America scooped both the team and individual titles as Eventing came to a close today at the Pan-American Games 2015 in Caledon Park, Toronto, Canada. Always with their eyes on the target of that single qualifying spot on offer for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, Philip Dutton, Lauren Kieffer, Marilyn Little and Boyd Martin forged a marginal lead over the host country in Dressage on Friday. And, once out in front, they held on tight to triumph ahead of Brazil this afternoon, while Canada had to settle for bronze in the final analysis.
And Little took the individual title in fine style. Lying second, and less than a fence behind Brazil’s Ruy Fonseca who led from the outset with Tom Bombadill Too, the 33-year-old former Jumping rider kept a cool head to stay clear with her relatively inexperienced mare RF Scandalous today, while 2011 Pan-American Eventing individual champions Jessica Phoenix and Pavarotti from Canada claimed silver this time around when Fonseca’s single error dropped him to bronze medal spot.
A total of 11 nations lined out in the team competition, and Ecuador, Chile and Mexico were lying fourth, fifth and sixth after the Dressage phase. The USA had only a slender 0.7 point lead over Canada going into cross-country day, and Brazil was chasing hard when only three marks further adrift at this stage.
Canadian chances took a sharp knock however when Kathryn Robinson was eliminated for a fall with Let It Bee at the Hayracks, the second fence on yesterday’s cross-country track. Her team-mates Waylon Roberts (Bill Owen), Colleen Loach (Qorry Blue D’Argouges) and Jessica Phoenix (Pavarotti) all completed the course without incident. But Canada dropped behind Brazil when Fonseca, Carlos Parro (Caulcourt Landline), Henrique Plombon (Land Quenotte) and Jorge Marcio Carvalho (Lissy Mac Wayer) all likewise kept a clean sheet, Robinson’s brilliant 39.80 in Dressage, which placed her individually second on the opening day, no longer being taken into account. All four American team-members cruised home, maintaining their advantage with nothing to add.
From a starting field of 43, a total of 16 returned within the time-allowed of 8 minutes 39 seconds, including all three members of the team from Ecuador who eventually finished fourth. A total of 10 horse-and-rider combinations were eliminated over the 26-fence track created by Australia’s Wayne Copping.
As the final Jumping phase got underway today, Team USA had less than a fence in hand over the Brazilians, while the Canadians were more than 20 penalties further adrift. America’s Martin (Pancho Villa) and Kieffer (Meadowbrooks Scarlett) kept a clean sheet once again, but when Philip Dutton’s Fernhill Fugitive collected four faults then Little’s result might prove pivotal for the team rankings.
The individual medals were also still very much up for grabs, and for Little there was no room for error as Canada’s Jessica Phoenix and Pavarotti, who were lying just 3.20 points behind, had piled on the pressure with a brilliant clear when third-last into the ring. “I felt extremely thankful to be sitting on Pavarotti today,” said Phoenix of the 13-year-old bay Westphalian gelding (Pavarotti van de Helle x Foxiland) owned by Don J. Good of New Hamburg, ON. “He was absolutely amazing and I just loved every single moment!”
At 31 years of age, Phoenix has traveled the globe as a veteran of Olympic, World Equestrian, and Pan American Games competition, and the opportunity to compete on home soil was one that she relished. “It was so awesome to be able to do that in front of the home crowd,” said Phoenix. “To be able to do this in our backyard, with all of our family and friends around, and to have all of the Canadians cheering has just been amazing! It was one of the most amazing feelings in my life.
“I am so thankful to be here with our teammates, our coaches and our support staff that is here with us,” continued Phoenix. “My groom, Sandra Andresen, did an amazing job with Pavarotti this whole weekend. We’ve had such a good, strong team. I will certainly take away a lot of memories from this experience.”
The American didn’t falter however, leaving all the poles in place with her 10-year-old Oldenburg mare, and placing all the weight on Fonseca’s shoulders. Even a time fault would cost the Brazilian dearly, but when his 15-year-old gelding had a fence down he dropped all the way to bronze medal position individually and his team remained in silver medal spot.
“My mare is new to the sport, I have her for only a year now and she’s only just moved up to 2-Star level with the goal of these Games in mind!” said newly-crowned individual gold medallist Little this evening. She explained that she was a regular on the US Jumping team between 1999 and 2011, and competed in several Nations Cups, but then suddenly decided to change her allegiance. “I became interested in Eventing when watching the World Equestrian Games in 2010 on TV. I thought “I’d like to do that, it looks like a lot of fun!”, so when I came back from Spruce Meadows that year I pulled one out of the barn and it has gone from there! I did my first 4-Star in 2012”, she explained.
