What an exciting team jumping competition! It came down to a jump-off between Sweden and USA and it was up to the last rider, McLain Ward, to cinch the gold medal and he delivered!
The place erupted, both in the stand, and out the back in the collecting ring.
But going back a step, it was an exciting competition developing when the team riders came out. The Swiss had gone into the competition in the lead, but then they started to lose any medal chances when Werner Muff had a 13-fault round with Daimler, and then that was followed by elimination for Janika Sprunger when Bacardi VDL crashed through the first fence and then refused to tackle the second on the 14-obstacle course. Martin Fuchs produced a beautiful clear on Clooney to pull the team up, but the damage had already been done and even with Steve Guerdat’s four fault round, the Swiss team had to settle for fourth.
The Swedes, lying fourth yesterday, piled on the pressure when adding nothing to their scoreline of 20.59 when Henrik von Eckermann (Toveks Mary Lou), Malin Baryard-Johnsson (H&M Indiana) and Fredrik Jonsson (Cold Play) posted three brilliant clears. This was enough to overtake the Germans whose total rose to 22.09 despite foot-perfect runs from Simone Blue (DSP Alice) and Marcus Ehning (Pret a Tout), four faults from Laura Klaphake (Catch Me If You Can) having to be taken into account when Maurice Tebbel (Don Diarado) picked up five.
And although American hopes were high, the result was hanging in the balance right to the very end. Devin Ryan opened the host nation account with a single mistake at the second-last fence and when Adrienne Sternlicht and Cristalline picked up five then the Swedes were out in front. But Laura Kraut rode to the rescue as only she can, steering Zeremonie home with a clean sheet to a great roar from the crowd. If McLain Ward could follow that with another clear the job was done and the gold would be in American hands. But the Olympic double-gold medallist faulted at fence seven and suddenly everything changed once again. The USA and Sweden were tied on 20.59 penalties and it would take a jump-off to separate them.
“McLain made us all work a little harder – he could have made it a whole lot easier!” joked his team manager, Robert Ridland, at the press conference.
But in the end it was Ward who won it for them, with a scorching last-to-go run with the grey mare Clinta. Both teams produced three clear rounds against the clock but Ward’s gallop through the timers saw USA post an accumulated time of 100.67 while the Swedes were two seconds slower.
Youngest USA team member Adrienne Sternlicht (25) was overcome with emotion at the post-competition press conference, and she wasn’t the only one to shed a tear.
“My best friends and family are here and I’m just thinking – what just happened?! You really don’t want to be woken up from this dream,” she said.
“I love my horse so much, McLain has been the most unbelievable mentor for me, such an important part of my life, for me it’s been a battle of overcoming my own mind. To be with Laura and Devin and McLain, three riders I’ve honestly looked up to my entire life, I’m so grateful for this opportunity – it’s been a wonderful day!” she said.
Some of you show jumping nerds may recognise Adrienne’s horse as being the one that Australians Gabrielle Kuna and Chris Chugg produced, with Chris doing so well on her at the World Cup final before she was sold. It is good to see her going so well with her new owner, who is obviously a talented rider.
As to the final placings for our own two riders, Sam McIntosh and Check In finished in 32nd place, and only the top 25 go through to the final day for the individual titles on Sunday. So close, by so far… Her final score was 15.45. The combination showed talent, scope and we can be very proud of them.
Daniel Meech and Fine finished in 45th place out of the 125 competitors, on a score of 20.73. It was good to see another example of Daniel coping so very well in a pressure situation, he certainly has a lot of talent, and it was sad to hear that Fine was to be sold. We hope Daniel is able to secure some more horse power soon, and perform on the world stage again.
USA’s Chef d’equipe Robert Ridland spoke afterwards at the press conference about how tough the competition was. “You don’t win the competition on the first day but you sure can lose it. It is the last day when you win it but I didn’t realise it it would be that tough to win. It was unbelievable! First off, the odds were miniscule that there would be a jump-off for first place…it wasn’t what we were looking for, but the sport doesn’t get any better than this!”
