Tryon, NC. - Switzerland's former Olympic champion Steve Guerdat showed his class to claim a scintillating victory in the opening competition of the Bank of America Merrill Lynch Jumping Championship at the FEI World Equestrian Games™ Tryon 2018 (WEG).
Guerdat, who won Olympic Gold at London 2012, was drawn 123rd from 124 starters at Tryon International Equestrian Center and produced a scorching performance to match the occasion on 12-year-old bay mare Bianca.
Brazil's Pedro Veniss and Quabri de l'Isle were long-time leaders in the one round speed class, but Guerdat clipped 35 hundredths of a second off his time to clock 76.33 seconds and land the $33,325 USD top prize, while Australian Rowan Willis took an impressive third spot on Blue Movie and Germany's Marcus Ehning fourth aboard Pret A Tout.
In terms of the team competition, it was a dream start for early leaders Switzerland as Guerdat's colleague Martin Fuchs finished fifth with Clooney, although the Netherlands are looming large as two riders - world number one Harrie Smolders and Marc Houtzager - are in the top 10, and eighth-placed McLain Ward leads the United States' challenge.
Less than two seconds separated the top seven finishers, setting up another thrilling day of action at the U.S. Trust Arena on Thursday, which will end with the top 10 countries contesting Friday's team medals and the leading 25 riders going forward to Sunday's Individual Final.
The Swiss quartet of Guerdat, Fuchs, Janika Sprunger and Werner Muff head the team competition at its early stage, with the Netherlands (Smolders, Houtzager, Jur Vrieling and Frank Schuttert) in second and the Brazilian group of Veniss, Luiz Francisco de Azevedo, Pedro Junqueira Muylaert and Yuri Mansur holding third.
The top six team finishers will also secure prized qualification for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, with the three remaining places currently being filled by the United States, Australia and France, who secured the gold medal at the Rio Games two years ago.
"I think to be honest, it is an advantage in a speed class going at the end," Guerdat said. "We walked the course, and nine hours later we rode, so it was a long day, but we knew that before we came so we were ready for it."
"I was confident because the course walked well and there was nothing crazy going on. There were fast clear rounds, but not crazy fast, and the fast horses were not leading, so I knew if I stuck to my plan I would have a good chance of being in the top three," he continued.
"Everything went very well, she was great. I actually really enjoyed my round and she felt like she really enjoyed jumping, so I can't ask for much more. The course was really fitting my horse, the distance worked for me and there was not a crazy option that I had to take. I was just able to stride out without losing time. That's why I can say I felt confident and stuck to my plan without doing anything that I wasn't comfortable with, just basically the natural speed of the horse."
Further down the leaderboard in a star-studded top 30 were the likes of American Laura Kraut, current and former European Champions in Peder Fredricson and Kevin Staut, respectively, Ireland's Cian O'Connor and 2008 Olympic Individual Gold medal winner, Canada's Eric Lamaze.
There was universal praise from the riders for course designer Alan Wade (IRL), whose track adequately tested the competitors while also guaranteeing exciting sport for an audience that lapped up both the action and the glorious weather.
For more information on the FEI World Equestrian Games™ Tryon 2018 and to view start lists and results, please visit www.Tryon2018.com.