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August 19, 2008

Van Grunsven Rules Again In Freestyle

Courtney King-Dye and Mythilus piaffed their way into 13th place in their first Olympic Games.

Any hope for a close race for the gold medal between Isabell Werth and Anky van Grunsven slipped away tonight, Aug. 19, when Satchmo resisted again in the piaffe, as he’d done three nights earlier in the Grand Prix Special. The mistake opened the door for van Grunsven, who specializes in freestyle with her Salinero, and she welcomed the opportunity.

Heike Kemmer finished third aboard Bonaparte, just ahead of Steffen Peters and Ravel.

As the last rider in the ring, Van Grunsven didn’t disappoint her Dutch fans, scoring 82.40 percent for her freestyle, performed to “Dance of Devotion” by Wibi Soerjadi. She earned a 10 for piaffe-passage transitions and 9s on her passage and piaffe, and her combined Special and freestyle scores put her first on 78.68 percent.

“Her piaffe-passage transitions were unbelievable,” said Gotthilf Roexinger, president of the ground jury. “Her harmony and music were fantastic.”

The only low scores she received were for her last halt, which came shortly after her last piaffe, and Salinero never stopped moving his feet. Van Grunsven had already ridden that last piaffe with a huge smile, and although she waited a moment for him to halt, in the end she just dropped her reins and wrapped her arms around his neck, knowing she’d already won. “I thought, ‘oh, he doesn’t have to do this,’” she recalled with a laugh. Her scores for the entrance and final halts ranged from 5 to 7.

She said she felt more relaxed today, knowing that Salinero could do a good freestyle. “I knew I still had to do a good test [after Satchmo’s mistake], but I didn’t have to take all the risk. If I didn’t feel safe, I wouldn’t have done my changes on a curved line.

“It’s unbelievable to win a third individual gold medal in a row on two different horses,” she added. “I’m the most spoiled person in the world with two good horses.”

Germany’s Werth couldn’t explain Satchmo’s resistance, except to say that he’d been frightened in the Special during the piaffe and remembered that again tonight as she began a piaffe pirouette. He stopped the piaffe, backed up, spun, and lifted his front end, earning marks of 5s and 6s for the piaffe and the transition that followed. Her second-placed freestyle score of 78.10 percent resulted in a combined score of 76.65 percent.

“It started really good, but maybe I took too much risk,” she said. “It’s a shame, but I can’t change it. In the last three years, no other horse has had so few mistakes in so many competitions. The whole atmosphere made him a bit sensitive. The rest was super; nothing was wrong with it. Without this mistake, I’m sure it would be very exciting between Anky and me.”

She said her test, performed to “Hymn Of Emotion” by Markus Lehmann-Horn and Michael Erdmann, was as difficult as it could be, including two-tempis straight into one-tempis, a pirouette, to extended canter and back to pirouette again.

Now she will focus on getting Satchmo’s confidence back. “This horse is outstanding, and my emotions for him have not changed because of two mistakes,” she said.

So Close For Ravel

Steffen Peters thought Ravel may have made the best international debut in Olympic history, finishing on a score of 76.50 percent in his freestyle, for a combined score of 74.15 percent and fourth place, just .3 penalties from the bronze medal.

“Sometimes you have dreams, and today it felt like I was dreaming and I was in charge of the dream,” he said. “It was not enough for the bronze, but I was happy.”

He thought the test to Rolling Stone and Talking Heads music went even better than the one he’d performed when he won the U.S. selection trials. “The transition from canter to pirouette was better, and he was so strong, but his walk was very relaxed,” he said. “He was more active in the piaffe, and I was able to add a few steps. He was so with me the whole time. I had a wonderful extended canter, and in the next three strides I had a pirouette canter.”

But he couldn’t quite make up the points he’d lost due to tension in the two-tempis, for which he scored 4s and 5s. “I had to risk it and really rode forward [in the two-tempis],” he said.

He approached third-placed Heike Kemmer of Germany to congratulate her after her test that clinched the bronze medal for her, on a score of 75.95 percent, for a combined 74.45 percent. “She has been working for this for quite a long time, and from the bottom of my heart it was a sincere congratulations,” he said.

Kemmer rode a lively freestyle to 70s pop music, including Beach Boys, The Mamas & The Papas and the Hollies.

“I’m really happy; he was relaxed,” she said. “His nose was really good in front of the vertical, and I had a good connection. He worked with me all the way. I am so proud of him. He showed what a well-trained horse he is. In piaffe and passage he was outstanding. He offered everything I asked.”

Her only mistake came as she exited the first piaffe, where Bonaparte took a few canter steps. “I gave too much pressure with my outside leg; he thought he had to go to canter,” she said. “But it worked in my choreography.”

She said she enjoyed her final movement, the extended canter straight up the centerline to Riexinger at C. “It was such a good feeling to show him,” she said.

A Meaningful Trip For King-Dye
Courtney King-Dye finished her first Olympics in 13th place aboard Mythilus. She performed a new freestyle, based around Cat Stevens’ “Sad Lisa” to a score of 69.55 percent for a combined total percentage score of 70.17. She had a mistake in the two- and one-tempis but was happy with Mythilus’ efforts.

“I did go after the difficulty, [doing the tempi changes] on a curve,” she said. “He had mistakes, and that’s the way it goes. I’m happy with my horse, and we prepared as best we could for the day.”

She said her piaffe-passage transition didn’t go as well as she’d wanted, so she snuck a second one into the end of the test. “He pulled that off,” she said. “He did the best he could on this given day, and he has a long future.”

The long trip and extended work is starting to catch up with Mythilus, said King-Dye, but given that he’s only competed at Grand Prix for a little over a year, she said she couldn’t have asked for more.

Emma Hindle of Great Britain moved up into seventh place overall (72.34%) aboard Lancet, and revealed after her freestyle that she’d just had an ovarian tumor removed six weeks before the Olympic Games. “I could only start riding in quarantine,” she said. “I am grateful to my physio Andrew Thomas for spending hours in the gym to help me get fit again. I am very, very happy with my performance. I normally don’t do well in the freestyle, and this is definitely my best performance.”

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