The biggest equestrian crowds yet turned up to watch the first round of the Olympic show jumping today in hot, sunny conditions. The lack of shade didn’t stop them cheering on their favourites, with by far the most vocal support for the Brazilians who acquitted themselves very well, posting three clear rounds, as did the Germans.
The course was testing; this wasn’t just a warm-up round, and while it may not have a big effect on the final results, it certainly had some influence. This round counts for the individual scores, and also determines the order of jumping for the all-important teams competition on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Christian Ahlmann was the first clear round, on Taloubet Z, looking like the champion he is. “He felt quite good,” he told journalists afterwards. “It is promising for the next days. I saved all my power for this show, hopefully it works out. Unbelievable power in this horse, he can go from zero to 100 in just one stride.”
Just prior to him, Nick Skelton had a great round but put in an extra stride to the last and down it came. He is confident that things will improve for his Big Star, however, when the jumps get bigger in the next round. “Whatever they build he is capable of doing. This round is not the most important, but from here on in, it is. When you ride him though, you don’t think about how big it is. It’s all within his capability.”
The rail at the last? “I saw four, was holding for five, and he came back too quickly and too much and we ended up with six.”
Matt Williams was the first out for the Australians on Valinski S and had two down at the end of the course. “It started good, but that last line… he has a right drift and I elected to come to the double in eight strides, but he drifted further than I anticipated. He gave up a bit after that. He hadn’t jumped at 1.60cm until I got him. He tries harder than any other horse I have had. What he lacks in scope, he makes up for in heart. He was a catch ride for me the first time, when his rider didn’t turn up at a show. I didn’t even know his nickname until now, when someone messaged me a good luck message for ‘Smurf’.”
The fence that caught Matt ended up causing the most trouble of the whole course. The music instrument-themed double came seven or eight turning strides after the mosaic planks. There were then five holding strides to the last, an oxer. A number of horses were eliminated at the double and it came crashing down for many, too. Cassio Rivetti from the Ukraine fell off there. Daniel Bluman also had a big oops at the first part and as a result couldn’t make the second element, but cleared it well after it was rebuilt. To start, with the enthusiastic crowd insisted on clapping when the bell went for those riders who crashed through the first and couldn’t get over the second, but eventually they caught on what the rules were and clapped in all the right places.
The first huge cheer of the day went up when Brazilian Stephan de Freitas Barcha jumped a clear. There was quite a bit of noise when he had a sticky moment in the second to last (the double) and then lots of sh-sh-shushing but the crowd erupted when he cleared the final fence and posted Brazil’s first clear round. “It was a feeling I can’t describe, to ride for family and friends. I live in Europe so to ride here at home is special. The crowd gave me a super feeling. That noise. I will hear that noise all my life, it is a dream come true.”
The Moroccan rider, Abdelkebir Quaddar, did a good round on Quickly de Kreisker, just a little foot in the water (only just) for four. The horse put in a bit of a buck and swerve going through the flags and for a moment Abdelkebir was nearly dislodged but he hung on.
Bruno Passaro with Chicago Z from Argentina was one of the few to have fence six down, but it all went bad later in the course. The mosaic planks fell, then the first of the double, causing a refusal at the second element. When this happened a second time, that was it for him.
British star Ben Maher had a mixed start. Tic Tac was fighting him a bit in the middle of the course but after a rail at fence eight, he settled enough to finish the course well. “He did the last line well. Even better, because we had some dramas going on there today.” Ben was also impressed to see lots of people turning out to watch. “Who says our sport is not popular? The crowds are full on the first day, there is big drama as people are falling off, and the horses are making an impressive scene. I think we’re going to have a fun week.”
Germany’s Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum on Fibonacci got the last-minute call-up to ride when Marcus Ehning’s horse was ruled out for veterinary reasons this morning. Meredith stepped up to the mark and posted a lovely clear round.
“I can’t describe it in words. That came as a nice surprise. I did not expect this and was ready to support the team as their No.5, and all of a sudden I am here in my white riding breeches. I was on my way to the event and they called me, asking me whether I have my riding gear with me. Luckily I had. A funny position to be in. Yesterday I was ready to go home and here I am having him (Fibonacci) flying over 1.60m fences. Luckily he kicked in well. For a big competition like this, that was a very short time to get ready.”
