Oct. 26—Guadalajara, Mexico
For Beezie Madden, the first day of competition at the Pan American Games was a relatively easy one. She got to watch 50 riders before her tackling the course, which told her exactly where she had go to outrun them.
“I knew [Christine McCarea] was still leading, so I took the same track she did,” said Madden, who rode Coral Reef Via Volo to the top of the class. “She hadn’t done the inside turn to the last double, and I thought at that point it wasn’t worth the risk, and I could be faster without doing it.”
Sure enough, Madden outran McCrea by finding a tighter track to the first four fences. McCrea had led the field since she took a turn around the ring at the Guadalajara Country Club, 21st in the order. McCrea knew her teammate well enough to know that she might not hold onto that lead for the rest of the day, but she was happy to finish second.
“I knew she’d be really fast. I didn’t care that she beat me—as long as it was an American, it’s fine with me,” said McCrea, East Windsor, Conn.
Thanks to Madden and McCrea’s great scores, the U.S. tops the race for team gold. But not by much. Three Mexican riders—Daniel Michan, Antonio Maurer and Alberto Michan—finished right on their heels, pushing Mexico to a close second place. Right now the United States has 2.9 total penalties, and Mexico has 3.26. Brazil, led by Bernardo Alves and Bridgit, trails in third with 7.61 penalties, ahead of Argentina.
Javier Fernández built a serious track for the 55 riders who took to the field, with three combinations, each of which had plenty of problems. The fences generally stayed in the 1.45-meter range, with a few set a bit higher. Federico Daners, who scored a top 20 finish for his native Uruguay last week in the eventing competition—took a tumble off Chicolas coming into the final combination, and Peru’s Alonso Valdez stopped out after a miscommunication at a plank fence.
The lead-off rider for the U.S., McLain Ward, didn’t have the day he was hoping for. Antares F took down two rails coming into combinations. But a lightning-quick round meant that he finished the day in seventh.
“It wasn’t exactly the round I’d like to have, but at least I was fast,” said Ward, Brewster, N.Y. “Hopefully the rest of the team will go well, and we’ll be in a good position."
The last U.S. rider to tackle the course, Kent Farrington, also had two rails on Uceko, arguably the least seasoned mount on the U.S. team. Farrington lies 15th.
“I thought my horse was trying hard. He jumped well,” said Farrington. “I got a little deep to the triple bar, and he overjumped A and just got far away from B and had it down. I just went kind of for a nice round after that. I thought he was good, and the U.S. team is doing well, and that’s what we’re here for."
Plenty At Stake
The U.S. riders are feeling the pressure as they need to do well in order to earn a spot at the 2012 London Olympic Games. Two other teams competing here—Brazil and Canada—have already earned slots at that event, and there are three invitations at stake.
The atmosphere in the U.S. camp at the Games feels tense, to say the least. The team endured a disappointing Nations Cup season in Europe which saw them relegated from the Top League to the Promotional League series. After following that performance with a 10th-placed finish at the Nations Cup at Spruce Meadows (Alberta), U.S. show jumpers are in need of a boost.
“For sure, getting a team medal is the most pressure of all,” said Madden, Cazenovia, N.Y. “We still need to qualify for the Olympic Games, and I think we have the entire U.S. contingent here watching us and following us. There are a lot of other teams with the same goal. But that’s the game.”
Those other countries include Mexico. With a tight race, that country has pulled out all the stops to try to earn a ticket to London as well.
“The Mexican team has been working really hard in Guadalajara for the last 15 days, really concentrating to get ready for this event,” said Daniel. “The results from today paid off, for all the effort. What I think for tomorrow is we’re going to keep on doing well and try to keep it up.”
Four of the U.S. riders had a different preparation strategy. Madden, McCrea, Farrington and reserve rider Mario Deslauriers came to Mexico on Sunday from the Pennsylvania National, where everyone performed on form, granted, on different mounts. Deslauriers won the $40,000 Pennsylvania Big Jump and finished as the Open Jumper Champion on Cella, Farrington won three open jumper classes, Madden placed third in the Prix de Penn National CSI-W on Cortes C and earned leading lady rider honors, and McCrea picked up good ribbons on Avenir.
Team competition continues tomorrow, with two more rounds of jumping. The individual competition wraps up on Sat. Oct. 29.