Great Britain’s Oliver Townend is the World No. 1 rider, so it’s only fitting he’s sitting in first place after the first day of dressage at the Tokyo Olympic Games. Aboard his five-star winner Ballaghmor Class, Townend was second in the ring and earned a score of 23.6 penalties that none of the 40 riders to follow could beat.
“We know he’s special, and I’m just very grateful for him to do a clear round in there, a very safe test,” Townend said. “On my own terms I’d want a little bit more, but I think a 23 is a very good starting mark for the team.”
Ballaghmor Class was Townend’s partner for this year’s Land Rover Kentucky CCI5*, which they won, and also for his win at the 2017 Land Rover Burghley CCI5* (Great Britain).
“The highlight [of the test today] was the whole thing—that he went in and did his best in conditions that he’s not used to, in a stadium that’s very, very special,” he said. “You think, because there’s no crowd, there’s no atmosphere, but these stadiums, a little bit like Kentucky, they create their own atmosphere. Obviously when you’re going in through the tunnel, and he doesn’t quite know what’s happening, there’s definitely enough of an atmosphere in there to make it enough of a special occasion to push horses into lacking concentration.”
Townend was the first to go for Great Britain, and in the day’s second session—the first session was held in the morning and the second at night, avoiding the midday heat—his teammate Laura Collett scored a 25.8 on London 52 to sit in fourth, putting the country in the top position overnight. The third and final session of eventing dressage, which includes Boyd Martin for the U.S., begins at 7:30 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time.
Close behind Townend, also from the morning session, was China’s Alex Hua Tian on Don Geniro (23.9). China’s second rider of the day, Huadong Sun, rode Lady Chin V’t Moerven Z to a score of 35.2, which puts that country in the fourth-placed position after Great Britain, Sweden and Japan. Though Hua Tian competed at the 2008 Olympic Games in Hong Kong and the 2016 Rio Games, this is the first time China has fielded a full eventing team at an Olympic Games.
“This time, with a team, it’s a full Olympic experience,” he said. “They’re wonderful guys. I’m particularly close friends with, because I’ve been on two Asian Games teams with him, Ruiji Liang, who’s our reserve rider, and Yingfeng Bao and Huadong Sun I know quite well from the European circuit. But we’ve really gelled as a team, and I’m just so proud of them—that they’re here, you know. They’ve taken so many sacrifices to make it. I think many of the traditional nations don’t understand how difficult it is for them to leave friends and families behind in China, to come here and prepare for the Games. And to have that rewarded by being here is wonderful, and I think it’s hugely eye opening for them, but at the same time, in reality, there are minimal expectations, which is a wonderful position to be in.”
The best U.S. performance of the day came from Phillip Dutton on Z, who scored a 30.5 to slot into 12th place. The team stands in ninth place after its first two riders.
“I was really pleased,” Dutton said. “I would have liked a bit better score, but at the end of the day, my horse went really well and did what I asked, so you can’t be too disappointed. He’s generally a hot horse, but he’s getting more and more seasoned, and more and more trained, and I was pretty proud of him. Under the lights and no crowd or anything like that, but it’s a different situation and a lot to look at, and he was really in tune with me.”
Doug Payne was the first rider out for the United States this morning, and he rode Vandiver to a score of 33.0.
“I think probably that was about as well as he’s ever done,” he said. “It’s a difficult test for him; everything comes up really quick. He was about as settled as he’s been in quite a long time, and for that he was obviously great. For sure there’s some stuff you wish you could improve, and that’s our job going forward, but for what we had on the day, I think he has a massive heart and did his best, and for that you have to be thankful and appreciative.”
The third U.S. rider, Martin on Tsetsertleg TSF, rides at 10:28 tonight EDT (9:28 a.m. Saturday local time).
Cross-country takes place Sunday morning—which is Saturday afternoon/evening in the U.S.—at the Sea Forest venue.
See individual results from the day and tomorrow’s ride times and team standings. Watch the dressage sessions on NBC’s Olympic livestream or catch televised highlights starting at 1:30 p.m. EDT Saturday on NBCSN.