Greenwich, UK - The U.S. Olympic Eventing Team climbed into fifth place with three strong cross country rounds around Sue Benson's testing cross country course against the stunning backdrop of Greenwich Park. Germany continues to lead the team effort on a score of 124.7 followed closely by Great Britain (130.2) and Sweden (131.4). New Zealand is on a score of 133.4 in fourth and the USA's score of 155.2 has them comfortably in fifth ahead of the Australians.
The sellout crowd was incredible and cheered every horse every step of the way.
Phillip Dutton (West Grove, PA) continues to lead the American effort with the best score of the three scores to count. Riding Jim and Arden Wildasin's Mystery Whisper, Dutton added just 2.8 time faults to his dressage score and lies 12th individually on a score of 47.10. It is incredibly close however, Germany's Ingrid Klimke on Butts Abraxxas and Sweden's Sara Algotsson Ostholt on Wega lead the way, tied on a score of 39.30. New Zealand's Mark Todd sits third, unforgiving himself for the 6/10th of a second which cost him 0.4 time penalties and the lead. A mistake at the last fence was the culprit.
Dutton had a class round on the 12-year-old Australian Warmblood, and said when he finished that there really wasn't anywhere he could have gone quicker. The horse handled the rollercoaster-like terrain well, but with only 9 making the time - it wasn't an easy feat. "This is as good a horse as you can get," said Dutton. "He's good in all three phases. It's a privilege to have him. He was bought for Arden to ride but the Wildasins were kind enough to let me try to get him to the Olympics. It's a dream come true for me."
Karen O'Connor (The Plains, VA) and Mr. Medicott had another solid clear and spend overnight in the 24th position on a score 53.8. They picked up 5.6 time faults as the fearless Mr. Medicott powered around the course.
"He got strong by the end," said O'Connor. "You have to go flat out, that's the way the course had to be ridden. I could have been faster in this last section and I could have been faster up the hills... I'm really disappointed I didn't get inside the time; I should have on that horse. That's going to eat away at me."
They made light work of the jumps, and put one less stride in several places, but some rideability moments at the end of the course added expensive seconds on the clock. They headed out second, and the fast turf proved slippery in some places. "It's lovely, it's a great day of sport," said O'Connor. "It's not easy to make the time I know there will be more inside the time as the turf dries out."
O'Connor was held on the course while the course was cleared, and she felt that it helped her horse relax and lower his heart rate. O'Connor's advice to the teammates was to stay on the minute markers. Start fast and end fast. "Everything else went to plan," said O'Connor. "(Chef d'Equipe) Mark Phillips has done a wonderful job preparing this team."
The 13-year-old Irish Sport Horse is owned by the Mr. Medicott Syndicate and represented Germany with Algotsson Ostholt's husband Frank at the 2008 Olympic Games.
Boyd Martin (Cochranville, PA) rounded out the three jumping clear rounds for Team USA on the Otis Barbotiere Syndicate's Otis Barbotiere. They were the pathfinders on course, and made everyone believe that it was jumpable with a confident clear.
"It was a fantastic feeling going around the course, especially going first," said Martin. "The crowd was cheering on the approach to the jumps which is quite unusual and it did back my horse off a little bit, he's a little bit green, this is only his second four-star and he put in a gallant round and jumped well."
They picked up 3.60 time faults in their effort but came back with plenty of information for his teammates. The 10-year-old Selle Francais gelding is two places behind his teammate Mr. Medicott. "I have to say the two sharp hills, - he definitely felt them, they were two steep uphills," said Martin. "But to his credit he kept on slugging away the whole way around. He's a trying horse and I'm really proud of him."
The other two American combinations picked up unfortunate refusals that marred otherwise solid rounds.
Tiana Coudray (Ojai, CA) and Ringwood Magister had a run out at the third fence, a seemingly straightforward combination that ended up being one of the most influential fences on the entire course. Coudray was devastated as it looked like she would have made the time without that stop, they are in 42nd on a score of 77.60. "If it wasn't for those 10 seconds I would be a very happy girl tonight," said Coudray. Jatial, Inc.'s 11-year-old Irish Sport Horse improved as he went around and finished up very, very strong.
Will Coleman (Charlottesville, VA) and Jim Wildasin's Twizzel had an unusual occurrence at the very steep drop bank. The 16-year-old Westphalian/Thoroughbred gelding went to jump off the bank and then hesitated once his feet were nearly on the landing, he somehow defied gravity and backed up. "I thought he might back up there but I didn't think he'd stop," said Coleman. "If I could do it all over again I probably would just keep coming at it. He got tired at the end but he still galloped home. I'm glad the course wasn't a minute longer. It's a shame, disappointing."
The final horse inspection is at 8:15 AM, followed by the Show Jumping. It should prove to be influential as the riders will jump two rounds for Individual medals. The Team Jumping gets underway at 10:30, the Individual Jumping starts at 2:30 for the top 25 after the first round.
The dressage jog is at 5:30 PM after the eventing medals.
Photos: Phillip Dutton and Mystery Whisper over the last fence; Karen O'Connor and Mr. Medicott leap off the massive drop bank; Boyd Martin and Otis Barbotiere on course. (All photos by Shannon Brinkman)