Team USA rallied from a fifth-placed position after Tuesday’s first round of Pan American Games show jumping competition to take team gold Wednesday, Nov. 1, in Chile.
The victory represents the team’s eighth win in the history of the Pan Ams and, more critically, stamps their ticket to the 2024 Paris Olympics in their final chance to qualify. Canada, which finished second, and Mexico, which finished fourth behind bronze-medal Brazil, also earned Olympic berths.
McLain Ward, who sits in gold-medal position going into Friday’s individual final with teammate Laura Kraut just 0.04 points behind him, was tempered in his assessment of the win.
“As everybody knows, our A goal was to qualify for the Games and to win a medal here as a team, [to] represent our country well. I thought the team rallied well and pulled it off with pretty good style today,” he said. “The fact that it took us so long to qualify needs to bring it to our attention that we can’t rest on a good week here, that we have some work to be done to be prepared for Paris and go against the world’s best.”
Wednesday’s two-round Nations Cup competition got off to a shaky start for the U.S. riders. Ward, aboard his Tokyo Olympic partner Contagious, started the day with a clear in the first round. However, teammate Karl Cook, who had struggled and nearly fallen off in the first day of competition, came back with Caracole De La Roque and had three rails down.
That put the pressure the pressure on teammates Kent Farrington and Laura Kraut—both Olympic veterans riding less experienced horses—to deliver the best possible performances. Aboard Landon and Dorado 212, respectively, they posted clear rounds.
By the end of the first round, the combination of the U.S. team’s three clear rounds and trouble for overnight leaders Brazil—defending Pan American individual gold medalist and Day 1 leader Marlon Modolo Zanotelli had 21 faults, and ultimately retired in the final round when his problems continued—saw the U.S. climb the rankings to second place, into contention for both a medal and the coveted Olympic qualification.
In the second round, every member of the squad delivered, with a set of clear rounds that earned them team gold and boosted three U.S. riders into the top 10 going into the individual finals, with Farrington sitting in eighth behind Ward and Kraut in the top two spots.
“It was extremely nerve-wracking, this whole day,” said Kraut. “We had a very good first-round performance but still, you know that it could all go away. Two mediocre rounds [in the final round] would have lost it for us. For me, I was so relieved when the three before me went clear, I almost enjoyed the last round—unlike yesterday.”
Cook, who beat the demons of his first two rounds to deliver a clear with Caracole De La Roque—an 11-year-old mare who has Nations Cup Finals experience with her former rider, Julien Epaillard of France, but is new to Cook this season—spoke frankly about his experience.
“[T]hat warm and fluffy feeling where you feel ready? You just have to know it’s not going to be there, which is not the most fun,” he said of going into the ring for Wednesday’s team final, after being the team’s drop score in both of the first two rounds. “You can’t expect it to be there before you go; you just have to [say], ‘I’ve done the best I can, now it’s time to ride.’ ”
Cook said the competition exposed “variables that were unaccounted for in our prep,” and credited the team and his coach, Eric Navet, for helping him change things to deliver a clear final round.
“There were challenges we hadn’t yet faced together, so it was just a lot of reflection, working with Eric, talking with Robert [Ridland, chef d’equipe, and] the other riders,” he said. “Just trying to, even though it feels like a catastrophe, just not changing everything, just make little tweaks and just adjust the plan.”
Farrington, riding the 10-year-old Landon, piled praise on the young horse, who just won his first grand prix in January.
“I’m thrilled with his performance today,” he said. “We really needed clear rounds today, or we weren’t going to be qualified for the Olympics; that’s as simple as that. He’s an inexperienced horse for this level of competition. I thought he showed his greenness the first day, and he really rallied back—actually over a more difficult and more real course. So I’m thrilled with the performance, great progress for my horse, and I’m happy we got Team USA in the Olympics.”
On the strength of clear rounds from Tiffany Foster (Figor), Amy Millar (Truman) and Beth Underhill (Nikka VD Bisschop), the Canadian team, which also included Mario Deslauriers (Emerson), who had 4 faults in the team final, took silver. All four riders finished inside the top 15 individually, with Foster currently in fifth, Millar in ninth, Underhill in 11th and Deslauriers in 15th.
See full results here. The competition continues Friday with the individual final, where less than a rail separates the top 10 riders.