Navet in the lead, but Wylde still in the hunt as final four prepare to ride off

It's been a long time since an American was in individual medal contention at a championship. Greg Best was the last to do it in a World Championships in 1990, Norman Dello Joio was the last to do in an Olympics in 1992. But after two rounds today, Peter Wylde is strongly in the hunt and ready to medal as he faces off with three other riders in the final phases of individual show jumping at the WEG.It's been a long time since an American was in individual medal contention at a championship. Greg Best was the last to do it in a World Championships in 1990, Norman Dello Joio was the last to do in an Olympics in 1992. But after two rounds today, Peter Wylde is strongly in the hunt and ready to medal as he faces off with three other riders in the final phases of individual show jumping at the WEG.

Story originally posted by: Heather Bailey

It’s been a long time since an American was in individual medal contention at a championship. Greg Best was the last to do it in a World Championships in 1990, Norman Dello Joio was the last to do in an Olympics in 1992. But after two rounds today, Peter Wylde is strongly in the hunt and ready to medal as he faces off with three other riders in the final phases of individual show jumping at the WEG.

The track set for the first round was big and testing, and most of the pairs seemed unable to answer all the questions. After three testing rounds, even the most spectacular jumpers seemed to have lost a hair of their sparkle and flash. The bogey line of the course came late, and was the water jump, followed by a long gallop that tended to draw you deep and fast into a very tight in and out, followed either three or four strides later by the thin blue wave fence from the Nation’s Cup course.

Germany’s Otto Becker and Dobel’s Cento were the first to make it fault free through the line, but they still dropped a fence to collect four faults. Samantha McIntosh of Bulgaria jumped the tricky line clear, but had down the Banesto vertical right afterwards, setting down a pattern that others would unhappily emulate. The first, and one of only two, clear rounds came from Italy’s Gianni Govoni and the Dutch-bred mare Loro Piana Havinia. The scopey little bay mare pinned her ears and fought her way over every fence to come home clear. His score of 9.77 would move him from 12th to 4th going in to the second round.

Switzerland’s Marchus Fuchs had been on top after day one, but had been on a steady downward slide. Things came apart completely in this round, as Tinka’s Boy crashed through the first part of the lighthouses at 5ab and stopped at the second element. He then had a foot in the water and the last fence down, plus 4 time penalties to fall to 25th.

Belgium’s Stanny van Paesschen and the lovely O De Pomme were clear until the very last, when a slightly deep spot caused them to catch the front rail. Ireland’s Dermott Lennon gave his mare Liscalgot two taps with the crop after she rattled the first fence badly, but when she sailed through the difficult line he reached up and patted her. Like McIntosh, they had the Banesto vertical down for four, but their score of 9.16 had them in third after the first round.

Reigning Olympic champion Jeroen Dubbeldam and de Sjiem also had an unfortunate round. After a rail at the second jump, the big gray fought his rider after the water jump, and as Dubbeldam tried to collect him back the horse slammed on the brakes at the first part of the double. Dubbeldam returned through the double, but then had the wave down. His 12 jumping and ten time penalties drop him to 24th, and out of the running.

France’s Eric Lavallois and Diamant de Semilly Ecolit rattled the first fence hard, and dropped 3a and the wave fence to collect eight faults and fall to 8th. Helena Lundback of Sweden and Utfors Mynta also dropped 3a, but powered through the difficult line with ease. She was clear to the last, but couldn’t keep the final red and white oxer intact, to collect eight faults and drop to 7th.

Eric Navet is already a world champion, and he knows what it takes to win. He showed his experience in the first round by putting in an expert trip aboard Dollar Du Murier Hauts de Seine to produce the second and final clear trip of the first round to take over the lead going in to round two. Several pairs had tried to leave out a stride on the way to the wave jump, with disastrous results, but Navet did it in style, putting in three building strides to kick out over the wave, fault-free.

Peter Wylde and Fein Cera had been completely clear in all their previous rounds, but Wylde had warned after the Nation’s Cup that his mare was tired. This mare keeps fighting though, and after dropping a rail at the 2nd element of the in and out of lighthouses at 5ab, she jumped clearly and strongly to retain second place going in to the 2nd round.