The Australian team must also be congratulated, producing result that even astonished them. They have qualified for the Olympics on the basis of their wonderful 6th placing in the team’s competition.
Billy Raymont and Oaks Redwood contributed to that with a clear round. He was all smiles after his ride, and will be joining his team mate Rowan Willis (11th individually) in the final on Sunday after finishing in 23rd place. “What can I say, that horse is unbelievable. He fought and fought, right from the first fence. I thought he might have been a little tired as he felt a little quiet in the practice ring but he was obviously saving it for in the ring. Even cantering towards the first fence, he was pretty cruisy. But right from the minute he jumped that first fence he just dug in, and he was digging all the way after that. Probably I didn’t give him quite a good enough ride yesterday, but holleeeee, to jump a clear round in the second round of a nations cup at WEG, that’s just something else.”
The top 25 horses head into the final of the individual competition on Sunday. That is then whittled down to the top 12 for the final round. Horses will need to be fit for that final day, but they do get a rest day tomorrow. Billy thinks that Oaks Redwood will be ready. “I do feel a little bit bad asking him to go again, I must say. He has had an amazing week right from day one.”
Bill never dreamt he would end up into the final day. “My best hope was to not make too big a mistake and don’t let my team down too bad and survive the experience, but to be honest, I don’t think I could have even dreamt of this,” he said this afternoon.
Billy intends taking his horse home to Australia after this competition after some time in Europe. “We will go back and carry on with business there, and keep him happy and sound. He has had an easy life so far, he comes from Western Australia. I’ve only had him 12 months and he has had a fairly light career despite being 13 years old so I think now that he has a bit of age and this competition has been a good experience, we will just keep him happy. Who knows, we might get another shot.”
Will this include the Olympics we asked. “That would be nice,” he replied.
While the Australians qualified for the Olympics, it meant that Ireland, current European Champions, didn’t as they finished in 7th place.
Cian O’Connor had one rail with Good Luck and was very disappointed, especially as it was so close for the team. “We were two fences off qualifying. Even if I was clear we still would have been a fence off. We will really have to get stuck in next year and get and keep the horse power for the riders that we have so that we can be competitive at Olympic level. There are two more chances [to qualify]; the Europeans at Rotterdam and at the Barcelona final in 2019.”
As mentioned above Steve Gerdaut’s Swiss team had to settle for fourth, and on Bianca Steve had an unlucky rail. “As always, she felt amazing,” he said. “She was jumping amazing but I keep having just one fence down. I don’t know but I have to change. She can’t jump any better than she does, everytime she seems to rub the smallest jump and it just comes down. She deserve more than what I have been getting recently as she just jumps amazing. I guess we have to keep on trying. As you have seen, she can’t jump any better. But we just have bloody four faults all the time.”
Steve is currently in 9th place individually and will be looking for a good round on Sunday. With all eight competitors in the Swedish and American teams having to do an extra round for their jump off, he acknowledged that it could play into other competitors’ hands. “Long courses and hot weather, so there has been a lot of pressure on the horses for sure so not doing a jump off is an advantage over doing one extra round.”
Steve certainly is a competitive person. “I think we have seen great sport, super nice courses, its a beautiful experience to be part of that, but you know we come here to bring home medals and when you don’t no matter how nice it is you go home disappointed.”
Laura Kraut was one of the USA team who put in a clear round today on Zeremonie to help bring home the gold. She currently lies in 17th place individually. Her partner, Nick Skelton, was very, very proud.
“It was really good for Laura, she has worked hard,” he said afterwards. “She didn’t have a very good day yesterday [with eight faults], but I think the mare was a little bit too fresh believe it or not. The mare has a lot of energy.” Laura’s WEG team gold will sit proudly with Nick’s Olympic golds, so what will they do with all those medals? “We will be sticking them in the bar!”