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October 27, 2011

U.S. Show Jumpers Earn A Golden Ticket To London

That medal gets the United States an invitation to the 2012 Olympic Games in London. Photo by Mollie Bailey.

Oct. 27—Guadalajara, Mexico

The U.S. show jumping team came to the Pan American Games for one reason and one reason only—to earn an invitation to the London Olympic Games. But they managed that and more, without any U.S. riders putting a single fault on the scoreboard today en route to a team gold medal and a spot on the Olympic start list. Brazil picked up team silver, and Mexico delighted their hometown crowds by earning bronze.

This team win comes on the heels of team gold in the dressage and eventing competitions. Not since 1975 has any one nation swept all three team medals. That year the U.S. teams won all three sports at the Pan American Games in Mexico City.

Not that the show jumping win was easy. The team—McLain Ward on Antares F, Kent Farrington on Uceko, Christine McCrea on Romantovich Take One and Beezie Madden on Coral Reef Via Volo—lay barely ahead of Mexico after yesterday’s speed round. Heading into today’s two-round Nations Cup format competition, the mood in the U.S. camp was beyond edgy.

“There was probably more pressure today and yesterday than at the past Olympic Games,” said Ward, who followed up yesterday’s two-rail rounds with a pair of brilliant clears. “We came here with a very serious plan to not only try to win but to qualify. Not to qualify would have been a disaster. We have a great team of people around us and great horses, as well as [Chef d'Equipe] George [Morris]. That makes the job easier.”

Brazil traded clear round for clear round with the United States this morning at the Guadalajara Country Club, but this afternoon the rails started hitting the dirt. Karina Johannpeter and SRF Dragonfly de Joter tipped one pole out of the cups, and Álvaro Miranda Neto posted 8 faults on the board.

“We knew it would be very hard to try to catch the U.S. because they came in with a very strong team of experienced riders,” said Rodrigo Pessoa, who rode a pair of double-clean rounds for Brazil aboard HH Ashley. “Our objective was second place, and I’m happy we achieved our goal. We spent two days chasing the U.S. riders and running away from the Mexicans. It was close, and very good sport.”

Mexico improved on this morning’s performance, adding only 2 faults this afternoon to their total and earning their own Olympic ticket.

“It felt really good to win here with everyone supporting us,” said Alberto Michan, who picked up only 1 time fault today over two rounds of competition aboard Rosalia La Silla. “It’s thanks to our team, trainers, grooms, family and sponsors that all this happened.”

Beautifully Ridden

Javier Fernández lay another tricky course today, notching the fences a few holes higher to an average of 1.50-meters. The second-last fence, an airy vertical, tumbled quite a bit, as did both combinations. If that weren’t enough, Fernández tightened up the time allowed, and many who left the fences in place logged a point or two thanks to the clock.

U.S. riders spent more time than yesterday walking their tracks. As their teammates held their breath, U.S. riders took turns laying down one perfect round after another.

“Getting to London was a cliff hanger, and anything can go wrong with horses,” said Morris. “I’m very proud not only of the results and winning the gold medal here, but how they rode it. I’m a very ideological horseman, and I’m only interested in a course if it’s beautifully ridden. These rounds were all like poetry: They looked like equitation rounds.”

He saved special praise for Madden. Last to go for the day, she entered the ring knowing the United States was unbeatable and still put forward a foot-perfect trip.

“I have a fantastic team here, and they didn’t even need me today,” she said. “They all jumped clear, and it’s been a fantastic experience. Our team not only has really great horses and riders, it’s also a great team to be around.”

Madden lays first in the individual standings, followed by McCrea and Ward. But fewer than 2.5 points separate the top five riders.

London, Anyone?

Fédération Equestre Internationale Secretary General Ingmar de Vos was on hand to formally announce the three Olympic qualifications at stake. Canada and Brazil had both already qualified at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games, so the three top placings besides those countries—United States, Mexico and Chile—earned qualifications here. These nations join Great Britain, Germany, France, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, the Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland, Australia and Ukraine. One more country will join the start list, to be determined by the results of a special Olympic Team Qualifier in Doha, Qatar, in December.

The disappointed nations lobbying hard for a qualification included Argentina and Venezuela. Venezuela, who started the day in sixth, fell out of contention when G&C Quick Star put on the brakes to fence 10, a vertical, sending Pablo Barrios through the fence. Barrios got to his feet after a minute, with one hand on his back, which was protected with a Velcro support, and walked out of the ring. He returned for the second round of competition, but logged 12 faults. That team finished eighth.

Samuel Ignacio Parot provided the drop score for Chile in Round 1, but picked just 1 time fault in Round 2.

“It’s been a really long time since we’ve been to the Olympics,” said Parot, who rode Al Calypso in Guadalajara. “I share in your triumph, and for us this is almost like winning a medal. We’re very proud.”

The show jumping horses will rest tomorrow and return to vie for individual medals in two more rounds of competition on Saturday, Oct. 29.

See photos and catch up on all the competition from Round 1 of the Nations Cup and the speed class. The official website has official team results and individual standings.

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