Lexington, Ky., Oct. 10
When the athletes on the U.S. vaulting team stepped into the ring, they politely asked the audience for silence. Not because they worried about their horse, but because they wanted those present to hear the music and feel the drama of their freestyle before they even began to perform. Dancing to elegant strains of Prokofeiv’s Romeo & Juliet mixed with a modern beat, the F.A.C.E. vaulters performed with passion and elegance to claim the United State’s first team vaulting gold medal.
“We’re just really happy,” said Devon Maitozo, team member and coach. “We looked each other in the eye, our horse was beautiful, and we had the love of the audience with us. To us it’s about the connection to the music, to each other, and bringing in the audience. It’s not for the judges; it’s for our audience and for each other.”
The U.S. team started the week in front, posting a first round compulsory score of 7.207, just ahead of European powerhouses Germany, Austria, Switzerland and France. However, their horse, Palatine, spooked in their first round freestyle, which resulted in the mounted vaulters taking a tumble. The mistake dropped them into third and pushed Germany into the lead with Austria close behind. However, the Americans weren’t about to back down.
“We changed a little bit of our focus in our warm-up,” said Maitozo. “We were very much focusing on details and getting everything right, and it got a little overwhelming especially when our horse was nervous. Today we came into the arena with a really different energy. We felt relaxed and grounded.”
Even with the team’s crowd-pleasing performance, they had a long time to wait before they were assured of gold. While Switzerland’s All That Jazz-themed routine was relatively mistake-free, France had two falls in their difficult technology-themed freestyle. The German vaulters carried the most pressure on their shoulders, and a fall marred their otherwise elegant “Sound of Noise” performance.
The Austrians, who easily could have received a best costume prize, were the last to go in the competition. They displayed an entertaining and difficult Cirque Du Soleil routine. Several small errors, however, kept them in the bronze medal position.
Today’s gold medal win is a first in WEG history for the United States, who have been knocking on the door for the past several years with a silver medal in 2006 and a bronze in 1998. Maitozo saw their victory today as a stepping stone to putting vaulting on the map in this country.
“I competed in my first international event in 1989. I sang the national anthem there, and today I got to stand and listen to it,” said Maitozo. “This is the culmination of a lot of years of hard work. The most amazing thing for me is to share this with my team. They worked so hard and have really earned this for themselves.”
See the Oct. 22 issue of The Chronicle of the Horse magazine for all the news about WEG vaulting. And check out the Nov. 5 issue, our WEG Analysis Issue, for in-depth stories about the WEG performances and what they say about the U.S. programs.