on location with John Strassburger
“We wish the team competition had been today,” said McLain Ward after he finished today’s round with just 1 time fault, as teammates Beezie Madden and Peter Wylde each jumped faultlessly in this morning’s show jumping individual qualifier. In fact, Wylde was the first rider to leave all the fences standing, jumping confidently on Fein Cera.
Chris Kappler and Royal Kaliber, who’s been recovering from an injury for the last month, looked slightly rusty but lowered just one rail to complete an auspicious U.S. day.
Unfortunately for the U.S. team, unlike the World Championships, this first round doesn’t count in the team standings. It’s sole purpose is to count toward qualification for Friday night’s individual final, where the 45 riders who get that far will all revert to 0 faults to begin those two rounds.
But Madden, on Authentic, and Ward, on Sapphire, each believe today’s result will positively affect their team’s performance in Tuesday’s grueling Nations Cup. They insisted once more that this squad has real camaraderie.
“In other years, I don’t think we’ve been as excited about the team as this year. And all of us, we all have the same attitude, the same desire: We all want to revive show jumping in the United States and make sure we’re one of the top nations in the world,” said Madden. She said she thinks their horses are fitter than their squad was for the 2002 World Championships, where the U.S. horses wilted in the second round.
Said Ward, “We’ve all had little problems getting ready for this, and we’ve all put our heads together to get over those little bumps in the road.”
Ten of the 77 riders jumped Olaf Petersen’s course faultlessly. The others, besides the three U.S. riders were: Antonis Petris of Greece on Gredo La Daviere, Juan Carlos Garcia of Spain on Albin III, Thomas Velin of Denmark on Carnute, Malin Baryard of Sweden on Butterfly Flip, Peder Fredericsson of Sweden on Magic Bengtsson, Grant Cashmore of New Zealand on Franklins Flyte, Ludo Philippaerts of Belgium on Parco, and Wim Schroeder of the Netherlands on Montreal.
In addition, another six riders kept all the fences up but crossed the timers at least 1 second slow: Ludger Beerbaum of Germany on Goldfever, Otto Becker of Germany on Cento, Cian O’Connor of Ireland on Waterford Crystal, Bernardo Alves of Brazil on Canturo, and Nick Skelton of Great Britain on Arko III.
The fans–who filled about three-quarters of the main stadium today–went wild when Petris jumped a clear round. He was the only one of his four teammates to accomplish the feat. It’s the first time Greece has ever fielded a full show jumping team for the Olympics.
Petris said he began riding while living in the United States, then took a 10-year break until resuming again in 1993, competing in Cyprus (where he was living) and Greece. But two years ago he was one of the riders the Greek federation asked to point for the Olympics, so he moved to Holland to train with Henk Nooren. “Until then, it was very, very amateurish,” he said of his riding.
Petris said he hadn’t expected to be clear today. He said carrying his nation’s expectation on his back was a bit daunting, “but I tried to ride like it was any ordinary event.”
A Greek reporter asked him if he could promise his countrymen the same kind of performance in the Nations Cup and beyond. Petris smiled humbly and said, “I believe the next two days will be even more difficult than today, and I wish I could say yes, but I cannot say yes.”
This is the second time Petersen, of Germany, has designed the Olympic courses. He also designed the 1988 Olympic in Seoul. Then, he confirmed the pattern of Olympic course designers using the host city’s themes on every fence, and his fences are distinctly Greek-themed here. Madden said that Petersen’s questions “seem to be carefulness and a little bit tricky in the way he’s using his materials and his distances.”
Today’s course wasn’t a speed leg, as is the case with the initial phase at the World Championships or the FEI World Cup Final. It was a grand prix-type course–590 meters long, with 16 jumping efforts. The smallest fence was the 4’8″ fence 1, but three fences were 5’2″ and nine were 4’10” or 4’11” high. The time allowed was hard to make, and the initial 89 seconds was increased by 5 seconds after the first four horses were almost 10 seconds slow.
“The course was very difficult, but not over the top,” said Ward.
All but fences 1, 2 and 6 exacted faults. The fence 7-8-9 line–beginning with a triple bar shaped like an amphitheater, followed by a two-stride combination of verticals, then four or five strides to the Greek Doors oxer at 9–was the grouping that most concerned riders. They could chose either right or left options at fences 7 and 8 and could also choose their striding.
But the fence that fell the most was the Vine Trees oxer-oxer combination at fences 12A and B. Probably a quarter of the field lowered at least one of the varnished, natural-colored rails.
Ward said that many of the early riders had failed to keep coming forward through the left turn from the wall at fence 10 on their way to the 4’10”-wide oxers, whose thin rails were hard to see. “They were very big and plain and at the end of a long course on a hot day,” said Ward.