by Louise Parkes for FEI
Anchor riders proved key to the result of today’s first round of the team Jumping competition at the London 2012 Olympic Games at Greenwich Park. And it is Saudi Arabia that holds the lead going into tomorrow’s second-round medal-decider carrying just a single time penalty, while Great Britain, The Netherlands, Sweden and Switzerland lie less than a fence behind in silver medal spot carrying four faults apiece.
|HRH Prince Abdullah Al Saud and Davos|
With five faults on the board, Canada finished sixth and, with only the top eight teams going through to tomorrow’s second round, Brazil and USA clinched the last two available places when closing their day with eight faults.
But there were heads shaking in disbelief when Germany missed the cut along with France and Belgium, as not one of the riders from any of these top-level nations managed to keep a clean sheet today. The Germans are giants in this game, and even though they encountered selection problems in the lead-up to London when star-riders Carsten-Otto Nagel, Ludger Beerbaum and Marco Kutscher had issues with their horses, it had been expected that they would feature strongly.
Bob Ellis‘ brilliant course building has had a significant impact however. Once again the loops and roll-backs tested control and accuracy, and the Olympic arena at Greenwich Park has proved that it is no place for shrinking violets. Horses need courage and conviction to come home without penalty, and riders need to execute their plans to perfection.
Today’s 13-fence course was tough from the outset, the red London Bus wall at fence three penalising several including Germany’s Marcus Ehning and Plot Blue. The following line from fences four to six presented all kinds of questions, the eye-catching Tower Bridge vertical causing some horses to back off, which left riders having to drive hard to make the four-stride distance to the London Montage, the oxer to vertical double at five, which was followed by the Abbey Road vertical at six.
A sweeping right-hand bend led to the open water at fence seven, and riders then had to gather their reins quickly to turn left-handed to the following triple combination at eight. This wasn’t named the Great Fire of London without reason – its black and flame-coloured fillers giving horses plenty to look at before they turned left once again for the busy oxer at nine which was surrounded by representations of famous London landmarks including Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament and the London Eye.
The final three obstacles took their toll, many finding their horses off-balance turning to the triple bar at 10 and then struggling to hold their line and find the right distance to the Post Box and Penny Black planks vertical at 11. From there it was a case of holding it all together over the penultimate Downing Street vertical at 12 and clearing the Nelson’s Column oxer at 13 before galloping through the finish.
Saudi Arabia’s HRH Prince Abdullah, who jumped a superb clear round again today to help secure pole position for his country going into tomorrow’s second round, put it in a nutshell when he said “what with the weather, the London bus and the Tower Bridge, I felt like I was sight-seeing today!”
He led the way for his side with a foot-perfect effort from the 12-year-old Davos, and when team-mate Ramzy Al Duhami and Bayard van de Villa There did likewise the only score to be added to the Saudi account was the single time penalty collected by Kamal Bahamdan and Noblesse Des Tess, as Abdullah Sharbatly’s mistake with Sultan at the triple combination was the discard score. It was an impressive performance all round and, due to the draw, it was clear at an early stage of the competition that they were unlikely to be overtaken today. Bahamdan said “my mare was amazing. There was only one moment when I let her down and I relied 100% on her heart to bring us through!”
And those chasing them had to work hard to qualify for tomorrow. The British were strengthened by two great clears from Nick Skelton (Big Star) and Ben Maher (Tripple X), and it looked like they would add a third until Scott Brash’s Hello Sanctos clipped the front pole of the final oxer. When Peter Charles and Vindicat lowered both the second element of the troublesome triple combination and the penultimate vertical the host’s had to take Brash’s result on board. The Scotsman said afterwards, “my horse jumped amazing. It didn’t feel as though we had done anything wrong on the approach and, if I had to do it again, I would probably ride it the same way. I am chuffed to bits with him as there was a big difference in his attitude today.”
