Guadalajara, Mexico - Everything was at stake for the American show jumping team at the 2011 Pan American Games, including qualification for the 2012 Olympic Games. They faced the pressure and delivered the United States its third Equestrian Team Gold medal of the 2011 Games - jumping eight clear rounds in the Nations Cup today. Their score of 2.90 from the first class on Wednesday didn't change and they led Brazil (11.58) and Mexico (13.24) in the medal ceremony.
"It's the way they rode it's not the result," said Chef d'Equipe George Morris. "I'm an ideological horseman. I'm not interested in it unless it's beautifully ridden."
By the time individual leader Beezie Madden (Cazenovia, NY) went in the ring as the last to jump for the team, she was jumping for herself, because the U.S. team already won based on the clear rounds of her teammates. But she rode another beautiful clear round on Coral Reef Via Volo to defend her position and add to Team USA's momentum. The 13-year-old Belgian Warmblood mare settled beautifully and jumped easily around Javier Fernandez's course. Madden was also a member of the 2003 Pan American Games Gold medal-winning Team. They lead the individual standings on a score of zero.
"For me, I have a fantastic team here, they really didn't even need me today," said Madden. "They all jumped clear and it has just been a fantastic experience. The event is fantastic, our team, not only are they very good horses and riders but it's been a great team to be around. And thanks to George as our Chef d'Equipe - and thanks to my teammates. I think everyone had a really nice time today."
Right behind her is teammate Christine McCrea (Windsor, CT) on a score of .88 with Romantovich Take One. The 11-year-old KWPN gelding bounded effortlessly around the track twice, making the entire event look simple. This is McCrea's first team appearance at a championship and she is capitalizing on the opportunity. "I'm just really, really proud of us as a team," said McCrea. "We really came together, we came here with a goal and we achieved it and I'm just really proud."
Right behind McCrea is the lead-off rider for the Team, McLain Ward (Brewster, NY) has won two Olympic Gold medals, but even he felt the pressure of today's occasion when he entered the ring on Grant Road Partners, LLC's 11-year-old Wurttemberger gelding Antares F.
"I have to be honest, it was a lot of stress, this Olympic qualification," said Ward. "I felt a little more pressure today and yesterday than I have in past Olympic Games. But it was obviously a fantastic event and I think this is a great team. We came here with a very serious plan to not only try and win but obviously to try to qualify for the Olympic Games. To not qualify would have been a disaster for us. We're proud of that and everyone pulled together. We have a great team around us, not only George and of course pretty good horse so that makes the job a little bit easier."
He jumped a textbook round twice - improving on his performance from yesterday and moving up into third place on a three-round score of 2.02.
Rounding out the U.S. effort in the individual standings, is the youngest member of the team, Kent Farrington (Chicago, IL). He rode impeccably on a horse that is developing into a real superstar this year. Uceko, an 11-year-old Dutch gelding, jumped the round that clinched the Gold - as the third to jump on the team. They sit eighth in the individual standings. "I think we came here with a really strong team and great riders," said Farrington. "I think there are a bunch of other great riders here as well, Brazil is very difficult as well as Mexico had a fantastic day. It was fantastic show jumping and we had a great day with good horses and I'm very proud."
The effort was phenomenal by the American side - this is the first time since 1975, also in Mexico (Mexico City) that all three American teams have won Gold at a Pan American Games. "This is an A plus, the courses were fantastic, the technical coordination was fantastic, the footing was very good..." said Morris. "The horses jumped great - it's a beautiful club - A plus across the board."
The team is supported by a team that includes veterinarian Dr. Tim Ober, farrier Todd Meister, physio Janus Marquis and reserve rider Mario Deslauriers - who was an integral part of the effort.
The top three horses from each country (in the top 25 overall) will jump in Saturday's individual final.
Follow the U.S. Team at the Pan American Games (photos, blogs and more): http://www.usefnetwork.com/featured/2011PanAmGames/
Photo: Team Gold (L-R) Kent Farrington, Christine McCrea, Beezie Madden, McLain Ward (Photo: Shannon Brinkman)