Thursday, Jul. 25, 2024

Leslie Law Rises To The Top In Olympic Eventing

Bettina Hoy, cheered, cried, recomposed herself and then cheered even longer--all because of a circle she made during the Olympic eventing team show jumping round on Aug. 18.

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Bettina Hoy, cheered, cried, recomposed herself and then cheered even longer–all because of a circle she made during the Olympic eventing team show jumping round on Aug. 18.

And, two days later, she was probably crying again when the Court of Arbitration for Sport announced that neither she nor her German teammates could keep the two gold medals they’d apparently won.

Hoy’s clear round on Ringwood Cockatoo seemed to have sealed the German team’s first Olympic gold medal in eventing since 1988, but as their celebrations began to subside, there was an announcement hardly anyone heard–that the ground jury was investigating the result of one rider. That one rider was Hoy.

Eventually, the French belatedly received the gold medal that had seemed within their grasp, until they started accumulating faults in show jumping.

And Leslie Law of Great Britain ended up the individual gold medalist on Shear L’Eau, followed by Kim Severson on Winsome Adante and Pippa Funnell of Great Britain on Primmore’s Pride.

Hoy said that, after crossing the starting line in Athens’ brand-new show jumping stadium, she’d looked at the scoreboard clock and seen that it hadn’t switched off the countdown from the jury’s bell to her running time, so she turned away from the fence and circled around to start again. And she thought nothing more about it when she crossed the finish line and heard that she was clear.

But the next five hours would be engulfed in a first-class controversy, as, first, the ground jury of Christoph Hess of Germany, Cara Whitham of Canada and Angela Tucker of Great Britain assessed her 14 time faults for the time it took her to make the circle. But those 14 faults put her in ninth place and dropped the German team from first to fourth, behind the French, British and U.S. teams.

To no one’s surprise, Germany’s team leaders asked the Appeal Committee of FEI Vice President Freddy Serperi, Hugh Thomas and Gabriela Klingenberg to review the ground jury’s decision. And they ruled that the organizers had made a mistake in not resetting the clock, and that Hoy–and the German team–shouldn’t be penalized.

They reached that conclusion just before the second round, to decide the individual medals, started at 8:45 p.m. Despite the uncertainty, Hoy, 41, put herself back together and rode Ringwood Cockatoo, 13, to a six-fault second round that looked good enough for gold when leader Nicolas Touzaint and Galan De Sauvagere lowered four fences to fall all the way to ninth place.

Meanwhile, Law had completed his second of two absolutely perfect rounds on Shear L’Eau to climb from 11th after cross-country to get a gold medal that he never got to properly celebrate.

Severson and Winsome Adante lowered one rail in each round to keep the third place they’d held throughout the event–until she moved up to the silver.

Severson’s individual silver was the third consecutive Olympic individual medal earned by U.S. eventers (Kerry Millikin won bronze in 1996 and David O’Connor won gold in 2000).

And the team’s eventual bronze, 2.6 penalties off the British score and 5.2 penalties off the French score, marked the seventh time in the eight championships since Capt. Mark Phillips took over the team in 1993 that his squads have won a team medal. It was, though, the second time it took a ruling after the event to do it. (The first was the 1998 World Championships, where the British were eliminated for a drug violation.)

 A Show Of Obedience

Athens was, said Phillips, “a dressage and show jumping competition,” the reason, he said, his team didn’t win. And until show jumping began, it looked as if it was going to be a French feast.

Touzaint, 24, confidently rode Galan De Sauvagere to a dressage score of 29.4, getting scores above 80 percent from Hess and Whitham, and eclipsing the efforts of Funnell and Hoy.

Galan De Sauvagere’s test was a show of obedience, suppleness and movement. He earned two 8s and a 9 on his extended trot, three 8s on his extended canter, five 8s and a 7 on the two half-passes, and Hess gave him a 10 on gaits.

“Perfect,” was Touzaint’s succinct analysis, adding, “he is an excellent horse.”

Primmore’s Pride was just 2 points behind, although Tucker had placed him first, 2.4 percent above Galan De Sauvagere. And Primmore’s Pride had put the British uncharacteristically in first place after the first phase.

“It was by far the best test he’s ever done, particularly the trot work,” said Funnell of the horse on whom she won the four-stars at Rolex Kentucky and Burghley (England) in 2003.  Hoy had taken the lead on the first day and held on to third with 32.4, while Severson and Winsome Adante fit into fourth.

