Lexington, KY - Thousands of fans packed into Alltech Arena for the FEI World Vaulting Championships this evening, waiting to see if the crowd favorite - the U.S. Vaulting Team - could hold on to the lead in the Team Freestyle. Together, these U.S. vaulters have earned a world-class reputation for technical difficulty, impeccable form, and breathtaking artistry.
The team, made up of Devon Maitozo (35) of Woodside, CA, 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, jogged out in perfect formation, and began their performance with Palatine, a 12-year-old Westphalian gelding, lunged by Carolyn Bland and owned by Maitozo. Their elegantly choreographed routine, set to Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet Ballet, started beautifully, but midway through, was slightly marred by an unfortunate fall. After what Maitozo described as a sudden movement by a video camera, Palatine shied, cutting in to the circle a bit. Their delicate balance was disrupted, sending 14-year-old Emily Hogye to the ground, and Maitozo right behind her.
"It was a video camera moving and the horse is somewhat sensitive to movement," shared Maitozo, who also coaches the team. "We didn't anticipate the camera." The disappointment shone clearly through the eyes of each of the seven vaulters who graciously met with members of the press right after the incident; but despite the obvious letdown, they also carried a sense of collective pride, grace and poise that will ultimately carry them through to the Final on Sunday.
"We're bummed," Maitozo continued. "Physically, we're fine. Mentally, we'll recover. We're going to sift through what just happened, and realize that we didn't really have control over this situation, and take one step at a time."
To the team's credit, after the brief pause mid-routine, they shook off the incident and recovered, finishing with a solid performance that earned them an 8.102, the third highest freestyle score of the day, and enough to keep them fighting for a place in the medals. Their cumulative score is now 7.655, dropping them to third place. Mere fractions of a point away, Germany now leads with a 7.698. Austria is close behind with a 7.664.
The FEI World Vaulting Championships will conclude with the Vaulting Freestyle Team Final, scheduled to begin on Sunday at 11:00 a.m.
Male and Female Individual Technical Tests
Before the Team Freestyle got underway, the U.S. Men and Women made a confident showing in the Male and Female Individual Technical Tests. Today's favorite was Mary McCormick of Woodside, CA, who performed an expressive routine set to Patsy Cline's "Crazy," a song she chose to pay homage to the South, and her birthplace, Nashville, TN.
Male and Female Individual Technical Tests
"I felt like I finally settled into the excitement in the arena," said McCormick, 27, of Woodside, CA. "I love performing in front of people and I had to remind myself of that. They love me and support me and want me to do well. I tried to use that positive energy."
McCormick, who vaults on Sir Anthony Van Dyck, a 10-year-old KWPN gelding, lunged by Carolyn Bland and owned by Sydney Frankel, said her horse had a slight trip at the beginning of her routine, which went unnoticed by all but the most astute of observers. "I told myself to trust the horse and it worked out," McCormick said, relieved. "He was a champion! He's so steady; he's such a leader for me."
McCormick's technical prowess earned her an 8.300; she's hanging onto fourth place now with a cumulative score of 8.133, less than six-hundredths of a point behind the current bronze medal position. "I'm ready to get out there and kick some butt tomorrow," McCormick said good-naturedly. "I'm very excited about the Final. I've got the 'American Woman' theme going here and hopefully we can get some emotional attachment from the audience."
U.S. vaulters Megan Benjamin, 22, of Saratoga, CA, and Alicen Divita 21, of Redwood City, CA, are just behind McCormick, sitting in fifth and sixth places respectively. Benjamin, who was the 2006 World Champion in Aachen, was rewarded with an 8.355 for today's technical test, bringing her back into contention from eleventh place, with a new overall score of 8.065. Benjamin vaults with Urfreund Rosengaard, a 15-year-old Danish Warmblood gelding, owned and lunged by Lasse Kristensen.
Divita's test brought in a score of 8.100, resulting in an overall score of 8.025. She vaults with Giovanni, a 13-year-old Mecklenberger gelding owned lunged by her mother, Julie Divita.
The current leaders for the women's individual vaulting are Great Britain's Joanne Eccles and W H Bentley, with a score of 8.327, Germany's Antje Hill and Airbus, with an 8.207, and in the bronze medal position, Germany's Simone Wiegele with Arkansas, whose cumulative score rests at 8.192.
In the Male Individual Technical Test, the United States' Todd Griffiths put in a worthy performance, vaulting aboard Lanson 16, alongside lunger Jessica Ballenger, to earn a technical score of 6.778, and an overall of 7.210. "I probably did the best technical I've done this year, if not ever," Griffiths said enthusiastically. "I feel really good about my performance, and how my horse went."
As Griffiths, 31, is presently living in Canada, where he is a practicing veterinarian, he knew he needed to borrow a horse he could trust completely. That's where the 12-year-old Hanoverian gelding, Lanson 16, comes in. "We have a really good connection and he carries me really well," he said of his equine partner, who is owned by Jan and Betsy Garrod.
Griffiths is currently in 11th place. Going into Saturday's Individual Final, his goal is simply to perform his freestyle better than ever.
"There are a lot of people I know in the stands, and that's a totally new experience," he said. "It's fun to be able to look up and see people who are there cheering for you. Freestyle is my strength, and I'm going to put in two of the harder moves I know how to do. I want to give the home crowd a taste of what U.S. vaulters can do, and go out with a bang."
Just behind Griffiths is Kenny Geisler and Jacadi de Rox, a 13-year-old Selle Francais gelding, owned by Julie Anne Young. They're currently in 12th place, after earning a 6.480 today, which brings their overall total to 7.014.
The individual competitions for the FEI World Vaulting Championships will conclude Saturday, with the Vaulting Freestyle Final in both the Women's and Men's divisions. Competition is scheduled to begin at 2:00 p.m.
The team and individual competition from Friday, Saturday and Sunday will be available as video-on-demand (recorded) on www.USEFNetwork.com, at the conclusion of the competition each day.
Photos: U.S. Vaulting Team During Freestyle, U.S. Vaulting Team, Mary McCormick, earlier in the week. Photos by Shannon Brinkman for USEF.