July 31 — London
Is there any eventer out there better than Michael Jung? Two clear show jumping rounds at the Olympic Games earned him the individual gold, making him the only event rider to ever hold the title of World Champion, Olympic Champion and European Champion all at once.
His perfect jumping score with Sam also confirmed Germany’s second consecutive Olympic team gold, although they were so far ahead they could’ve counted the score of their fourth-ranked rider, Dirk Schrade with King Artus, and still come out on top of Great Britain and New Zealand.
“I’m absolutely delighted and very proud of these guys,” said Christopher Bartle, the German eventing team national coach. “They’ve put on a tremendous performance from beginning to end. We came here at the beginning of the week and had our first team get together, and I asked them to shut their eyes and dream that they were on the podium with medals around their necks and the national anthem playing. Then I had them open their eyes, and told them, ‘Now we’ll take it step by step. Make no mistakes and see what happens.’ ”
The U.S. team couldn’t catch a break and finished a dismal seventh. Boyd Martin had to withdraw Otis Barbotiere at the final horse inspection, and Phillip Dutton had a stop and two rails with Mystery Whisper in the team show jumping round. Karen O’Connor was the lone bright spot for Team USA, jumping two clean rounds to finish ninth individually with Mr. Medicott.
It was a painfully close finish for “Team GB” on their home turf, and there were a lot of “what ifs” and “if onlys” for the silver medalists. If only William Fox-Pitt had been able to turn in his normal double clear on cross-country instead of nursing home Lionheart when the 10-year-old German-bred gelding (Lancer II—Silbrose) grew tired. “I’m not sure why he did that,” said Fox-Pitt. “It’s not like him. He came out bouncing today. Yesterday it was out of character and disappointing.”
If only Zara Phillips hadn’t had a rail and 3 time penalties in the team round of show jumping with High Kingdom. “I messed up at the start, but I told myself I had to get on with it,” she said. “I’m really proud of the way my horse went. We may not have won gold, we made mistakes, but we’ve got silver medals around our necks, and it all worked out.”
“It’s a silver medal won,” agreed Tina Cook. “It was a very tough competition. When we came into today, there was the chance of gold, but we could’ve lost and got nothing.”
A Perfect Finish
Michael Jung finished on his dressage score of 40.6, the only rider in the competition to do so. But he had to claw his way back up the ladder after mistakes in his dressage test left him unusually low on the leaderboard in 11th place.
It came down to the last fence of the last show jumping round as Sweden’s Sara Algotsson Ostholt still held the lead after the team show jumping.
She looked to be clear in Round 2 with Wega, and Jung’s father, Joachim, was already congratulating him on his silver when Ostholt let out a shout and had the first rail of the final oxer down.
“I knew the last oxer would be a problem because I’d only just managed to hold her together over the triple combination just before,” said Ostholt. “I was shouting at her to try and slow down, but she was very, very strong.”
Despite some initial disappointment, Ostholt, who is married to German eventer Frank Ostholt, was thrilled to get silver, the first time Sweden has won an eventing medal in 40 years. The team also finished fourth. “I haven’t really realized it yet. It’s amazing and very good for Olympic sport in Sweden,” said Sara.
“It was amazing, awesome,” said Jung, who turned 30 today. “I was very happy when I thought I was second. It was a big dream that I could even ride in the Olympic Games. I hoped that if everything was as perfect as it could be that we could have a medal, of course. But it wasn’t even in my dreams to win two gold medals.”
Germany’s Sandra Auffarth also collected individual bronze with Opgun Louvo, adding only 4.8 time penalties on cross-country to her dressage score of 40.0. “He’s a good jumper, and the feeling was great. He was concentrated, and he was happy,” she said of her 10-year-old Selle Francais (Shogun II—Vanille du Tertre, J’T’Adore.) “I think we had a lot of fun. I’m very happy with him, but the team is the most important thing.”
Auffarth, 25, also won individual silver last year at the FEI European Championships and placed second at the Luhmuhlen CCI**** (Germany) in 2011 with Opgun Louvo.
Two rounds of show jumping is unique to the Olympic Games, and it shifted the standings considerably. Germany’s Ingrid Klimke had been tied with Sara after cross-country, but two rails down for Butts Abraxxas moved her out of contention.