“Dan’s” test didn’t seem quite as expressive as the test that started him toward his second victory at the Rolex Kentucky CCI**** in April, but it had no mistakes. Severson was worried that the 20-plus-mph wind that blew both days of dressage might wind him up, since it had upset teammates Jacob Two Two (Julie Richards) and Poggio II (Amy Tryon). So she rode him three times before the test, “just to make sure.”

Severson added, “I rode what I knew I could ride; I didn’t want to throw it all away for a move I knew I couldn’t get.”

Still, Phillips liked it better than their Kentucky test. “The whole package was better, and it was very consistent in this atmosphere,” he said.
The wind didn’t bother either Darren Chiacchia’s Windfall 2 or John Williams’ Carrick (Williams said he’d actually have liked to have had more wind), and their scores in the mid-40s put the U.S. team in fourth place, 15.2 behind the British and 14.4 behind the third-placed Germans.

 French Flair

Touzaint, who retired on cross-country while riding as an individual in the 2000 Olympics, and his horse looked the picture of confidence on cross-country as the powerful gray gelding glided around the course, 3 seconds inside the time of 9:46. His was one of three clear rounds turned in by the French (World Champions Jean Teulere on Espoir De La Mare and Didier Courreges on Debat D’Estruval had the other two), and it put the French on top by 6.2 penalties after cross-country.

Cedric Lyard had added a round with only 3.2 time faults, but Arnaud Boiteau was eliminated when Expo Du Moulin took off a stride early at the maximum-width table at fence 9 and fell.

None of the Germans suffered jumping penalties, although the first four accumulated between .8 and 3.6 time penalties. And then Ingrid Klimke rode Sleep Late to a lightning-fast, daredevil round, recording the fastest time (9:27), even though Sleep Late slipped on the turn between fences 15 and 16 and lost his footing. But Klimke was back in the saddle faster than you can say 65 penalties and on her way again.

Her time was so fast that the ground jury even checked to make sure the timers hadn’t malfunctioned.

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“The French are right where they expected to be,” said Phillips after cross-country. “I’m sure the most disappointed people tonight are the Brits,” who were then only third, 12.2 penalties off the lead.

But the French riding in show jumping was the polar opposite of their riding on cross-country. The four riders left lowered a total of eight rails (three each for Lyard and Courreges; one each for Teulere and Touzaint) in the team round, and all but Touzaint added time faults (Teulere had 4 of those).

The Germans added only three rails and pulled past them, despite losing Klimke, their No. 2 scorer at that point, because Sleep Late had injured a hind leg in his mishap.

When the second round began, no one knew for sure who was leading. And when Touzaint began his round, the last of the night, it looked as if he were trying to single-handedly equal the team’s entire score as his mount dislodged two of the first three fences and even finished 3 seconds off the optimum time.

“The controversy did not help me, that is for sure, but I don’t think it made much of a difference,” said Touzaint. “I don’t think it went well with [Galan De Sauvagere] to come back again at 11 o’clock at night. He was extremely tired, and the jumps were much higher [2″] than he expected.”

Loss Of Balance

For the first time at an eventing championship, the beautifully built andpresented cross-country course, all on specially laid and watered sod, had minimal influence.

“I’m completely clear that it was not a four-star track, but it was done that way in the interest of the image of the sport, rather than to provide a four-star test,” said Phillips.

Williams said cautiously after dressage that he feared the course wouldn’t be decisive. And after his ride he said, “The course rode easier than it should have. It didn’t do its job. The balance [between the phases] isn’t there because there are way too many fast, clear rounds.”

Cross-country really became a race because, basically, the track went up a hill toward the mountains surrounding Marko-poulo, turned around, and came back down the hill. The Americans found it was easy to get 15 or even 20 seconds ahead of the clock on the way up the hill, and that they needed that cushion to avoid time faults on the way back down because course designer Albino Garbari had created some time-consuming twists and turns en route to the finish.

“He was very clever that way,” said Williams.

Those twists were why Williams and Carrick were 3 seconds slow, as were Tryon and Poggio, while Richards and Jacob Two Two were 4 seconds slow. They each told Chiacchia and Severson not to slow down, at all, on the second half.

Nine of the horses in the top 10 after dressage were still there after cross-country (and the 10th– Shear L’Eau–was in 11th), and the only two who fell out of the top 10 after the team round did it because they were injured and didn’t jump.

