Lexington, KY - The equestrian sport of vaulting has a new Team Gold-medalist - the FACE Vaulters of the United States. In a move that will forever change the interest level of the sport in the U.S., a sold-out crowd witnessed as the first ever Team Gold was won on a freestyle score of 8.779 and a final composite of 8.029.
Led by California's Devon Maitozo (35) of Woodside, CA, the team consisted of Blake Dahlgren (26) of Santa Clarita, CA; Mary Garrett (20) of Seal Beach, CA; Emily Hogye (14) of Ben Lomond, CA; Mari Inouye (27) of Redwood City, CA; Rosalind Ross (20) of Aptos, CA; and Annalise VanVranken (18) of Mays Landing, NJ. Their horse, Palatine, a 12-year-old Westphalian gelding, was lunged Carolyn Bland.
"This is an opportunity for us to put vaulting on the map in the United States," said Maitozo. "People actually now know that this sport exists. They've seen it in small towns across America and in the paper. This is exciting for us."
The theme of the incredible freestyle was "Romeo and Juliet." Devon choreographed the routine and also composed additional music to add to the base soundtrack that included lyrical ballad instrumentation.
"This is a culmination of a lot of years of very hard work, and I have to say the most amazing thing for me is to be here with this team," said Maitozo. "These girls and Blake and Carolyn and our horse, Palatine, have worked so hard and really earned this for themselves, and I'm really happy for them."
The journey to the Gold medal came with some hurdles to cross - lead among them was recovering from a less-than-perfect first freestyle that saw Palatine spook causing two of the team members to accidently dismount. It took a lot of concentration and focus to come back, and the U.S. Team did that and more.
"We changed a little bit of our focus today," said Maitozo. "We were very much focusing on details, making everything right...and we got a little overwhelmed, especially when our horse was nervous. I think we were a little fragmented. But we did pull it together despite our challenge and fall in the first freestyle. But, today we just came in with a clear energy. We were really calm and relaxed and felt grounded. We were able to access the training we've had for a year together now."
It was obvious that the team was in fighting form and their concentration and commitment came through for them. The routine was a flowing dance and not a series of connected movements.
"We really connected today. We looked each other in the eye," he said. "Our horse was just beautiful and we had the love of the audience with us which helped. We were just in our bodies today. To us, it's about the connection to the music and to each other, bringing in the audience. It's for ourselves and the audience and to connect as artists. That's our club - Free Artists Creative Equestrian. That pretty much sums it up."
The scoring was tight with the medals being decided within hundredths of a point. The main competition for the U.S. came from the vaulting teams from Germany and Austria. The German squad earned the Silver medal on a routine that featured music from the European group The Art of Noise. It was a challenging and technical routine that demonstrated unique choreography. Their work earned them loud applause, and the German contingency is in full force to support their team. Their freestyle score of 8.635 was figured into their final score of 8.010.
The Austrians vaulted to a routine heavily influenced by Cirque du Soleil. Their exotic costumes and makeup were a strong punctuation mark to the flowing and sweeping performance. Their work earned them the Bronze medal on a freestyle score of 8.641 and a composite of 7.990.
For full results, visit http://www.alltechfeigames.com/competition/results/results.aspx?idCalendar=12&id=236.
Photo: U.S. Vaulting Team Wins Gold. U.S. Vaulting Team on Sunday. Photos by Shannon Brinkman for USEF.