Klimke chose not to jump in the individual round with 15-year-old Thoroughbred-Hanoverian (Heraldik XX—Kira-Annabell, Kronenkranich XX), who has never jumped clean in a three- or four-star event. She hoped her teammate, Dirk Schrade, who lay 10th after a clean show jumping round, might be able to substitute in her place, but the rules didn’t allow it. If he’d jumped a second clear round, he would’ve finished sixth individually.
The top 25 riders come back for the individual round, but only three members from any nation may jump a second time, so riders from Germany, Great Britain and New Zealand didn’t get the opportunity to better their standing.
New Zealand’s Mark Todd had also been in top three going into show jumping, but he took the first rail down in the double and had 3 time penalties with Campino, a 10-year-old German-bred gelding (Contendro—Pink Dame, Pinkus). Two more rails in the individual round relegated him to 12th.
“He’s a young horse with not a lot of experience,” said Todd. “He was tired going into the arena. With a young horse, it’s about learning to deal with pressure, and this Olympics came a year too early for this horse.”
However, a bronze team medal helped soothe the sting of dropping out of individual contention. “I feel absolutely privileged to be in the position that I am,” said Todd. “Twenty-eight years after my first medal, I’m here with another medal around my neck. To win any medal is a huge honor.”
Problems Abound For Team USA
Lady Luck wasn’t shining on the riders from the United States in these Games. Karen O’Connor was the only rider to finish the competition without a major issue.
“I have a horse of a lifetime. I knew that he was a very scopey very careful jumper, and I’m delighted at the outcome,” she said. “I’m really disappointed about our team and Otis. That was a huge hit for us. We had two mistakes yesterday from the rookies, the young guys. But they’ve learned a lot from that, and they’ll be here another time.”
Phillip Dutton saw his hopes for an individual medal slip away completely in the team round when Mystery Whisper swam through the oxer at fence 5, then stopped at fence 6, a fence decorated like a ship, before having another rail down in the beginning of the double combination.
“I’m a bit gutted,” said Dutton. “He warmed up in the small arena, and in hindsight I should’ve gotten him going a bit more forward. I was more concentrating on getting him thinking careful. He’s always a careful horse, so I think I should’ve got him a lot more forward and galloping down to jumps. He got a bit cautious in there, and then he spooked at the blue boat and had a stop. I’m pretty embarrassed about that.”
They did get to jump in the individual round, but he had two down there and 3 time penalties. “He actually tried pretty hard. He’s feeling the effects from a fast round yesterday,” said Dutton. “He’s a great horse. He deserves a better finish than that. It’s a big adjustment for him to come from a different hemisphere a few months ago. I think he’s going to be a bigger and stronger horse in a year or so.”
This is Dutton’s last competition on the 12-year-old Australian Warmblood (Richmeed Medallion—Socialite, Salute) for the time being, as the gelding’s owner, young rider Arden Wildasin, will take over.
Will Coleman posted a clear round with 2 time faults on Twizzel. “He was a little tired, but if you help him he tries. He jumped well,” Coleman said. “Two time penalties is a little infuriating, but the time seems to be really tight.”
He was still puzzling over his stop on cross-country. “I think the cross-country course was mentally fatiguing for the horses; it’s like being in a washing machine,” he said. “I am furious with myself, but at the same time those things do happen. I have a lot of confidence in my ability to perform on this kind of stage. It didn’t go well for me this weekend, but I don’t think it will always be like that. As a team we can do better, and personally I can do better.”
Tiana Coudray also felt disappointed after having two rails down in show jumping. “My horse is a super jumper. I can count the rails he’s had in the last few years, and it’s not many,” she said. “I think the time is so tight in there, and the instructions were to go fast. I think we compromised a few rails for the sake of going fast. Yesterday really affected the horses.”
Coudray almost didn’t make it into the arena when “Finn” decided he didn’t want to leave the warm-up. She had to get a running start to get on her way, and she flew down the tunnel and into the ring.
However, she didn’t think that affected her round. “The plan was to get in there and get moving,” she joked.
For complete results, visit the London 2012 website.
Check out the Aug. 13 issue of The Chronicle of the Horse for a complete story with more analysis, quotes and coverage of the competition.