If the first round was about technical questions, the second was all about power and scope. The fences were large, but fairly straight forward-though after four rounds of combinations with very tight distances, course designer Avelino Rodriguez Miravalles played a trick by throwing in a triple combination at number five that was vertical-vertical-oxer set on a very long distance.

Dubbeldam and Fuchs withdrew their mounts after their disastrous first rounds, but the first rider in the ring, the Netherlands’Angelique Hoorn and Hascal put in a beautiful clear round, surely setting the riders to follow her at ease. The grand old man of the German team, For Pleasure showed he’s still got it by putting in a hard-fought clear round for Marcus Ehning.

Ludger Beerbaum’s week hadn’t gone as planned, and it finally fell apart completely in round two when Gladdys S stopped and crashed in to the fruit grove fence at four, unseating Beerbaum, who landed on his feet. He remounted, but after a moment’s consideration, tipped his hat to the judges and retired, figuring discretion as the better part of valor.

Lundback had fallen back after round one, to be standing 7th coming in to the second round with Utfors Mynta. After surviving a scary moment at fence 9 where they rattled the rail hard enough to bounce it several times in the cups, they finished with a strong clear to stand on their score of 11.62. After Mexico’s Federico Fernandez Senderos, Belgium’s Jos Lansik, and Italy’s Gianni Giovani all dropped one rail, her score was good enough to move her into the final four.

Lundback is the first woman in 16 years to make the final four, after Gail Greenough won the 1986 World Championships. The smiling 26-year-old was stunned to find herself in the final four, and described the sensation as, "a mix between being extremely happy and scared to death."

Irishman Dermott Lennon has also climbed steadily throughout the week, and found himself in third going in to the second round. He stayed in third after checking his mare one time too many in front of the big oxer at nine, but finished on those four faults to have a final score of 13.16 and make it in to the final four.

"I’m flabbergasted," he said with a smile. "I’ve looked forward to this all year, and I hope I can enjoy the rounds tomorrow."

American Peter Wylde and Fein Cera entered the ring with two rails in hand, which the scopey mare didn’t need as she just tipped the top plank on the last fence to move forward to the final four on a score of 9.55.

"This is a lifetime dream and goal; I’m so thrilled," said Wylde. "The courses this morning were very difficult, and after a lot of jumping already. A lot of horses, certainly mine, were tired, but she’s a brilliant animal and gave everything today. It’s a fantastic feeling."

Former world champion Eric Navet of France was sitting in the catbird seat as he trotted calmly in to the ring. He too had two rails in hand, but he didn’t need them as his brave stallion jumped brilliantly to finish all five rounds to date with no jumping penalties. Navet did not push him for time however, and added three time penalties to finish on 6.29.

"It is fantastic to be in this situation again," said Navet. "To get here one time takes a lot of luck, and to have this opportunity to be here again is really fantastic. I’m going to try to [put the result out of my mind] and hope to enjoy this final as much as the one in Stockholm."

The format from here gets very interesting. Tomorrow the top four will ride four rounds each. The first will be on their own horse, then starting with the second round they will switch horses and ride the same course on another horse. By the end, each will have ridden one round on each of the other’s horses. After their own mounts, the order will go like this: Round two: Lundback will ride Dermott’s Liscalgot, Navet will ride Lundback’s Utfors Mynta, Wylde will ride Navet’s Dollar de Murier Hauts de Seine, and Lennon will ride Wylde’s Fein Cera; Round three, Navet will ride Liscalgot, Wylde will ride Mynta, Lennon will ride Dollar du Murier and Lundback will ride Fein Cera; finally, Wylde will ride Liscalgot, Lennon will ride Mynta, Lundback will ride Dollar du Murier, and Navet will ride Fein Cera. All the rider’s scores go back to zero, and the least faults wins. The course will be a shortened one of eight jumps, and be slightly smaller than the courses to date. You are allowed ten minutes, and two jumps, to get used to each horse before going on course.