The Dutch also produced two clears, from Maikel van der Vleuten (Verdi) and Marc Houtzager (Tamino). It was important for them to drop the double-error from pathfinders Jur Vrieling and Bubalu however, so there was a lot hanging in the balance as, fourth-last to go, Gerco Schroder and London came into the ring. A clear would put the Dutch out in front, but the first part of the double at five put four faults on the board to see the Dutch join the British in runner-up spot.
Jens Fredricson and Lunatic led the way for Sweden and left the middle element of the combination and the last fence on the floor. And when his sister-in-law Lisen Fredricsson, bravely sporting some heavy bruising following her fall yesterday, posted four faults with Matrix, the Swedes didn’t look particularly competitive. But both Henrik von Eckermann (Allerdings) and Rolf-Goran Bengtsson (Cassal) returned without incident to join the other second-placed teams. The Swiss started out with a mistake from Steve Guerdat and Nino des Buissonnets just one fence from home, but Paul Estermann and Castlefield Eclipse kept them in the hunt with a lovely clear before Werner Muff and Kiamon also hit the penultimate vertical. Pius Schwizer was under plenty of pressure when last in for his side, but he showed why he has become such a great anchorman when steering Carlina across the line with a clean sheet that guaranteed another team in the joint-runner-up position.
The Canadian team was reduced to three when Tiffany Foster’s gelding, Victor, was disqualified for hypersensitivity due to a cut on his left front leg. At a press conference following the competition, FEI President, HRH Princess Haya, emphasised, “It is important to make clear that there is no accusation of malpractice on Tiffany’s part, but the horse was too sensitive. We are here to stand beside her (Tiffany) and we look forward to many great performances from her in the future. This is a well-being of the horse issue and we understand that this is a crushing experience for Tiffany in her first Olympic Games.” The Canadian team filed a protest earlier in the day, but the decision taken by the Ground Jury on hypersensitivity is not open to appeal.
A tearful Tiffany Foster said at the press conference: “I would never do anything to jeopardise the welfare of my horse. What happened is totally devastating to me. I understand why the rules are in place and I understand why they look for hypersensitivity. I just feel so bad for my team.”
Team Canada still lies well within sight of an Olympic medal however, with just five faults on the board following a pole down for Jill Henselwood and George, a single time fault from Lamaze and Derly Chin de Muze, and a fabulous clear from Ian Millar and Star Power who join 12 others with a completely clean sheet at the top of the individual table. The 65-year-old record-setting veteran said his horse was “tense yesterday. I love the fans and the crowd and I don’t wish to criticise, but they elevated the level of anxiety of my horse. Today was perfect. My horse was sharp, up in the air and listening to me. I was very pleased with the step up from yesterday.”
Brazil did well to ensure qualification as they fielded only a three-man side due to the withdrawal of Carlos Ribas and Wilexo who were eliminated yesterday. A clear from Alvaro de Miranda (Rahmannshof’s Bogeno), and four faults from both Jose Fernandez Filho (Maestro St Lois) and Rodrigo Pessoa (Rebozo) did the trick to see them share an eight-fault total with America’s McLain Ward (Antares), Beezie Madden (Via Volo), Reed Kessler (Cylana) and Rich Fellers (Flexible). The latter partnership produced the only US clear, and the big British crowd erupted with almost as much of a roar as they gave their own riders, as this is a much-loved and admired horse-and-rider partnership. Fellers said, “I am thrilled with my horse but I wish we were in a better position. We are all fighters and we can come back tomorrow”, adding that his horse was “being typically Flexible, he was a little more on his game toda.y”
The Saudi team are not getting too carried away with their success today. Team trainer, Stanny van Paesschen said, “we are naturally delighted with the way the team jumped, and it is great to be in the lead, but we still have another day to go, and it is important that we stick to the same routine that we have throughout the Games.”
They will certainly have to stay on their toes if they are to clinch the gold because, as The Netherlands’ Gerco Schroder said this evening, “the team situation is very very close. It is all to play for.”
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