August 3 — London
An anticipatory hush fell over the Olympic arena when Charlotte Dujardin entered aboard Valegro. The Olympic rookie carried the weight of her team’s expectations on her shoulders, and her score would determine whether Great Britain stood in first or second after the Grand Prix test.
But the 27-year-old thrives in a pressure cooker situation, and when she laid down a phenomenal effort to go into the lead on 83.66 percent, a new Olympic record, the stadium absolutely erupted. She received a standing ovation from her hometown crowd, and the audience stomped their feet and roared their appreciation.
“I loved every minute,” said Dujardin. “I wanted to come here and have fun. I wanted to go out and show what this horse can do. It is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The applause is just amazing, and I want to thank everyone who supported us.”
In previous years, Dujardin would’ve secured team gold with her Grand Prix test, but in this Olympic Games the Grand Prix Special will count as well. Great Britain sits on an average of 79.40 percent, ahead of Germany (78.84%) and the Netherlands (76.80%).
“Our team chances aren’t so bad at the moment [without Totilas],” said Germany’s Helen Langehanenberg, who finished third individually with Damon Hill (81.14%) behind the Netherlands’ Adelinde Cornelissen on Parzival. “We’ll definitely give our best, and we’ll fight until the end.”
Team medals will be decided on Tuesday, Aug. 7.
Steffen Peters put in a huge effort for Team USA with Ravel, and he finished sixth individually on 77.70 percent, but he admitted there’s little chance that the United States will be able to climb into a team medal position. Tina Konyot’s score of 70.45 percent with Calecto and Jan Ebeling’s 70.23 percent with Rafalca left the team in fifth place behind Denmark, 4 percentage points out of bronze.
But Peters was positive. “This is a great score for us. In Kentucky [at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games in 2010] we had two riders below 70 percent. Now we have two riders at 70 percent plus a high 77, so it’s a good start,” he said.
Dujardin performed her first international Grand Prix with Valegro in March of 2011. Before the Olympic Games began, Germany’s Ulla Salzgeber held the Olympic Grand Prix record of 78.2 percent with Rusty from the 2004 Athens Olympics. Less than a year and a half after their debut, Dujardin and the 10-year-old Dutch Warmblood (Negro—Maifleur, Gerschwin) smashed that record with a score of 83.66 percent, which was also only 0.42 percent off Edward Gal’s world record set with Totilas at the 2009 European Championships in Windsor, England.
“From start to finish I just enjoyed it. When you stop and you have that crowd, it’s just magic,” said Dujardin. “When he gets in there, he knows what he’s got to do. He’s just brilliant. He just does his own thing. Touch wood, he never lets me down.”
Dujardin received 12 scores of 10 from the judges for her test, four of them for her extended trots, four for her two-tempis, two for her passage on the final centerline, and two in the collectives for her position and seat.
“If someone is really prepared to take risks like she is, and it comes off, it pays off,” said Stephen Clarke, who judged at M. “It was fun to judge.”
While the Dutch weren’t hoping to repeat their gold medal from the 2010 WEG without their superstar Totilas, Adelinde Cornelissen and Parzival came into the competition with the No. 1 spot on the FEI World Ranking list, and she knew a great score could keep the Netherlands firmly in the hunt for bronze. She also hasn’t gone head-to-head with Dujardin at a major competition.
“I know he can do over 80 percent, and for the team we needed a little bit of a score,” said Cornelissen, 33. “I had to do my best. I think he can do a little bit more. In the beginning he was still a little bit spooky and a bit tense. Maybe the next test he’ll feel more at ease from the beginning, and we can score even higher. I hope. I have to. I have to beat the English!”
Parzival, a 15-year-old Dutch Warmblood (Jazz—Fidora, Ulft) who won the Reem Acra FEI World Cup Final for the second year in a row in April, finished on 81.68 percent and also received a few 10s for his piaffe. “His piaffe is always good, always perfect,” said Cornelissen.
“In the beginning he was a bit scared. I came down the ramp, and he was like, ‘Ahhh! Too many people!’ ” she explained. “Around the arena I was like, ‘Oh my God, oh my God, oh camera, oh judges, oh more judges!’ There was way too many judges, too many people. So then after a bit he started to enjoy it and say, ‘Oh, I know this stuff. I’ve been here before.’ Then he was good.”
