Thursday, May. 23, 2024

Exell Is Best For WEG Driving Gold; Johnson Retires With Bronze

Lexington, Ky.—Oct. 10

Boyd Exell started out his trip to the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games with a record-breaking dressage score, then held onto the lead to secure his first driving world championship gold medal.

“I left Australia when I was 21, and I said, 'I’m not going back without a world championship,'” said Exell, 38. “I finally have one.”

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Lexington, Ky.—Oct. 10

Boyd Exell started out his trip to the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games with a record-breaking dressage score, then held onto the lead to secure his first driving world championship gold medal.

“I left Australia when I was 21, and I said, ‘I’m not going back without a world championship,’” said Exell, 38. “I finally have one.”

Individual silver medalist Ijsbrand Chardon led the charge for the Netherlands team gold. U.S. driver Tucker Johnson finished in bronze medal position individually, helping the U.S. snag team silver, with Germany taking team bronze.

With yesterday’s drama behind them, 25 drivers prepared for a competitive cones phase, with less than a ball separating the top two drivers. But the day wasn’t without its hiccups.

Germany’s Ludwig Weinmayr trotted in the ring to start his course only to be held when the timers failed to count down. Technicians resolved the problem for Weinmayr, but the timers malfunctioned again for Chester Weber, who drove next. After one false start officials excused him while they worked to resolve the issue. But when they announced Weber 10 minutes later, they again found the same issue, and again dismissed Weber’s team.

After 20 minutes and one harried chef d’equipes’ meeting, the ground jury opted to swap to manual timing, allowing grooms to carry timers and speak to the driver. But by the time they announced Weber’s name, the electronic system was up and running.

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“I actually had a little bit of an advantage, because the first time I went in, one of my leaders, the trotter, was a little strong,” said Weber, Ocala, Fla. “So when we came out, we put one more curb chain on him. When I went back on I backed up a couple times, and my left wheeler was a little strong on the left rein. So we adjusted that a bit—maybe it was meant to be.”

Weber’s round, the first double-clear comes phase, proved fast enough to be unbeatable, but Fairclough followed immediately thereafter to lay down another perfect go for team USA.

“After Chester’s double clear my horses were so strong I could barely hold them!” said Fairclough. “First he [cupped his hand to his ear] toward the crowd and they got really loud, and then he realized [I was coming next], and he motioned for them to calm down.”

Tomas Eriksson managed the second-best marathon of the week yesterday despite a broken foot, but today tragedy struck when the fifth-seeded driver traversed an obstacle backwards to eliminate himself and drop Sweden—which had been sitting third—out of medal contention.

“We won the bronze by luck and an unforeseen situation,” said German chef d’equipe Fritz Otto Elley. “It’s not how we would have liked, because he did a fantastic job yesterday. But that’s sport, and we are happy to go home with a bronze medal.”

Theo Timmerman of the Netherlands picked up 7.97 penalties to drop from fourth to sixth, and teammate Koos de Ronde, who has spent plenty of time in the U.S. coaching, had a single ball down to take fifth overall.

With the pressure on to keep the United States in medal contention, Johnson logged a single error in a tricky combination to hold on to his third-placed spot. Chardon sealed his individual silver medal with a single error, taking the pressure off Exell, who drove conservatively and logged 3.52 time penalties to finish his round less than 1 point faster.

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“Normally when you do a 30 dressage you think you can have a comfortable drive throughout the weekend,” said Exell. “The other competitors wouldn’t let me do that. All weekend I’ve had to pretend that I’ve had a bad day the first day and have to work hard the second day.”

Listen to an interview with Boyd Exell

Exell and Chardon have been trading off first and second all season in Europe, and Chardon accepted that the scales didn’t tip in his favor.

“The marathon was a fight, and it turned out to be a good day,” he said. “This day was a lucky one for Boyd, but my horses worked very hard, and we are always neck and neck. He’s a good winner, and this is how the game is played.”

For his part, Johnson couldn’t have been happier with his individual bronze. This WEG represented his last international competition before his retirement from the sport, and he assured the crowd that despite his success he wouldn’t reconsider that decision.

“Not everyone gets the opportunity to end something that’s been such a great experience with such a high feeling of success, pride and pleasure,” he said.

Full results are available at the official Alltech FEI WEG site, and there’s more WEG news about driving and all the other sports on the Chronicle website.

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