on location with John Strassburger
The U.S. team–winner of the team gold medal at the 2002 World Championships–is less than a cross-country refusal behind, with 128.4, just ahead of Australia (129.4), winners of the last three Olympic gold medals.
And the individual title is a battle between the French and English too, with Nicolas Touzaint 2 penalties ahead of Pippa Funnell. They’ve relegated Bettina Hoy of Germany, yesterday’s leader, to third (32.00), while Kim Severson and Winsome Adante grabbed the fourth spot today, just .2 penalties ahead of World Champion Jean Teulere of France (38.6).
Darren Chiacchia is 15th (44.6), John Williams is 23rd (47.6), Amy Tryon is 29th (50.8), and Julie Richards is 58th (65.4). For Australia, Phillip Dutton is 21st (46.8).
The top six each stand on fewer than 40 penalties, while seventh to 28th places are all between 40 and 50 penalties. And no one is sure how influential tomorrow’s cross-country will be.
“We’ve got to be very, very careful, for sure,” said Funnell, “because there are certainly fewer very serious fences, like at Badminton or Burghley. And that’s what I think makes it more demanding, because there are only four or five very serious fences.”
Said Severson, “Mentally you have to stay on it all the way around. The first water is very serious, and the coffin is a very serious fence late in the course, but some of the easy fences could catch you if you aren’t paying attention.”
Said Touzaint, “The simple obstacles are large ones, and when you put it all together, it will ride like a true Olympic course.”
Funnel and Primmore’s Pride, the winners of the Rolex Kentucky CCI**** and the Burghley CCI**** (England) in 2003, looked unbeatable at 3:30 this afternoon, showing a glorious mixture of obedience, suppleness and brilliance. The bay gelding displayed obedience in the immobility of all three halts and in the halt-reinback-canter sequence at C, where judges Christoph Hess, Angela Tucker and Cara Whitham gave him all 8s and 9s. For brilliance, he got three 9s and three 8s on the two extended canters, and a 10 in the extended trot. And he showed suppleness in every movement. The only weakness was his first two flying changes. To sum it all up, Funnell earned two 9s and an 8 for her seat and aids.
“I’d say it was his personal best,” said a beaming and relieved Funnell right afterward.
But Touzaint, 24, and Galan De Sauvagere did beat them. The young Frenchman announced with the precision of his first halt that he wasn’t in his first Olympics just to get the free clothes, and his dark gray gelding got almost all 8s and 9s throughout the trot work. Then his extended walk earned 8-9-7 and both extended canters got straight 8s. Finally, Hess, at C, gave the horse a 10 for his gaits. The test wasn’t as brilliant as Primmore’s Pride, but it was deadly obedient and supple in every single movement.
“He was perfect,” said Touzaint, the 2003 European Champion, simply.
Capt. Mark Phillips, the U.S. team’s chef d’equipe, thought Severson’s performance with Winsome Adante was even better than the one that kicked off her victory at the Rolex Kentucky CCI**** in April. It was certainly remarkable for its suppleness and obedience, and Severson was pleased he stayed so relaxed in the windy and noisy stadium.
“I liked the whole package better,” said Phillips. “Dan” scored five 8s and a 9 on the third and fourth flying changes.
“I rode what I knew I could ride,” said Severson when asked if she’d ridden more conservatively than at Kentucky. “I wasn’t completely sure what I’d have, and I’m very pleased with him.”
Severson rode Dan three times to make sure they were both relaxed, but Dutton rode the energetic Nova Top five times before his 1:02 test, and the result was a completely obedient performance. The chestnut gelding looked a bit stiff in the trot, but Dutton kept asking and made the canter work a highlight.
“I was really delighted with the horse. I think it’s a sign of his maturity that he was so good in this environment,” said Dutton of Nova Top, who finished second to Winsome Adante at Kentucky. “He really tries too hard and worries, but he’s good for my riding because I always have to be thinking ahead of him, to nip a problem in the bud before it happens.”
Of the Australian goal for tomorrow, Dutton said, “Our plan is to not have any jumping faults or time faults on all five.” But he admitted that some Australian fans are worried about some of his teammates’ inexperience and the fact that Matt Ryan, the 1992 Olympic gold medalist and team gold medalist in 2000, was made the reserve. “It’s either a very strong team or the selectors made a mistake,” said Dutton dryly.
This is the first time that teams have ever had five riders on them, with three scores to count. So this evening’s biggest speculation is how that will affect riders like Touzaint, Funnell, Severson, Dutton, William Fox-Pitt of Great Britain and Andrew Hoy of Australia–who are all their teams’ fourth or fifth riders–in their quest for individual medals.
“For sure, it takes a lot of pressure off,” said Funnell, who rode on the British team in 2000 and wasn’t eligible for a medal in that format. “But I know every bit that we’ll be under team orders if we have to be, if one or two riders have had a bobble before William and I go. The team is the most important thing.”
The first rider (Andreas Zehrer of Austria) goes on course at 9:00 tomorrow morning, and the last (Ingrid Klimke of Germany) starts at 12:42 p.m.