a tumble on his dismount. Nevertheless, the crowd honored him with a rousing applause. Griffiths finished in 10th place on his freestyle score of 8.070 and composite of 7.425.
"I was really pleased with my performance today," said Griffiths. "The first jump was a Russian split jump...and it's one of my favorite jumps and not many people can do it and stay on the horse. With my gymnastics background, it's been my move I've done for many years so I was really excited to perform it really well today.
The only bobble to the performance was Griffiths' dismount known as an X-out back tuck. "It's a back flip that you split your legs in the middle of the flip," he said. "I just held the tuck just a split second too long so my feet were just barely further under me than I wanted and my feet slipped out from under me."
As for continuing in the sport and looking toward Normandy in 2014, Griffiths said that his role would most likely be as a coach of Canadian vaulters. So, it seems this is Griffiths' final WEG appearance.
"The only thing I can say is that I'm pleased with what I've done. To be able to do four rounds that I would say are four of the best rounds I've ever put together at the World Championships, that's all I can ask for to happen in my career."
The second of two male vaulters for the U.S. was Kenny Geisler, 29, of Diamond Bar, CA, aboard Jacadi de Rox (a 13-year-old Selle Francais owned by Julie Ann Young) lunged by Julie Young. This was Geisler's fourth WEG in which he competed.
Uncertain of his foot positioning, he lost his balance at the very beginning of the performance. But he quickly recovered and did his best to complete his routine to mixed results. "We had a little stumble in the very beginning but everything else was rock solid. I'm really, really happy with it," he said. "It's a great way to go out."
Geisler's future as an Individual vaulter is somewhat uncertain, though he does plan to work as a coach of one of the American teams. "I'm 29, so I'm probably not going to come back as a vaulter, but you never say never." Geisler finished the day on a freestyle score of 7.295 and a composite of 7.084 for 13th place.
The afternoon's singular outstanding performance was by France's Nicolas Andreani. Artistic and beautifully executed, regardless of knowledge of the sport, it translated to the packed house that awarded him with the day's loudest reaction to a men's routine. His unique mount, haunting musical score and poetic movement were truly memorable. His freestyle score was 8.905 - the day's highest.
In the men's division the medals were ultimately decided by hundredths of a point. The Gold medal was awarded to the day's final competitor - Patric Looser of Switzerland (aboard Record RS von der Wintermuhle) on a freestyle score of 8.885 and a composite of 8.498. The 2006 Gold medalist - Germany's Kai Vorberg - had to settle with the Silver on a freestyle score of 8.790 and a final score of 8.463 aboard Sir Bernhard RS von der Wintermuhle. France's Nicolas Andreani was awarded the Bronze aboard Idefix de Braize on the day's most artistic and highest freestyle score of 8.905 and a composite of 8.452.
Vaulting competition winds up on the final day of competition at the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games on Sunday with the Team medal competition in the Alltech Arena.
For complete scores, visit http://www.alltechfeigames.com/competition/results/results.aspx?idCalendar=12&id=236.
Photo: Mary McCormick, earlier this week. Photo by Shannon Brinkman for USEF.