Some 55 horses jumped clear, 16 of them with no times faults and 14 more with 4 time faults or fewer (10 seconds slow).
The course caused nine rider falls and four horse falls, which the rules now say causes elimination. No horses were eliminated for refusals. Eight horses had one refusal; one horse (Livingstone and Hawley Bennett of Canada) had two refusals.

Still, Athens had more than 20 percent more finishers (90.66%) than did the modified Rolex Kentucky CCI**** in April.

But three experienced horses didn’t show jump because of injuries they suffered on course. Plus, the first horse on course flipped over the bounce into the second water jump and flung his rider into the second obstacle (breaking his nose), and one horse had to be humanely destroyed after striking his stifle on a jump.

Over And Over, ridden by Joris van Springel of Belgium, was removed from the course in an ambulance and taken to the veterinary clinic, where he was humanely destroyed later that night. The horse struck his stifle on fence 26 (the coffin) and suffered a fracture of his left femur, the bone above the stifle.

A statement from Prof. Leo Jeffcott, the president of the Veterinary Commission, said, “The horse was prepared for surgery on the evening of Aug. 17. During the operation, Prof. Jack Snyder (USA) found that in addition to the fracture, there was extensive soft-tissue and articular damage, causing severe instability of the stifle. This made satisfactory repair of the fracture impossible.”

The three horses who didn’t show jump were GV Top Of The Line (Olivia Bunn of Australia), Tamarillo (William Fox-Pitt of Great Britain, and Sleep Late.

Tamarillo, winner of the Badminton CCI**** (England) in May, chipped his stifle after striking it somewhere on course. Fox-Pitt said he didn’t know where.

Sleep Late passed the veterinary inspection before show jumping, but Klimke said that when she got on him, she could tell he didn’t feel well enough to jump.

The cross-country kept Funnell and Primmore’s Pride from winning since the giant British-bred accumulated 11.2 time faults and fell to eighth.

“There wasn’t enough to back him off,” said Funnell. “But he’s such a big-striding horse that I had a suspicion it would be that way all along. So I had to waste time shortening him for every fence. There was nothing you could just put your hands down to and sit back and relax.”

And so the two show jumping rounds became decisive. Ironically, they were what put Law on top with Shear L’Eau, who’s placed in the four-stars at Kentucky and Badminton several times and was on the 2003 European Championship gold-medal team. Along with Tryon and Poggio, members of the 2002 World Championship gold-medal team, they were the only pairs to leave all the rails up in two rounds.

“I wish I knew what the secret was so I’d be able to repeat it again,” said Law after climbing from 11th after cross-country to gold.
With his singularly aggressive style to the jumps, Poggio jumped Tryon all the way from 22nd to sixth.

Observed Funnell after Law had apparently won the silver medal, “Leslie has been a centerpiece of our team for five or six years, and he’s such a fabulous teammate, so we’re all really happy for him.”

But she added, with Law nodding in agreement, “is doing it that way really what eventing is all about?”

In a way, cross-country also kept Severson from winning the gold, although just one clear show jumping round would have done the trick. She and “Dan” delivered a textbook clear cross-country round, 16 seconds fast, but they only moved up one place.

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“I had more horse than I’m used to having all the way around,” said Severson, who, like her teammates, had made sure Dan was four-star fit. She wished she’d jumped him over the steeplechase fences set up in the warm-up to settle him.

“I definitely paid for not doing that,” she said with a smile. “I’ve never had him like that before. We all had a tremendous amount
of horse.”

But she offered no criticism of Garbari’s course. “The course designer did the right thing, especially considering what the weather could have been,” she said.

And once the smoke had literally cleared, it was three proven four-star horses who’d claimed all the medals.

This The Right Formula?

Someday the record books might have a big asterisk next to the results of the 2004 Olympics, indicating that this year the competition was a horse trial (technically a “CCI without steeplechase”), instead of a traditional three-day event. Or the asterisk might simply indicate that 2004 was when the format changed–forever.

Either way, the riders–at least the experienced international riders–were in agreement that the formula needed to be ironed out. John Williams predicted that since the cross-country course wasn’t a four-star test, it would alter the traditional ratio of influence for the three phases in championships. That ratio for generations has been 3 (for dressage) to 12 (for cross-country/speed and endurance) to 1 (for show jumping).