Steffen Peters knew he would have exactly 30 seconds after he entered the arena before Gary Rockwell, the president of the ground jury at C, would ring the bell. Then he would have 45 seconds before he had to be in the ring with Ravel.
“We knew this coming into the competition, so this was exactly how I trained in the familiarization of the arena,” he said. “My teammates who wanted to get in the ring went ahead. I kept warming up outside until the very last minute, until we had to leave the arena, and then I did exactly what we did today. I went straight for the cameras.”
His strategy paid off, and Akiko Yamazaki’s 12-year-old Dutch Warmblood (Contango—Hautain, Democraat) produced one of their best performances to date. “It certainly was the test of a lifetime at the Olympic Games. I can’t describe the feeling you get from Ravel when he’s on, but today was one of those days,” said Peters, 47. “I’m just so excited about how much energy Ravel has. He’s still just as supple as he was the very first time we did a Grand Prix. There were so many highlights in the test today. The half-passes felt beautiful. Even though he had so much energy, he walked extremely relaxed. It was probably one of the best walk feelings I’ve had. He stretched nicely into the bridle. Usually the tricky part is the collected walk. He can get a bit nervous, but even there he was very relaxed. The entire canter work felt phenomenal. It just came together at the right moment.”
But Peters didn’t get to be one of the best in the world by resting on his laurels. “I wish I’d had him just a bit more in front of me in the first two piaffes,” he said. “It wasn’t as good as it can be. The rest felt absolutely phenomenal. Even the extensions were a bit better. The zig zag half-pass is probably the best he’s done. I really went for it in the canter extension to a point where he did a bit more than I asked him for. He just blasted out of that corner. I got a bit nervous when I brought him back, but he collected beautifully, did his change and two super pirouettes, so I’m excited.”
Tina Konyot was equally pleased with Calecto, but she wished she could’ve produced a higher score. “I was very pleased with him. He did a very good job for me,” she said. “I missed a couple of my extensions in there. I have these little bobbles, and that didn’t help. Overall, I was very happy with my test. I didn’t have any major blunders.”
The 14-year-old Danish Warmblood stallion (Come Back II—Bahera, Rastell) did have a little buck outside the arena, but Konyot, 50, didn’t care. “Whatever he has to do to feel good is fine with me. It made me laugh.”
It was the first Olympic Games for Konyot, and Adrienne Lyle also made her Olympic debut today with Wizard. Lyle was competing as an individual, and her mark of 69.46 percent isn’t among the top 11 individuals, so she won’t have the chance to compete in the Grand Prix Special.
“He was very amped up and rather on the edge. We made a couple of mistakes, but I am basically pleased with him,” said Lyle. “He is an emotional horse and gets a little hot, so this wasn’t the easiest arena for him.”
The pair broke to canter in their first extended trot and also had a bobble in the canter zig zag.
“It was just tension. He gets a little overexuberant sometimes when he’s got all that energy boiling around him, and he just took a step, and it was too much for him to handle and he broke,” said Lyle, 27. “We went in and did our best, and I was happy with it. To represent your country is such a huge honor, and to be here in this venue is incredible.”
Lyle was also one of five riders to wear a helmet instead of a traditional top hat. Canada’s Jacqueline Brooks did so, and she was the first rider to wear a helmet in dressage at the Olympic Games. She was joined by teammate Ashley Holzer, as well as Charlotte Dujardin and Portuguese rider Goncalo Carvalho
“I always wear my helmet. I started in the beginning of this year,” said Dujardin, who is sponsored by Charles Owen. “People are anti, people are for it. I want to wear a crash hat.”
“Chances are my horse isn’t going to buck me off. But if one kid watches me ride with a helmet and puts a helmet on, and if just one kid’s life is saved because he or she puts a helmet on, that will mean the reason I’m wearing it,” said Holzer.
Although the Canadian team is eliminated due to David Marcus’ horse Capital having a meltdown in the arena yesterday, Holzer will be able to continue on to the Grand Prix Special as an individual with Breaking Dawn.
For full results, visit the London 2012 website.