France claimed Team Jumping gold for only the second time in the history of the Olympic Games with a brilliant performance at Deodoro Olympic Park in Rio de Janeiro (BRA) today. Lying only a single penalty point behind the joint-leaders from Brazil, Germany, Netherlands and USA after yesterday’s first round of competition, they added just two time faults to clinch it this afternoon.
Silver went to Team USA who completed with five faults while Germany won out in a thrilling two-way jump-off against Canada for the bronze.
The first French Team Gold was won at Montreal (CAN) in 1976 with team member Jean-Marcel Rozier whose son, Philippe, was French pathfinder today. “My father was here in Rio, and we are all feeling very proud to have another gold medal in our family!”, Philippe said this afternoon.
It hadn’t been smooth sailing for the French who have endured a series of setbacks. “We had bad luck at the beginning of the week with Simon’s horse and then Penelope” said Kevin Staut, referring to the withdrawal of Simon Delestre’s horse, Ryan, who was injured and then a night in the veterinary clinic. Penelope Leprevost’s mare Flora de Mariposa had a fall in Sunday’s first qualifier. Flora jumped brilliantly in yesterday’s first round of the team event and did not have to compete at all today as Roger-Yves Bost (Sydney Une Prince) joined Staut (Reveur de Hurtebise) and Rozier (Rahotep de Toscane) went on to seal the deal with three great rounds.
There were four teams sharing a zero score as the day began, but only Germany fielded a full four-rider side, as the elimination of Jur Vrieling (Zirocco Blue) hit the Dutch hard yesterday and the disqualification of Stephen de Freitas Barcha (Landpeter do Feroleto) left the Brazilians looking vulnerable. Then this morning it was announced that Beezie Madden’s Cortes C was withdrawn from the US team after picking up an injury.
On a day filled with time faults, Rozier collected just one in an otherwise storybook pathfinding run for France but it was Staut’s clear when next to go that suddenly placed his country in real contention. Bost followed with one of his edge-of-the-seat rides to come home with just one time fault and team gold was already being celebrated by the French fans. Bost insisted he had no idea the pressure he was under when going into the ring as last French rider. “I wasn’t sure what the score was, I just went in to do my job and the medal just came to me!” he said afterwards. Staut joked in reply, “when Bosty is warming up, nobody is speaking to him!”
The Americans kicked off with just a time fault from Kent Farrington and Voyeur. Lucy Davis and Barron left the middle of the influential triple combination, three from home, on the floor. McLain Ward followed through with a spectacular clear from Azur USA's fate was sealed on a five-fault total which was plenty good enough for silver spot.
The Dutch kicked off with a mistake from Jeroen Dubbeldam at the second fence along with a time fault and although Maikel van der Vleuten and Verdi only fell foul of the clock, three fences down for Harrie Smolders and Emerald saw them disappear from the reckoning.
Brazilian dreams were dissipated when Eduardo Menezes (Quintol), Doda de Miranda (Cornetto K) and Pedro Veniss (Quabri de L’Isle) all faulted just once, but in the meantime there was another drama beginning to unfold.
Germany wrapped up their score on eight, thanks to a classic bit of riding from anchorman 52 year-old Ludger Beerbaum who came home inside the time with Casello under the most intense pressure. That meant the five faults collected by Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum (Fibonacci) could be dropped leaving just the single errors from Christian Ahlmann (Taloubet Z) and Daniel Deusser (First Class) to be added together. And that eight-fault total left them on level pegging with the Canadians who added just four to their first-day result thanks to brilliant clears from Tiffany Foster (Tripple X) and Eric Lamaze (Fine Lady). Canadian opener, Yann Candele (First Choice), hit only the last and they could discount the 12 picked up by Amy Millar (Heros).
The Canadians were first to go in the two-way showdown for bronze, but it was three German clears, from Ahlmann, Michaels-Beerbaum and Deusser, that clinched it. “We always knew there was a high possibility of a jump-off” said Michaels-Beerbaum, “we all fought very hard for this medal today and we are very grateful to have it.”
Back in the winner’s enclosure, Kevin Staut reflected on how his team managed to turn it around in a week when nothing seemed to be going their way. “Maybe the problems helped to make us fight more and more” he said. And how it feels to be crowned Olympic team champion? “Really proud - to be French, to be a rider and to be a gold medallist!”
Ben Maher (GBR): ”I think we (Team Great Britain) have been progressing over the past three rounds, which is not really what you want to do in the Olympic Games. You probably want to set out as you mean to go on. But Tic Tac felt amazing today. We’ve had a tough week for the team with silly mistakes, but myself and Nick (Skelton) are out for ourselves now. And we are going to try and redeem ourselves.”
Luciana Diniz (POR): "Honestly, I am really happy because my goal today was to qualify for the final. And I am in. So...look, I have goosebumps."
Talking about her mare Fit for Fun: "The first thing I do is I say 'thank you' to her. And she gets a lot of bananas. She is like a monkey, she loves bananas. So that is my way of rewarding her."
Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum GER: - talking about hitting the very last fence on the course today - "Nacho (Fibonacci) jumped super. Maybe I felt like it was over already. I was surprised to see it fall. That was a rider's mistake. I can't blame the horse."
Kent Farrington USA: “I’m thrilled to be here on the team at my first Olympic Games and to win a medal. There is no prouder feeling than representing your country and the silver medal is a great achievement.”
Guilherme Jorge BRA, course designer: “The course was difficult yesterday and today we had four teams on zero so I stepped up the degree of difficulty and played with the time allowed. We had a good result with a number of clears and it shows how high the level of the riders and horses were today. To design an Olympic course in my home country - it doesn’t get better than this!”
Ludger Beerbaum GER: (on the pressure of being the last to ride for Germany):
"You know, when you go in the ring you cannot have all of these thoughts and questions. There was no tactic - I could not have a fault and I should not have one down. But knowing this is not a guarantee that it will happen. So if you start thinking about 'What if, when, why' ... you mess everything up. You should not think such thoughts. Try to stay focused and do your job. You cannot help it if it does not work."
On the emotion of the day: "It was the same rollercoaster for the United States and France and Brazil and Canada. So we have not been in a different position. Everybody was hoping to go clear and do their best and be on the podium."
McLain Ward USA: - on losing Beezie Madden from the team today - "We did not really have an option. Beezie has been our anchor for the better part of a decade and her record of coming through for us is second to none. But we thought we had a strong team, strong horses. And we thought the course was brilliant today - it was real Olympic calibre team jumping. So we are very proud."