The U.S. dressage team has won its fourth straight Olympic team bronze medal, as Debbie McDonald and Robert Dover rode exemplary tests that earned marks of 73.37 percent and 71.62 percent on a day slightly cooler than but just as sunny as yesterday.
But the key third and fourth riders of Germany and Spain received outstanding scores on the second day of the Grand Prix and surpassed the U.S. squad, whose members had been hoping to repeat the silver medal they won in the 2002 World Championships.
Germany continued its Olympic dominance, winning gold for the eighth straight time since 1976, with the Spanish winning the silver, their first Olympic medal in dressage and first in equestrian sports since 1948 (in jumping). The U.S. team finished 1.2 percent behind Spain and just .24 ahead of the Netherlands.
McDonald and the chestnut mare Brentina were third in the ring this morning, and they performed poetically in the early morning light. Throughout the test, Brentina exhibited remarkable collection, throughness and attentiveness to McDonald, and the three piaffe-passage tours were absolutely seamless. The only mistake came when she switched leads behind coming out of the first canter pirouette, although the trot half-passes were just a bit labored.
“I couldn’t ask for more. That was her best ever,” said McDonald with tears in her eyes, moments after dismounting.
She said that she and Brentina have a special communication, in which she just has to think about doing a movement. So “I have to be careful to think clearly, because she’ll do what I’m thinking!”
The five judges placed Brentina from third Dieter Schuele at E and Francis Verbeek van Rooy at B) to ninth (Mariette Withages at M).
And Dover wasn’t at all satisfied with Brentina’s scores. “Debbie had the test of a lifetime, and I honestly don’t know what more she could have done,” said the man riding in his sixth Olympics. “I saw that test as among the best tests I’ve ever seen, and I don’t see how the scores could not have reflected that.”
Explained Withages, “Brentina is one of the best and most correctly ridden horses, but sometimes it misses the power and the sparkle of the others.”
On Kennedy, Dover made two mistakes, miscues that prevented him from earning an equivalent score and, as the team’s fourth rider, it was the difference between silver and bronze. In an otherwise lovely test, Kennedy started doing one-tempi changes at the end of a top-notch line of two-tempi changes after stepping out of the second piaffe.
“I maybe pushed him just a little too much” on the two tempis, said Dover. Of the piaffe, Dover said, “I think he thought he was on his way to the passage. We’d done 12 steps [of the required 15], and I think I lightened [the reins] a little too much. He listens to you so exactly.”
Now that the team competition is out of the way, everyone’s attention is turning to the contest between the reigning queens of dressage, Ulla Salzgeber and Anky van Grunsven. Van Grunsven, the 2000 Olympic gold medalist, and the young and fiery Salinero upset Salzgeber and Rusty at Aachen (Germany) a month ago, but today Salzgeber allowed her rival no opportunity to get ahead of her.
Rusty and Salzgeber amassed all the points they could in their strengths–the medium and extended trots, the half-pass and the canter zigzag. Rusty’s piaffe wasn’t the best today, but it was more rhythmic than it’s often been, without the distracting hitching of the left hind leg.
Said judge Vincenzo Truppa of Italy (at H), “I have judged Rusty many times, and I really saw today Rusty in top form, so full of harmony and expression.”
In her no-nonsense, straight-shooting way, Salzgeber said the reason for Rusty’s stellar performance was that “he likes it here, and so do I. The whole situation is much better for me here than in Aachen.”
She said she didn’t think that Rusty had improved since Aachen, but “I didn’t make any mistakes, and Anky made mistakes.”
Salinero was barely under control, and he showed it right away, spooking and spinning away from the judge’s box at E as van Grunsven warmed up. And just before she entered, she turned to the main stands and begged for “quiet, please.”
His first piaffe was a bit uneven; the second quick, with his haunches to the right. But van Grunsven, perhaps the world’s best test rider, never gave up and delivered a much-improved final piaffe on the centerline.
Beatriz Ferrer-Salat, whose 74.66 percent on Beauvalais catapulted the Spanish to the No. 2 spot, was asked to compare this medal to the bronze they won at the 2002 World Championships in Jerez de la Frontera, Spain, their first medal ever in dressage. “The first medal was very, very exciting, and I was just crying and crying. The first is more important, but this one is also very, very special,” she said.
Added teammate Rafael Soto, “This is very, very deep in our hearts because Beatriz and I have both lost our fathers this year.” He crossed himself and looked skyward during the awards ceremony, honoring his father.
Ferrer-Salat is currently second individually, between Salzgeber and van Grunsven. Germany’s Martin Schaudt is fourth, .04 percent ahead of McDonald, whose score is just .5 percent short of van Grunsven’s. Jan Brink and Briar are sixth; Soto and Invasor are seventh. For the Americans, Dover is ninth, Seidel is 16th, and Wilcox is 18th.
Some 25 riders go forward to the Grand Prix Special on Monday, but only three from each team, which means Wilcox won’t ride again here. None of the four Canadian riders made the cut-off. Cindy Ishoy was the top-placed Canadian, finishing 31st (66.58%). Leslie Reid was 35th, Belinda Trussell 36th, and Ashley Holzer 42nd.
The announcement came after the dressage that the Court of Arbitration for Sport is supposed to announce its decision on the eventing medals this evening.