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July 29, 2012

Olympic Eventing Dressage Shocker: Oiwa Leads

Japan's Yoshiaki Oiwa shocked eventing fans worldwide—and himself as well—with his leading score of 38.1 in the first phase of eventing at the 2012 London Olympic Games. Photo by StockImageServices.com.

July 29 — London, England

No one was more surprised than Yoshiaki Oiwa himself to learn that his score of 38.1 with Noonday de Conde was the best of the day in the dressage portion of the eventing at the Olympic Games.

Rain and thunderstorms had driven spectators away, and the press had nearly all gone inside when the Japanese rider captured first place as the fifth-to-last rider of the afternoon, beating Italy’s Stefano Brecciaroli on Apollo van de Wendi Kurt Hoev (38.5) and New Zealand’s Mark Todd on Campino (39.1).

“I still cannot believe it,” said Oiwa. “Probably everybody is a little bit shocked. There’s not much Japanese media here. Nobody expected it.”

And while the Germans retained the team lead heading into cross-country with three riders in the top 10, they too received a bit of a surprise when their World and European Champion, Michael Jung, had two mistakes in his test and placed 11th (40.6) with Sam.

The team from Australia is close behind Germany, just 3 points out of the lead, while Great Britain trails by less than 5 points in third ahead of Sweden, New Zealand and Japan.

The U.S. team sits seventh, almost 20 points behind Germany. Will Coleman rode into 20th place on Twizzel today (46.3), and Phillip Dutton had the best U.S. score with Mystery Whisper on 44.3 penalties, good enough for 17th place.

Oiwa isn’t new on the eventing scene. The 36-year-old rider had a good finish at the Badminton CCI**** in 2005, where he was third after cross-country, but he dropped to 11th after having three rails down in show jumping on Voyou du Roc. At the time he was training with Andrew Hoy, but he’s now based in Germany with Dirk Schrade, who currently sits in sixth place with King Artus (39.8).

However, Noonday de Conde, an 11-year-old Selle Francais mare (Fidji du Fleury—Sirene de Seneval, Nidor Platiere), is still green at the level. She got her Olympic qualification at the Vairano CCI*** in April, and that’s the only advanced three-day she’s completed.

“I didn’t expect to be at the top after dressage. I did my best, and the horse did very well, so that was the result,” said Oiwa. He wasn’t willing to make any prediction about whether he’d remain there at the competition’s end.

“With my horse, the difficulty is going up and down the hills and the fitness [on cross-country],” he said. “This will make her tired, I’m sure. There are some technical fences, and these fences will be very difficult to control when she’s tired. I can’t say that any one fence is difficult. For us, all the fences are difficult enough. But she’s very honest. She’s always trying her best for me, even if I find a difficult distance. I’ll really trust her for tomorrow. I want our best result ever for our team, and that’s still the goal. I’m not thinking about the individual medals.”

Brecciaroli agreed about taking the competition one day at a time. He also placed second after dressage at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games in Kentucky with Apollo van de Wendi Kurt Hoeve, but 15.6 time penalties on cross-country dropped them to 14th, and time will certainly be a factor on the Greenwich course.

“It’s a special horse for me. The horse was beautiful today to ride. I did have one mistake, but I think he did a very good job,” said Brecciaroli of the 12-year-old Belgian Warmblood gelding (Polidiktus van de Helle—Naewshit van Wendijkurt, Township XX). “I’m very happy to sit here and look forward to tomorrow. It’s very important tomorrow to look at the fitness of the horse and pay attention so that the horse can come home well in the last three minutes.”

A Familiar Face

The team from New Zealand came into the Olympic Games with high expectations, but after Lenamore gave Caroline Powell a difficult time during her dressage test, and a rain delay put Andrew Nicholson’s Nereo off his game, it was up to Mark Todd to put the Kiwis back in contention. He was the last rider of the day to go with Campino, and no one in the world was better able to deal with the pressure than the two-time Olympic individual gold medalist.

“I came here to try and win a medal,” said Todd, 56. “Campino is less experienced. He went in there, gave 110 percent and never put a foot wrong. At this stage of his training, I could not have asked him to go any better. If he does that in the next two phases, that will be fantastic.”

The 10-year-old German-bred warmblood (Contendro—Pink Dame, Pinkus) ran here last year at the test event, and it’s been a quick journey for him from two-star to four-star.

“He’s not third yet. He’s third after the dressage,” said Todd. “He’s a horse that is very, very talented. I’ve always thought a lot of him. He has won a lot all the way through his career. I’m chuffed with him, but there’s two more days of competition.”

Nicholson, 50, was furious after his ride was delayed by 10 minutes in the middle of the competition due to thunder and lightning.

“I thought the British were a sporting nation. I think it’s an absolute disgrace,” he said. “I was putting my horse in his preparation, which is a build-up stage, and he was starting to do his best work. They didn’t mind the lightning and the rain earlier. Then suddenly there’s a 10-minute hold. I then had to walk, and a bit of walk is all right, but 10 minutes of walk...He honestly thought he was just at another training session, and he felt a bit quiet and a bit confused.”

The 12-year-old Spanish-bred gelding (Fines—Berganza 17, Golfi) had bobbles in the changes, landing him in 21st place on 45.0.

“I messed up a couple of bits, which are not quite my best bits, but he felt like he was just a little bit switched off, not switched on. To me, the weather wasn’t bad enough to warrant that,” said Nicholson.

USA Makes The Best Of It

Phillip Dutton’s spectacular dressage scores with Mystery Whisper earlier in the year, such as the 27.9 he earned at the Red Hills CIC*** (Fla.) in March, meant high expectations for Team USA, but it wasn’t meant to be. Although Dutton rode a clean test, the electric atmosphere kept “Whisper” from showing off his best movement.

“He gave a little bit of a spook around the arena, which worried me,” said Dutton. “I didn’t think he’d do that. But then he settled quite well. I probably didn’t have quite as good a trot as I had outside just because of the atmosphere and tightness. I wasn’t going to push for any more. I thought he executed the movements well.”

Dutton said he hoped to show a soft picture with the 12-year-old Australian Warmblood (Richmeed Medallion—Socialite, Salute), as he’d seen the judges rewarding that throughout the competition. “I was trying to get the movement without holding him and making him tight in his neck,” he said. “He didn’t make any mistakes; he changed well. I think I could’ve done a little better, too. I’m pleased without being ecstatic.”

Will Coleman also thought he might’ve left some points on the table with Twizzel, a 16-year-old Westphalian (Argentinus—Lady Bedford, Sensitive).

“He was almost too quiet. Maybe I had 10 minutes too much in the warm-up, but that’s a fine line,” he said. “You aren’t really sure how they’re going to react, but he went down there like he hadn’t even changed warm-ups. He was good. Normally his trot work is his strongest, and I think he made up points in the canter, so he flipped it a little bit. I wish I could’ve gotten both on the same day.”

And the U.S. riders weren’t the only ones wishing they could’ve found a few more points in the arena. Great Britain’s William Fox-Pitt tied for 17th on 44.1 with Lionheart, and he summed up the thoughts of many riders when he said, “We’re certainly hoping it’s not a dressage competition. If it is we’ll be very disappointed. At the Olympic Games you never know what might happen.”

Boyd Martin will be the first rider out on cross-country at 12:30 p.m. BST with Otis Barbotiere.

For full results, visit the London 2012 website.

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