But clearly show jumping was going be far more influential in Athens since they’d be jumping two rounds. And Williams made it clear he didn’t like that.

Course designer Albino Garbari of Italy, who designed the demanding course at the 1998 World Championships in Rome, needed to make a track that would have “no bad pictures,” that would allow even less-experienced riders from countries like Brazil and Thailand to finish safely. So he had the almost impossible task of creating a decisive course, without the influence of roads and tracks and steeplechase before it, on a piece of ground where only a two-star event had ever been run.

“I feel a bit traditional,” said Garbari after cross-country was over. “I fully understand there is a need for a change, but in my heart I like the old format.”

Said Nicolas Touzaint, who looked as if he and Galan De Sauvagere were born to do the format until the second show jumping round, “I don’t feel like comparing them. It is too early, and the main difference is in the training of the horse.”

Bettina Hoy, who almost won the gold medal, declared she liked both formats. “If this is the way to go, then we need to go this way,” she said.

Julie Richards said she’s still trying to work out the new formula. “We have to try to not make it a dressage and show jumping competition, which none of us wants,” she said. “We’re all event riders because we like to go cross-country.”

David O’Connor, the 2000 Olympic gold medalist who’s now president of the U.S. Equestrian Federation and a member of the FEI Eventing Committee, said unequivocally, “I don’t think it’s a format problem. The format is fine. But the second show jumping round was disheartening–the horses looked tired.”

The second round was 5 centimeters (2″) higher than the first round. Only gold medalist Shear L’Eau (Leslie Law) and Poggio II (Amy Tryon) jumped faultlessly, just as they had in the team round. In the individual round, five of the 25 horses had rounds of 12 or more faults and seven more had 8 faults. Twelve of the 68 horses jumped clear in the first team round.

O’Connor noted that the last four riders’ show jumping rounds decided the team competition. “We have to decide if we want to make it that way–it’s certainly exciting to watch. But you have to separate the question of the format from the size of the course. What we have to decide is if this should be a true four-star course,” he said.

Kim Severson summed things up: “I like it. But we still have a lot to learn about it. I hope in the long run the longevity of the horses will be better.”

Ready Teddy Takes His Final Bow

It was half his lifetime ago that Ready Teddy was crowned the Olympic three-day event gold medalist, and it was that precociousness that prevented him from winning gold medals in his next two Olympics. Now, he and rider Blyth Tait are both retiring and heading back to New Zealand.

Ready Teddy, 16, will enjoy a life of ease in a pasture, while Tait, 43, will try to emulate former teammate Mark Todd and train race horses.

Two years after his victory in Atlanta, “Teddy,” a Thorough-bred gelding by Brilliant Invader, became the only horse ever to claim the individual World Championship along with the Olympics when he won that and the team gold medals at the 1998 World Championships in Rome. Those were two of–and the biggest of–the five three-day events he won with Tait.

But ever since 1998, the dressage ring has been Teddy’s worst nightmare. He blew up during the team competition at the 2000 Sydney Olympics and did it again–scoring 63.8 and placing 54th–in Athens. He performed a less forgettable test at the 2002 World Championships, but he stumbled in the water jump and unseated Tait, who retired him after the fall.

Tait said that winning the world’s biggest events at a young age caused Teddy to anticipate the scene and the noise surrounding the dressage ring, “and he’s absolutely terrified. I lose him completely.”

Teddy’s fate was sealed in Athens when he kicked over the arena marker at A as Tait circled it, preparing to enter.

“He’s very definitely a victim of his own success. He was a child prodigy,” said Tait.”I told him that if he was good, this would be the last dressage test he’d ever have to do. But I might turn him into a dressage horse now,” joked Tait.

And Teddy’s final cross-country round wasn’t as much fun as Tait had hoped either. The course wasn’t impressive enough to back Teddy off, and like other experienced four-star horses, he suffered time faults (1.2) as Tait struggled to keep him under control. He completed his third Olympics with one rail down in each show jumping round, to place 18th.

“There’s still a place for horses like him–horses that can really gallop and jump–as long as we still have a true four-star level, events like Badminton, Burghley and Kentucky,” said Tait. “But if they repeat this competition at the next Olympics and after that, well, yes, his day is over, I’m afraid.”

(For reports on each day’s competition, dozens of photos, and more, go to www.chronofhorse.com, click on Archives, then go to online coverage.)

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