Editor’s note: This story has been updated to add comments from U.S. Chef d’equipe Bobby Costello.
Despite holding all three individual podium spots through dressage and cross-country and having a 19-point lead heading into show jumping, course designer Marina Azevedo’s track proved to be the undoing of the U.S. eventing team today, Oct. 29, at the Pan American Games in Quillota, Chile. None of the four riders jumped cleanly, but overnight leader Caroline Pamukcu added just 4 faults to her score to hang onto individual gold, while the team settled for second. Canada moved ahead to take team gold, for only the third time in the 72-year history of the Pan American Games.
Brazil dropped from overnight silver-medal spot to bronze but, along with Canada, achieved their goal of Olympic qualification. Brazil’s Marcio Carvalho Jorge took individual silver and Canada’s Lindsay Traisnel claimed bronze.
“Firstly, in our disappointment of today, we’re also absolutely thrilled for Caroline, her owners, and her support group. She was incredible this whole week. We’re very proud of her and it’s so well-deserved,” U.S. Chef d’Equipe Bobby Costello said.
“It’s hard in the moment to look back and immediately start analyzing, but we all need to think about it for a couple of days, and with that will come more clarity on what we can do moving forward to not be in this position again,” he added, regarding the team’s show jumping performance. “It’s good that we are all disappointed with silver because it means we want to be better, but are also genuinely happy for our friends, the Canadians, and glad to see both them and Brazil punch their tickets to Paris. As a team, we’re going to have to go away from this, analyze ourselves, and find a way to come back stronger.”
Sydney Elliot and Carol Stephens’ 13-year-old Oldenburg gelding QC Diamantaire (Diarado—Latana), in seventh place after cross-country, were the first from the U.S. team to tackle the show jumping course. They dropped the oxer at Fence 3 and the first element of the triple combination at Fence 8, and also added 1.2 time penalties.
When Sharon White and her 11-year-old Holsteiner gelding Claus 63 (Catoo—Tina II) had four fences down, the U.S. began to look vulnerable, and then dressage leader Liz Halliday, who slipped to the silver medal spot with time faults on cross-country, had three down aboard Ocala Horse Properties and Deborah Palmer’s 11-year-old Swedish Warmblood gelding Miks Master C (Mighty Magic—Qui Luma CBF). It then became vital for Pamukcu to stay clear if Team USA was to hold on to the gold medal.
Pamukcu’s 8-year-old gelding Irish Sport Horse gelding HSH Blake (Tolan R—Doughiska Lass), owned by Mollie Hoff, Sherrie Martin, and Deniz Pamukcu, was looking really good until his 29-year-old rider saw a very long stride to the oxer at Fence 5 and missed the distance, bringing it down. The pair quickly recovered their composure, but team gold was gone and it would be the second step of the podium for the defending champions by an agonizing margin of just 0.1 penalty points when they completed on 115.7 behind the Canadians on 115.6.
Halliday put it bluntly. “I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was a bit gutted right now, I think we all are, it’s certainly not the result we came here to do. But it is what it is, and sometimes that’s how it goes with horses and we have to take it on the chin and stand up and be proud of what we did achieve, and look at ways to keep fighting hard to be better. The USA has really strong riders and horses right now and we have to keep pushing”, she said.
Pamukcu was delighted to find herself in individual gold medal spot but acutely aware that her fence down was costly.
“I get a bit eager sometimes and that was definitely showing my age there but I’m grateful for a great horse. I’ve ridden a lot of sale horses and I know when I’ve made a mistake you pull yourself together and kick on! I just saw one, I feel awful because if I didn’t have that silly rail—it cost us the gold but I promise I won’t make such a silly mistake again.”
The Canadian team of Michael Winter and El Mundo, Colleen Loach riding FE Golden Eye, Traisnel with Bacyrouge and Karl Slezak aboard Hot Bobo started the day expecting to battle it out with the Brazilians for silver, not to overtake the leading U.S. team for gold.
Loach was the only one of the 25 starters to make it home within the time with a fabulous clear from her 11-year-old Hanoverian gelding FE Golden Eye (Goldfever 3—Cascade), whom she co-owns with Peter Barry and Amanda Bernhard, and Winter put just 0.8 time faults on the board with El Mundo (Numero Uno—Calvaro’s Bria Z), the 14-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding owned by Winter, Emma Winter, and Jonathan Nelson.
Slezak and his 10-year-old Irish Sport Horse mare Hot Bobo (by Arkansas), whom he owns with Katlyn Hewson, lowered both the Copper Mines oxer at Fence 9 and the wall that followed, but compatriot Trainsel, fifth overnight, added just 1.6 time faults to her running score.
“This is the culmination of two years of a complete High Performance restructuring and we didn’t just win this medal, our High Performance group did it,” said Winter. “We executed today but that foundation is what made it happen. It’s been a really positive environment and it has allowed us all to do our best and that is so key. It’s not one thing that’s magical or exceptional, it’s all the small things. I’ve been in the High Performance program since 1995 and I’ve been in the team since 2003 and this is the most solid, productive structure we’ve had,” he said.
Brazil didn’t quite hold it together despite minimal time penalties for both Ruy Fonseca and anchorman Jorge when Carlos Parro picked up 16 faults and Rafael Mamprin Losano clipped both the second element of the rustic double at Fence 4 and the red vertical at Fence 6. But they completed with a final tally of 127.1 and were well clear of Team Mexico who finished fourth on 253.0.
Carvalho Jorge said Brazil’s team bronze and his individual silver are the result of long years of hard work. He was thrilled with the performance of the 10-year-old Irish Sport Horse Castle Howard Casanova (by Womanizer).
“This is a really special horse, he’s a really good jumper and really smart as well and I hope he will be ready to be competitive in Paris next year,” he said.
See full results here.