Caledon, Ontario—July 25
Going into the jump-off for the individual gold medal, McLain Ward knew all he had to do was jump clear to win when Venezuela’s Andres Rodriguez had a rail down with Darlon Van Groenhove.
But even with the pressure seemingly off, Ward still rode to his plan with Rothchild—quick until the third to last, a liverpool, then ease off.
That plan worked as he and the game chestnut gelding kept all the rails in the cups to win the gold, Ward’s first individual medal at a major championship.
“It’s certainly something I’ve dreamed about and worked towards,” he said. “It’s a very special thing. What can you say? This little horse keeps beating the odds, and I certainly would have to thank my father [the late Barney Ward] first for the opportunity, and François Mathy, because I wouldn’t have had him if it weren’t for them.”
Rodriguez ended up with silver, while Ward’s teammate, Lauren Hough, took home bronze on Ohlala.
Ward, who also credited his whole team for the win, looked to the sky as he finished his jump-off round in a nod to Barney, who took a chance on “Bongo,” an unconventional type with a huge heart.
“I hope he can see what the horse is doing,” he said. “I fought him to the point where I hung up on him a couple of times not the buy the horse. He bought it anyway and thankfully so! It’s the last horse that I ride that he picked out, and I think that, a little bit like my father, this horse defies the odds a bit. He doesn’t really look like he should be a show jumper, he doesn’t really go like he should be a show jumper, and yet, he’s won a couple million dollars, a bunch of big grand prix classes, and now the Pan Am Games.”
Both Ward and Rodriguez were fault-free over both rounds of Michel Vaillancourt’s course today, resulting in the jump-off for gold.
“This is amazing. I think every athlete’s dream is to go to the Olympic Games, and that’s really what I’ve been working for the past few years, to try and qualify my team for the Olympics,” said Rodriguez. “We didn’t succeed, but today I had the chance to qualify as an individual. All my focus was on qualifying myself for the Olympics. Once that was done, I was in a jump-off for the gold medal.”
Rodriguez, who’s based in Wellington, Fla., for much of the year when he’s not competing in Europe, said his jump-off plan was to be quick.
“It’s hard to make a plan when you have [Ward] behind you with Rothchild, and you know he’s going to be fast,” he said. “But either way, you have to come up with a plan, and we came up with the best plan we thought of at the moment: it was just to go all in. We did, and we had an unlucky fence, and then [McLain] deserved the win.”
Rodriguez has had the 12-year-old Belgian Warmblood gelding since early 2014 and noted he’s really stepped up to the plate this season.
“This horse, it’s been great,” he said. “At the beginning I was struggling a little bit with control, but once everything got going, he has produced great results. I’m really happy and proud to have a horse like that.
“He loves everything you ask him to do. Sometimes when you walk the courses you think about the horse’s difficulties. With this horse, you just have to give him a fair ride, and he’ll be on it,” he continued.
Before the gold medal was decided, there was a five-way tie for the bronze medal with first round 4-faulters Hough, Emanuel Andrade on Hardrock Z, José María Larocca Jr. on Cornet Du Lys, Pedro Veniss on Quabri de L Isle and Luis Pedro Biraben on Abunola. Hough, fourth to go, was the only rider to jump clean.
“I think the horse performed beautifully the whole time,” she said of the diminutive mare. “The two rails I had this week were definitely rider error. I couldn’t be more proud of her. I had to jump-off against four others, and I had a good position in the jump-off going fourth with only one behind me. It was really important to put in a clear, but she’s naturally quick, so I think I put a bit of pressure on the last. I’m absolutely thrilled.
“McLain and I spoke before, and when you’re there you don’t have a whole lot to lose,” she said of her strategy. “I wouldn’t say I took every risk, just knowing what was behind me, but I definitely picked it up a gear.”
Georgina Bloomberg was the third U.S. rider to qualify for the individual final on Lilli, and they had one down in the first round and two down in the second. But even so, Bloomberg was thrilled with her first championship.
“It was awesome,” she said. “I think she went so well in the first round today that I think she really left it all out there, and I was hoping for maybe a better finish in the second round, but she was maybe a little bit tired, and I was a little bit nervous. I couldn’t have asked her for more—my first championship, if I wasn’t going to win, I’m glad another American did.”
Check out full results on the Pan Ams website, photos from today, a play-by-play of the action, and all the Chronicle’s Pan American Games coverage.