Jerome Guery from Belgium with Grand Cru van de Roz (also known as Grand Cru van de Rozenberg) posted a clear round, but his countryman Nicola Philippearts was eliminated after his horse, Zilverstar T, couldn’t get through that double later in the competition. Nicola was later disqualified for excessive use of his spurs, so that is the end of his Olympics. Jerome, however, was delighted with his well-performing horse who can sometimes be spooky on the first day. “To jump like this is a great start. It was only one and a half years ago he was jumping 1.20m. He needed to have confidence with his rider and once we had this, then he progressed quickly. Tomorrow will be harder. The atmosphere, all the press, there is more pressure but I like it.”
Just one fence came down for 51-year-old Australian Scott Keach and Fedor, looking as comfortable in the show jumping ring as he did on the cross-country the last time he rode in the Olympics (Seoul 1998, where he finished 23rd in the individual competition).
“It was good to get in the ring,” he said afterwards. When asked about how the two Olympics compared, he joked that, “It was so long ago; I can’t remember.” He went on to clarify: “This was better though, as I knew what I was in for, I’ve been more relaxed and cruising around.” Scott had been on hand last week to support the eventers and said that he was also cheering for the Kiwis – “not as much, though.” He wasn’t tempted to come back to eventing and didn’t want to talk about the standard “like some old dude who says life was better in the old days – there’s enough of them around already.” As to the jumping’s first round, the course “was perfect for today, tough enough, especially that last line. But it is the Olympic Games, it has to be tough!”
The last to go before the first session of arena grooming was Dutch rider Maikel van der Vleuten who put in a lovely clear round on Verdi. Each time the arena is groomed, the poles are taken out of the cups and the tractors go through the stands and the fence is rebuilt afterwards. Often the tractor drivers do a last lap waving their Brazilian flags, to the delight of the crowd.
Canadian Tiffany Foster’s Tripple X III may have been naughty at the trot-up but he put in a beautiful round today and was unlucky to have the second of the double down.
One of the biggest leaps over the water probably went to Spain’s Manuel Fernandez Saro, who finished with just four faults. The water did get its fair share of victims but most cleared it easily. Only one horse said no, but had already had a stop on course and it was more of a nappy stop than a dislike of the actual fence.
A lovely safe round for Sheikh Ali Al Thani with First Division; they never looked like faulting for Qatar, who had a good showing in general today with one of their other riders going clear but with one time fault. Ali Yousef Al Rumaihi and Gunder were spectacular over fence three, where they got out of trouble with an amazing display of scope. The other two finished on four faults (Bassem Hassan Mohammed) and eight faults (Hamad Ali Mohamed Al Attiyah).
The Japanese rider Reiko Takeda did a good job with Bardolino, jumping well with just fence nine down, when she hit the front of the big oxer. No problems in that last line, getting a good corner and the right spots.
Ukraine rider, Ulrich Kirchhoff on his big lopey Prince de la Mare had just four faults; he seemed to settle into his work better as the round went on.
France’s Kevin Staut rode a great round, took the corner to the double in eight strides and while he cleared that, he had the last down, just tending to get a little fast and flat – otherwise an impeccable round.
Peter Fredrickson and All In were another pair who put in eight strides to the double, but didn’t touch a thing and finished with no faults. All In, a Belgian sporthorse, looked good!
Ireland’s Greg Broderick must have broken a few Irish hearts and given those who didn’t support his unexpected selection some ammunition when he had two down in this round. He really didn’t look that spectacular out there, but hopefully can get his form back in the next rounds.
The crowd really went nuts when the next Brazilian came in and then they went even more nuts when he jumped clear! A lovely round from Alvaro Doda de Miranda on Cornetto K.
An unlucky one down at the mosaic planks for Michael Whitaker on Cassionato; he looked great the rest of the course. I do like his horse!
Daniel Deusser was pure class on First Class. He made it look easy. I’m very impressed and would slip a quiet fiver on him. Would anyone want to bet against the Germans for the teams at this point?
Another classy ride followed straight after him with Australia’s Edwina Tops-Alexander on Lintea Tequila. The pair never looked like faulting; she is a very impressive, scopey mare.
The crowd booed when Dutchman Jur Vrieling punished his horse, Zirocco Blue, for a second refusal and subsequent elimination. Zirocco Blue first stopped at the second of the treble and then said no to the first of the double. The horse didn’t look happy, and the rider certainly wasn’t after their elimination. Jur was later disqualified for excessive use of the whip but will be allowed to take part in the teams competition.
For the USA, McLain Ward put in a beautiful round but was also a victim of the double. He came around in seven strides and looked like he was set up, but down it came.
Amy Millar, riding as competently as her dad Ian, did really well for Canada with Heros. Ian was watching from the kiss and cry box, and at the tricky last line the 10-time Olympian and team coach was yelling, ‘Go! Go!’ but she didn’t need any instructions at that point and rode a beautiful clear round. Dad was yoop-ing and a-hollering on the sideline.
