Gosh it was exciting watching McLain and Sapphire go clear. I froze for a second when I saw them just touch a yellow and green rail and it wobbled just a tiny bit. That would be the only rail she would even get close to.
They were sixth in the order out of 29 horses (after Cedric had opted earlier not to even present in the jog) and the first to go clear. It wasn't until the 22nd go that another rider would go clear and that was Abdullah Al Sharbatly on Seldana De Campalto. Three more and Rolf-Goran Bengtsson and Ninja La Silla added their clear round. Two more added Eric Lamaze and Hickstead. And then last clear was Philippe Le Jeune and Vigo D'Arsouilles. After the second round Rolf was eliminated and Rodrigo Pessoa and HH Rebozo added to those mentioned above to make the Final Four riders.
While McLain wouldn't be in the Final Four his story was even more spectacular. By the time everyone had completed the first round, McLain moved from the 26th spot up to the 9th position.
For round two I watched through my camera lens as McLain walked the course. My lens caught up with him when Chef d'Equipe George Morris was nearby and I tracked him as he counted strides, checked poles to see how much of a rub they would take and looked at what kinds of cups were holding up those poles and planks.
Near the end of his walk he met up with Olympic Gold Medal teammate Beezie Madden and you could see him going over the course with her as she quietly seemed to support his game plan. Then he went back and walked a few more lines. It appeared he was looking at approaches to fences to decide his path and his strategy for each fence and each line.
He was focused. Not even the large crowd that got in his way as he attempted to walk the course seemed to faze him. McLain was looking at the jumps, the course, the lines and in his mind going over the best plan for him and Sapphire while I was hoping and praying that pair would put in another clear go.
And they did - it was so exciting and a huge response erupted from the audience. They jumped a total of 17 places to finish 7th overall and won that class in a three way tie with Eric and Abdullah.
I watched McLain as he sat there on Sapphire for the awards ceremony with a hint of a smile on his face. I'm sure he was feeling the same way we were. That he is as good as it gets. He certainly showed everyone there what an amazing combination he and Sapphire are and he proved to himself that he could get the job done despite the rough patch he went through in the two prior days.
It was one of those “proud to be an American” moments.
Para, Vaulting and Driving also took place today and while I didn't go to any Para or Driving, I did catch some great Vaulting pictures of the leading Female Vaulter. Joanne Eccles (GBR) is leading the way followed by Antje Hill (GER), Simone Wiegele (GER) and Mary McCormick (USA).
The Team competition was spectacular but was overlapping the Show Jumping and so I only was able to see a few teams - very impressive teams I might add as they did pyramids, hand stands, splits and so much more.
It was the South African team that impressed me most. This was their first appearance at a World Equestrian Games and their routine was smooth, difficult and creative and the crowd was impressed even though they stand in the 10th spot (which considering this was their first time was pretty terrific).
Kersten Klophaus sent me another Vaulting update. Here is what he wrote:
Thursday was a good day. All competitions run perfect. Arena was sold out. In the evening there was a Chef d'Equipe meeting to draw the second round for individuals. Chefs and athletes are confident.
Today (Friday) we are well prepared for the technical test male and female and the first round freestyle teams. Tonight is the party called Nations evening. All vaulters, officials, trainers etc. are invited to dinner, dance and scripts. The scripts are presented by the nations. This is traditional in Vaulting and always funny.
I am very satisfied with nearly a hundred volunteers, stewards, staff members, EMT, horse ambulance and farrier. Each of them is doing a fantastic job, day by day. This makes work very, very easy for me.
Kersten is right about the volunteers. They are everywhere and very nice.
Well morning is just around the corner and so I end here still excited about the brilliance McLain displayed today. He may not have made it into the Final Four but what he did achieve was an even greater milestone.
Just two more days to go before the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games is over and what a ride it has been so far.
All Photos by Diana DeRosa