U.S. Dressage Riders Sweep Medals At Pan American Games

Oct 19, 2011 - 5:32 PM

Oct. 19—Guadalajara, Mexico

U.S. riders climbed onto all three steps of the podium after the individual dressage competition at the Pan American Games. Steffen Peters clinched gold with a strong freestyle on Weltino’s Magic, with Heather Blitz riding Paragon to silver and Marisa Festerling putting in the performance of her career to earn bronze on Big Tyme.

Last to go, Peters was keenly aware that his teammate, Blitz, had just laid down the kind of test that prompted the audience to burst into spontaneous applause. Their score—an 86.65—loomed intimidating on the screen as Peters trotted in. But Weltino’s Magic (Weltino—Diva, Diamond Boy) rose to the challenge, with spot-on pirouettes and trot extensions to Terry Gallo’s arrangement of new age music by 7and5. He earned an 87.30 percent, which coupled with Monday’s Intermediaire I test, earned the gold medal.

“I keep thinking back to the moment I walked out of the ring and the scores were announced,” said Peters. “It probably took the announcer 30 seconds to announce the scores, and it felt like three hours.”

Peters had been on top all week, leading the U.S. to gold in the team competition on Sunday, but Blitz kept the pressure on, always scoring just behind him. 

“I was really excited about Magic coming in pretty keyed up, exactly where I wanted him, just a little bit excited,” said Peters, San Diego, Calif. “I was able to ride the flying changes a bit more forward, and as energetic as he was, I could still show good relaxation at the walk.”

The president of the ground jury, Stephen Clarke, dubbed Peters the commensurate professional for his performance, then raved over Paragon.

“The elasticity and expression that he shows is out of this world, really,” he said of the leggy chestnut. “OK, a few small things, but still, it’s a young horse [at 8 years old]. And her interpretation of the music was super.”

Blitz thought she had a chance to edge out Peters but was thrilled to finish with silver.

“With a horse with talent like he has, I thought [gold] was a possibility,” said Blitz, Loxahatchee, Fla. “It’s a hard thing to be up against a veteran rider like Steffen and a great rookie like Marisa, and there are lots of other great riders. My horse has a huge heart and lots of talent. I’ve known him since the first day of his life. I thought an individual medal was within our reach. He answered 10 times more than I asked.”

Tom Dvorak, of Canada, made a valiant effort to break the U.S. stronghold on the medals. But his error in Monday’s Intermediaire I test left him too far off the lead, especially when Festerling, who lay third, stepped it up on freestyle day. Big Tyme stayed focused on the task at hand, nailing the pirouettes and trot extensions to help Festerling score a personal best (80.77%).

“It was fabulous as my first time representing the U.S. on an international team,” she said. “It’s been a fantastic competition and fantastic experience. I’ve finally stopped crying so I can speak now.”

U.S. Chef d’Equipe Eva Salomon was thrilled to see her team rise to the challenge.

 “I was hoping that winning all three medals was an option,” she said. “But you never really know, because anything can happen. Steffen’s an old pro, and Heather’s really proven herself. Marisa was amazing—she really stepped it up to win.”

Other horses, like Bernadette Pujals’ IUSA Rolex, faltered in the electric atmosphere of the Guadalajara Country Club. The facility was filled with cheering fans eager to see their country’s top rider perform. But IUSA Rolex, just 8, couldn’t quite relax, dropping to sixth behind Canada’s Tina Irwin, who finessed a lovely ride out of the alert Winston, who settled in just as the music started.

Magic’s owners, Bruce and Jen Hlavacek, grinned ear-to-ear after their star took gold.

“We won in Aachen, and now Steffen earned gold here,” said Jen, clad in an “I Believe In Magic” T-shirt. “We’ve achieved every goal we set for Magic this year—thank you Steffen!”

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