Martin Fuchs, from Switzerland, had last of treble down but otherwise a lovely round with Clooney.
Daisuke Fukushima from Japan on Cornet 36 had an unlucky fault at the water; the official had to really closely inspect it to see where the foot fell, but it didn’t matter as the horse took exception to the first of that double and said no twice.
The Ukrainian horse Prince de la Mare with Ulrich Kirchhoff was groaning and moaning loudly when he had his second attempt at the treble after stopping at the first try, then started napping well before the water and that was the end of them.
Roger Yves Bost is a favourite for many jumping followers and got a warm welcome from the many French fans here, who even chanted “Roger” for a while. ‘Bosty’ hasn’t got the most conventional of styles, but it certainly was effective and the French flags waved furiously. He gave a little discreet wave to his fans after notching up yet another clear round in his glittering career.
Another clear followed him, this time for Sweden’s Hennrik von Eckermann with Yajamila, but the crowd didn’t cheer as loudly for him as they did when the Brazilian rider came into the arena. Pedro Veniss and Quabri de l’Isle did a beautiful round. The cheering was the loudest yet after he jumped the last, with the addition of foot-stamping and chanting ‘Veniss!’
Italian rider Emanuele Gaudiano and his lovely grey Caspar made a right hash of the water, all four feet in it. He also struck a bit of trouble at the double but did finish the round, albeit with 27 faults, posting the worst finishing score of the day.
Eqypt’s only representative, Karim El Zoghby with the mare Amelia, saw some fliers, riding a very forward course, but it worked and the pair were clear.
John Whitaker showed his experience and skill, riding a beautiful clear round for defending team champions Great Britain on Oenellaia.
Ludger Beerbaum also has heaps of experience, but still hit the last with Casello, taking the back rail of the oxer. He was the first German to falter today.
Amarillo looked good in the first part of the course for Australian James Paterson-Robinson but the pair took the first of the double and then the last to finish on eight faults. James saw a long one at the water, but cleared it easily, so plenty of scope there!
Harrie Smolders from the Netherlands put in a classy round on the lovely Emerald; these two are certainly ones to watch in the future rounds.
Beezie Madden is a very popular rider, and on Cortes C she did all the trickier fences really well, but was one of only two to have the wall down, just one little brick.
Canada’s Eric Lamaze showed what a dude he is, a wonderful clear round with Fine Lady V and it looked like he thought it was a speed class between fence 10 and 11: he did it in seven but it worked. He said the fence was “measuring one height but riding another” due to a very slight incline in that far corner. As for the speed, he wasn’t too worried. “I felt like I needed to ride her that way. She speaks louder than me sometimes.”
Carlo caught our eye at the trot-up and he delivered on his good looks today with a lovely clear round for Spain’s Serio Moya Alvarez. He looked like he really enjoyed it.
Defending Olympic champions Steve Guerdat and Nino Des Buissonnets looked on form with an efficient clear for Switzerland. No sign of any trouble for the horse, who was asked to go to the hold box at the first horse inspection. Apparently Nino has an unusual gait when being trotted up, and while the European judges know all about it, he often strikes trouble when he is presented to new ones, so Steve wasn’t too worried about him being put on hold.
Zipper was certainly zippy around the course and put in a clear round for the Ukraine with Rene Tebbel.
Peru’s Alfonso Valdez Prado’s Chief was another who jumped really well, put in eight strides to the double, and saw a long one at the last, but it all worked and he posted a clear round.
Pénélope Leprevost’s horse, Flora de Mariposa, lost her footing on landing after fence nine, and tipped Pénélope off. She was disappointed with that. “I don’t know what happened. She tripped and I came off. But I am all right and the horse seems to be all right, too. It was an unlucky week for us.” Pénélope has had a tough couple of days, as the mare had showed colic symptoms, and she ended up sleeping with her overnight to ensure she was okay.
The first round counts towards the individual medals (there are five rounds for that prize). The team medals are decided after the second and third rounds which are on Tuesday and Wednesday (Rio time). The top riders go for their individual medals on Friday.
A total of 26 combinations from the 75 competing jumped clear rounds, and there were two with just one time fault, and 26 on four faults. Nicola Philippaerts of Belgium, and Jur Vrieling of the Netherlands, were both disqualified. In Jur’s case it was for punishing his horse excessively and Nicola was disqualified when his horse had blood on its side from his spur. Six riders were awarded 47 points for not completing the course (on the basis of the worst score plus 20).