Bettina Hoy Sets The Standard As Germans Take Lead For Both Medals
on location with John Strassburger
As expected, Germany's Bettina Hoy gave the day's dressage lesson as the equestrian events opened, scoring 32.0 penalties with Ringwood Cockatoo, a powerfully and rhythmically moving gray gelding. Hoy and her horse absolutely commanded the ring, getting five 8s and a 9 on the two extended canters and straight 8s on the two shoulder-ins. Their only mistake came when Ringwood Cockatoo broke to the canter in anticipation of the medium trot. To top the test off, Hoy scored two 9s and a 10 (from Cara Whitham at B) for her position and aids.
Hoy also won the dressage at the 2002 World Championships, before cross-country derailed her. But she pointed out this evening that she rode Woodside's Ashby in 2002, "so I don't think about it."
Plus, she added, she likes the Athens cross-country course much better. She said this course encourages horses to develop a rhythm over the first four or five fences: "It's much more fair."
Hoy's score has put the German team in first among the 14 teams participating, if you count two riders. (All but two teams started at least two riders today, but the official scores are counting only those with three riders. Scores from three of the four or five team members will determine the team medals.) Teammate Heinrich Romeike, riding in his first Olympics, and Marius contributed a very strong 44.4 to the team, which put him in third place.
Australia--the team on which Hoy's husband, Andrew Hoy, will be seeking his third consecutive team gold medal--is holding second place, 16.6 penalties behind (77.4 to 94.0).
The U.S. team is third (95.2), followed by Great Britain (97.8), France (100.00), and Belgium (104.0), counting two scores.
Darren Chiacchia and Windfall are leading the U.S. charge, scoring 44.6. That score put the black stallion in fourth, but he probably would have been second if he hadn't kicked out forcefully with his left hind leg when Chiacchia asked for the second flying change. (The judges scored 4, 4 and 3 for that movement.)
"I don't know what the problem was--you'd have to ask him," said Chiacchia, who then speculated that either Windfall's attention had wandered or he'd used a little too much leg asking for the change.
Poggio II and Amy Tryon got the U.S. team's medal pursuit off to a good start by scoring a solid 50.6. The bay gelding seemed to take a big breath and relax once he started the canter work, for which he got mostly 7s and 8s. He would have reached Tryon's goal of scoring in the 40s if he hadn't also kicked out in the last flying change, where he received two 4s.
Tryon said she's riding Poggio instead of My Beau because the U.S. team's veterinarians thought Poggio, 11, was reacting better to flexion tests than My Beau, 15. Poggio was Tryon's mount on the gold-medal team at the 2002 World Championships, where she completed the event after a bone-crushing fall midway through the cross-country course.
The day's two most disappointed riders were Julie Richards and Blyth Tait, who went one right after another around 3:30. Each had team and individual medal intentions, and now their individual chances are just about gone.
Richards, riding in her second consecutive Olympics, was shocked by how anxious and tense Jacob Two Two became, first in the final warm-up ring right outside the stadium and then in the one-third full stadium. She said he's never before reacted to an exciting environment like that.
"The noise inside the stadium was unbelievably loud," said Richards, mostly because the flags from 30 nations fluttering in the 25-plus mph wind "sounded like people stomping."
Richards added that the intimate stadium (the dressage ring fence is probably 25 meters from the stands on either side) makes "everything too close. There are just too many sounds."
Jacob Two Two's trot work was mostly short and stiff, and he jumped out of his first counter-canter about five strides before the flying change at A, then wasn't together for the change, scoring 1, 1 and 4 from the three judges. His final score was 65.4 and will probably be the team's drop score after tomorrow.
"Honestly, my horse got selected because of his jumping, and we'll be there as a back-up in case somebody else has a problem," said Richards.
Tait's problems with Ready Teddy began right after he entered the stadium. The chestnut gelding didn't want to go into the A end of the stadium, and when Tait finally got him there, he scared himself when he kicked over the A marker while circling it. Things didn't get better in the ring, although the 1996 Olympic gold medalist did score 1.4 points better than Jacob Two Two.
Tait, who's already announced that he'll wrap up his stellar career by running here and in the Burghley CCI**** (England) in three weeks, was philosophic, especially as dressage has let him and his chestnut gelding down at every championship since they won the 1998 World Championships.
"He's now done three Olympics and two World Championships, and he's genuinely frightened by the atmosphere. I just lose him; he's just not there with me," said Tait.
Nor does Tait hold much hope of grabbing an individual medal with a stunning come-from-behind performance, as he did when he and Messiah (who also hated dressage) grabbed the silver medal with an exemplary cross-country round at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.
"It appears extremely kind," said Tait of the course. "There are certainly some difficult combinations, but it's much less technical than the other Olympics I've done."
The New Zealand team is only eighth (111.2) right now, since Dan Jocelyn and Silence had an even tenser test (66.8). Heelan Tompkins resurrected Kiwi hopes as the day's last rider, producing an extremely steady effort from Glengarrick to score 44.0 and put herself into second place individually.