The riders are clearly feeling a mix of excitement and nervousness over sitting on this variety of horses, but the three men are all clear on which horse they are most worried about.

"Size-wise I’m most worried about Helena’s horse," said 6’0 Wylde of the 15.3h Mynta. "She told me to get some roller blades, so I guess I’m going shopping tonight.

"I love Eric’s horse," he continued. "He’s jumped brilliantly and put on a show all week. But, Eric is such a god rider we may be being deceived about how easy he is to ride and jump. He gives him such a tactful ride he looks easy, but that may be deceptive."

"I’m looking forward to riding all the horses, and not worried, but I think Helena’s is a bit different than the others, but it’s certainly a jumper," said Lennon.

"I’ve ridden worse ones," he finished with laugh and a shrug.

"I have a little question about Helena’s horse," concurred Navet. "In my case she’s much different from what I’m used to: stallions and big horses."

Though size is certainly a factor, the riders must also be concerned about how the mare Mynta will respond to them given Lundback’s very unconventional riding style that has her nearly all the way out of the tack over her fences. While Mynta responds brilliantly to this, Lundback acknowledges that her style is a bit different.

"I didn’t think I’d get this far, so I didn’t think much about the other horses. I just hope they are used to loose jumping, because that is what I’m good at," she said with a laugh.

"My father has ridden my horse a lot, so I think the guys have nothing to worry about," she finished.

Wylde is thrilled to be among the final four, but acknowledged after spending the day off lying on the beach and focusing, he was very nervous for his first round today. "I had total cotton mouth, and I think I rode pretty badly," he said. "I’m lucky my horse is so good."

He acknowledges his mare, and the other horses, are all tired, and says Fein Cera will be getting hand-walked, magnetic blankets, massage and chiropractic over the next 24 hours to help make her as comfortable as possible. Wylde does the hand walking and grazing himself, as he says he likes to be very hands-on with his horses, and feels that because Fein Cera is a mare, it’s especially important. Early this morning while grazing, he bumped in to another rider and his mare: Lennon and Liscalgot.

"I just had this feeling after seeing and talking to him he would make the final four," said Wylde.

Wylde has also been helped through this week by someone he calls "a great friend" former Olympic and World Champion medallist Conrad Homfeld. "He’s the best horseman in the US and it’s such an honor [to have his help]," said Wylde. "His horsemanship and understanding of a competition like this is unparalleled in the US.

"He’s such a selfless person and has made this whole experience so much better," he concluded.

The other entity which Wylde feels has contributed to his success is the insurance company Aegon, which has a sponsorship agreement with Wylde. Since the owners of Fein Cera are unable to contribute to her competitive and up-keep expenses, Wylde says without Aegon’s financial support he would have been unable to work at the level he has been.

He is also outspoken about why the American system is no longer producing teams of riders that are competitive internationally, and what needs to be changed, as well as what it isn’t. "It’s nothing to do with our selection process," he said, referring to the oft-repeated statement that our trials are too difficult. "I’m tired of hearing that excuse. We don’t win in the World Cup anymore either, and that’s an entirely different process than WEG or Olympics. It’s a bad excuse we make to ourselves.

"We fell behind Europe in the 90s, and we haven’t caught back up," he continued. "They are fighters there, they are so hungry, you could see that this weekend-it’s in their blood to go in and make it happen. I think this is because we are not put in this [championship, pressure-cooker, high stress] position enough in the US. Our competitions have a different flavor.

"And finally, look at the horses on the French team. Those are four incredible horses-they had scope, stamina, heart, everything. Those four French stallions–they should have been the winners, because that’s what it takes at this level-great riding, but also four great horses," he finished.

Over in the driving ring this morning, our team put in three clean cones rounds to clinch the team silver-the first US driving medal ever in the history of our team. The Netherlands retained the gold, led by an ecstatic Ijsbrand Chardon who won the individual gold. US team member Tucker Johnson was 4th, Chester Weber was 5th, and James Fairclough finished 25th. Germany took team bronze.

One day to go . . .

Heather Bailey
English Content Director