The stakes were high for the show jumping individual qualifier in Tokyo tonight: A single rail down meant a rider didn’t qualify for the individual final tomorrow.
Seventy-three riders entered the ring at the Baji Koen Equestrian Park for the qualifying track, and the top 30 will come back tomorrow. No members of Team USA will be among those 30: Kent Farrington had one rail down with Gazelle; Jessica Springsteen had one down with Don Juan Van De Donkhoeve, and Laura Kraut had two down with Baloutinue.
This was the first day of a new format in action at these Games. The individual medal competition only consists of two days of jumping: tonight’s single round to qualify, then a class with a jump-off tomorrow. When riders return for tomorrow, they’ll be sitting on zero penalties, and individual medals will be awarded at the end of the class.
Now out of the individual medal hunt, U.S. riders will have their next chance to compete on Aug. 6, in the team qualifier. The top 10 countries from the 20 teams in the qualifier, including any tied for 10th, will advance to the team final on Aug. 7.
“That didn’t go as planned,” Farrington said of his round tonight. “The harsh reality of our sport is one rail down, and you’re out. The new format here being that this is the qualifier for the individual final, which is tomorrow, so it’s kind of all or nothing. Unfortunately for the American team right now, it’s nothing. So it’s a tough night for the Americans.
“I think it was just a cheap fault,” he continued. “Any horse can have a rail down. Unfortunately it’s the wrong day to have one down. It’s a costly night.”
Springsteen is riding in her first Olympic Games, and she finished the evening sitting in a tie for 31st with Farrington and several others.
“My horse jumped unbelievable,” said Springsteen. “I couldn’t be happier with him. When I walked that line, I thought that would ride a little bit more up, but my horse has such a big stride, and he jumped the wall really forward, so I just think I was a little bit more quiet there. But all in all, I’m thrilled with the round, and I’m excited for the rest of the week.”
This is the first championship for Baloutinue, and Kraut only started competing the horse this season. They ended their night tied for 44th.
“I was really, really pleased with the beginning of my round—probably three-quarters of the course I thought my horse jumped fantastic,” she said. “He was focused; he stuck right with the plan I wanted to have right up until … I wouldn’t even say it went wrong. I got the jump in over the wall I wanted, which led me into the four [strides], and he had sort of an uncharacteristic touch of a back pole.
“I mean, I haven’t ridden him that long, but he almost never does that. I would say probably I lost a little concentration or focus to the last and just maybe didn’t fight as much as I should have. He barely touched that. I’m not disappointed in him at all; I’m probably just disappointed with the score.”
Numerous top riders made it through today with clear rounds, including World No. 1 Daniel Deusser of Germany on Killer Queen, World No. 2 Martin Fuchs on Clooney 51, and British gold medalists Ben Maher and Scott Brash, riding Explosion W and Jefferson, respectively. But there were some surprises, too: Among those who didn’t make it through to the individual final was Switzerland’s Steve Guerdat on Venard De Cerisy, ranked third in the world. But even some of those who made it through noted they were not fans of the new format.
“So far, I think we have the best combinations or most of the combinations that we expected in the final; they were clear today,” Deusser said. “But at the end of the class, even one rail down means that you cannot go to the final. It’s different maybe if you jump a speed class plus two rounds Nations Cup at the end; jumping three rounds puts, in my opinion, the best combinations together.
“But that’s OK. That’s the sport; that’s the format this year,” he continued. “Like I said, I’m not really a fan of the format, but we will have a winner as well tomorrow, and I guess it will be a good winner.”
Problems were spread around Santiago Varela’s track, though several horses spooked at fence 10, an airy vertical with a sumo wrestler set as decoration on the side, and a few stopped.
“I don’t think it was the sumo itself that was difficult to the horses, I think more what was on the right side of it—all the flowers—because many riders turned a bit toward the flowers. The horse didn’t really see the fence, but they spooked away from the flowers,” Fuchs said.
“It was a challenging round for me today,” he added. “The course itself wasn’t that difficult or super tricky, but what makes it difficult is that it’s the Olympic Games. Clooney feels the pressure, and I feel it. The rideability wasn’t what it should have been. But usually he gets better from day to day, and I think now we have the most difficult round of the week behind us, and now we can start riding.”
More Tidbits From The Evening:
• All three Japanese riders qualified for the individual final: Daisuke Fukushima on Chanyon, Eiken Sato on Saphyr Des Lacs, and Koki Saito on Chilensky.
“Of course I was nervous representing Japan and being the host country, but since it’s not a major sport in Japan yet, I feel that the Olympians should be able to really tell the country how wonderful the sport is, being able to compete with an animal,” said Fukushima, who jumped a clear round tonight. “His warm-up round was really good, but I think when he went into this course today the decorations were very massive, the jumps got bigger, so he was a little bit like, ‘Whoa’ at first, but then he got used to it, and it got better.”
• Ashlee Bond, who is based in the United States but competes for Israel, qualified for the individual final on Donatello 141. She also had one of the fastest rounds of the evening.
“I was [delighted]. I mean how could you not be?” she said. “I swear, for the warm-up class, I could not stop smiling. My face hurt. I was grinning from ear-to-ear, and I tried to stop, and I was like, ‘We’re at the Olympics!’ And then I slept, and then I woke up, and I was like, ‘OK tomorrow we have to do the qualifier. This is real.’ I kind of got more in the zone, which I was happy about.”
• Two horses competed by Swedish riders—Peder Fredricson’s All In and Henrik von Eckermann’s King Edward—are barefoot. Both qualified for the final, as did Sweden’s third rider, Malin Baryard-Johnsson on Indiana.
“I just have a feeling he’s more comfortable without,” Fredricson said. “He’s been barefoot almost two years. It’s no problem. [When] you ride on these surfaces, and there are rubber mats and there’s no stones here, then you don’t need shoes, but sometimes if you want to go hacking or something you have to put protection on.”
• Another U.S.-based rider, Nayel Nassar representing Egypt, also qualified for the individual final on Igor Van De Wittemoere. This is the first time Egypt has fielded an Olympic show jumping team in 61 years.
“It felt great,” he said of his round. “He jumped unreal. I thought I could have ridden a bit better; I was a little hairy to the triple bar, but besides that I thought I executed everywhere. There’s room for a bit of improvement from my end, but he was absolutely fantastic.
“It’s a tough track. It’s a five-star grand prix course, as it should be,” he added. “[Varela] has a really tough job to weed about the best 30 horses and riders out of 75. This is what we were expecting—it’s big, it’s tough, it’s long, it’s technical, it’s spooky. It’s everything you’d expect in an Olympic track.”