She has really enjoyed the Pan-American Games experience at Caledon Park this week. “The event has been beautifully organised and it has been an incredible experience from the standpoint of horsemanship, the thought and care they’ve put into everything for the horses has been amazing. The cross-country course was fair but challenging, it has to be difficult for the course designer catering for the developing riders as well as very seasoned competitors. It needed to be challenging for both, but safe enough too, and he really succeeded in that” she said.
Talking about the cross-country track she said, “riding the course you had to be “in the moment”...you had to stay aware of all the plans. Cross-country is designed to force you to look at all the options and to stay ready to take them if necessary. Making it easy to quickly change your plan is the mark of a good cross-country course. Fitness played a part too yesterday, the terrain took its toll in terms of technicality and some horses got tired, but it was safe and jumpable and it was really a pleasure to ride the track.”
Despite all her experience as a Jumping rider, Little said she was still feeling the heat going into the arena this afternoon with so much hanging in the balance. “I knew I was under pressure, but I also knew my horse is a clear-rounder and very careful. She’s very sensitive though, and the atmosphere was electric, especially since I was following a Canadian rider (Jessica Phoenix) into the ring! I knew I had to remain calm and focused, and take it just one jump at a time and not get caught up with the magnitude of the moment!”
The Canadian team was more then pleased with their efforts. Colleen Loachdelivered a clear show jumping round for Canada riding Qorry Blue d’Argouges, an 11-year-old grey selle francais gelding sired by Mr. Blue. In her major games debut, Loach added nothing to her dressage score of 51.80 from the opening phase of competition to finish in eighth place individually. “My horse was amazing, he tried his heart out for me,” said Loach, 32, of the horse owned by 2014 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games competitor, Peter Barry. “He is super generous, and a very careful jumper. I’m a lucky girl to ride him.” Of winning a medal in her first major games appearance, Loach said, “It means a lot. It’s a dream come true. The team is great, we get along really well, and it’s been a super atmosphere. I couldn’t have asked for a better experience.”
As the youngest member of the team, Waylon Roberts moved up from 34th position following dressage to 17th with a clear performance over Saturday’s cross-country phase. On Sunday, Roberts made it all the way to the end of the course before dropping a rail at the final fence with Bill Owen, an 11-year-old bay Canadian Sport Horse gelding sired by Money Talks and owned in partnership with Kelly Plitz. With a final score of 69.10, Roberts finished 17th individually in his second Pan American Games appearance. “To be able to come home for the Pan American Games and represent Canada on the team has been wonderful,” said Roberts, 26. “I’ve been coming to the Caledon Equestrian Park for 15 years, and it’s great to see all the familiar faces and everybody rooting for the Canadians.”
GOLD - USA 133.00: RF Scandalous (Marilyn Little) 40.30, Pancho Villa (Boyd Martin) 44.30, Fernhill Fugitive (Philip Dutton) 52.40, Meadowbrooks Scarlett (Lauren Keiffer) 48.40
SILVER - Brazil 140.70: Tom Bombadill Too (Ruy Fonseca) 42.90, Caulcourt Landline (Carlos Parro) 45.60, Lissy Mac Wayer (Jorge Marcio Carvalho) 52.20, Land Quenotte (Henrique Plombon) 55.40
BRONZE - Canada 163.00: Let it Bee (Kathryn Robinson) 1,000, Pavarotti (Jessica phoenix) 42.10, Qorry Blue D’Argouges (Colleen Loach) 51.80, Bill Owen (Waylon Roberts) 69.10.
GOLD - RF Scandalous (Marilyn Little) USA 40.30;
SILVER - Pavarotti (Jessica Phoenix) CAN 42.10;
BRONZE - Tom Bombadill Too (Ruy Fonseca) BRA 42.90.
Facts and Figures: USA claimed team gold and the individual qualifying spot on offer for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games with victory in the Pan-American Games Jumping at Caledon Park in Toronto, Canada today.
The list of teams so far qualified in Eventing for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games now includes, Brazil (automatic qualification), Germany, Great Britain, The Netherlands, Australia, Ireland and Canada (placings at Alltech FEI World Equestiran Games™ 2014 in Normandy), and USA (Pan-American Games 2015 in Toronto, Canada).
The next major Olympic qualification opportunity is at the forthcoming Longines FEI European Eventing Championships in Blair Castle, Scotland from 10-13 September 2015 where 2 further places are on offer.
Find out more about the Pan-American Games 2015 at www.toronto2015.org