There was a lot more at stake for the U.S. show jumping team than just medals during the 2003 Pan-American Games in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. This was the last opportunity for the American team to reserve their spot at the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Greece. But they were not alone. All nine teams competing in the Pan-Am Games were vying for the three team spots that would guarantee tickets to the upcoming Olympics.There was a lot more at stake for the U.S. show jumping team than just medals during the 2003 Pan-American Games in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. This was the last opportunity for the American team to reserve their spot at the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Greece. But they were not alone. All nine teams competing in the Pan-Am Games were vying for the three team spots that would guarantee tickets to the upcoming Olympics.
There was a lot more at stake for the U.S. show jumping team than just medals during the 2003 Pan-American Games in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. This was the last opportunity for the American team to reserve their spot at the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Greece. But they were not alone. All nine teams competing in the Pan-Am Games were vying for the three team spots that would guarantee tickets to the upcoming Olympics.
The U.S. team was in great shape going into the Nations’ Cup-the final two rounds of the team competition on Thursday. All four U.S. riders Lauren Hough and Windy City, Beezie Madden and Conquest II (who replaced Laura Kraut after her horse Anthem took a bad step during the veterinary jog), Chris Kappler and Royal Kaliber and Margie Engle and Hidden Creek’s Perin posted clear rounds in the previous day’s speed class, where faults were added to the time to determine the day’s placings, which would then be converted into a penalty score using a formula that took into account the number of competitors, faults and placings. The American team was holding a healthy lead of only 1.66 penalties over Mexico with 6.87 and Argentina with 13.57 penalties.
Day two, the Nations’ Cup and final team competition, included a grueling day of two rounds over the same course, which was designed by Javier Fernandez. Hough and the 11-year-old Holsteiner gelding was the first of the U.S. team members to compete. She had a foot in the water at fence 5, a huge four-meter-wide water jump, which she later attributed to rider error.
Mark Watring, who lives in Thousand Oaks, California, but rides for Puerto Rico, rode the first clear round of the day with just a small rub at the first obstacle of a triple combination. The excited Puerto Rican fans chanted, "Go Mark! Go Mark!" while dancing, singing and waving the Puerto Rican flag as he exited the arena.
Madden and the 12-year-old Dutch Warmblood stallion put the pedal to the metal for a fast, clear round beating Watring’s time by more than three seconds, putting her in the lead and setting a high standard for the rest of the field.
Goldstein and her 14-year-old Westphalian gelding partner was up next for the U.S. team. He rubbed the second element of the one-stride combination, but the rail stayed up, giving her a second clear round and moving her up into the lead individually.
Kappler and the 11-year-old Holsteiner stallion swept up the first round for the American team giving him his second clear round of the competition. The standings after the day’s first round had the U.S. still in first place with 1.66 penalties, Mexico in second with 15.87 penalties and Brazil in third with 35.39 penalties.
The second round started, and so did the rain. Just a few rides before Hough was set to ride, the competition was held up for half an hour to wait for the heavy rain to stop and then for the arena to drain. Windy City brought down the first fence and then overreached and pulled a shoe right before the third fence. But they stuck out the round for a total of 8 faults, giving them 12.28 penalties. She said that the delay hampered their warmup a bit and that, combined with Windy City losing a shoe, it wasn’t their best ride.
Watring, who was a member of the 1984 Olympic eventing team, rode next, posting his second clear round of the day, giving him the lead with .83 penalties. Though he was not riding as part of a team, his scores counted toward the individual medals. "I was happy at how strong he was in the second round. Perhaps he thought it was the jump off. I could barely hold him back," he said.
Madden rode next for the United States. Unfortunately, they lightly rubbed a rail at the third obstacle-a 1.45-meter vertical-and it came down. They finished the day adding four faults to their score for a total 5.16 penalties.
Engle and Perin went third for the U.S. team. However, while he was fast, Perin jumped a little low at fences two and nine and dropped two rails for 8 faults, giving them an individual penalty score of 8.22. Overall, Engle was complimentary of the courses. "This was a good test for the Nations’ Cup. There were two double clears and no big mishaps. It was strong enough without hurting anyone."
The U.S. team anchor Chris Kappler came through with his second clear round of the day and the second double clear of the competition, clinching the team gold medal for the United States and putting him in second place individually behind Watring. "It was touch and go to the end," he said. "But [chef d’equipe] Frank [Chapot] told me we were in the clear, so that took the pressure off and I could just let my horse do his job."
In the end, the U.S. team handily won the gold medal with 13.66 faults. The Mexican team was silver with 21.87 faults and Brazil took the bronze with 43.39 faults. Though the Brazilians medaled, they didn’t earn a team slot for Athens because it was based on the performance of all of the team members. Brazil’s Karina Johannpeter and Faust de Raon had 35 faults in the first round of the day. Though she came back for a clear second round, Argentina’s riders had a more consistent day and thus earned the third available team spot for the Olympics. A disappointed Alvaro Neto of Brazil said, "It is hard to accept that we won’t be in the Olympics. However, we still have a chance to qualify two individual riders."
Of winning the team gold, Kappler said, "Clearly there was a lot of pressure. We had to be first or second as a team." He went on to say that all year he’s been managing Royal Kaliber around the Pan-Am Games.
"It’s an incredible relief." Engle added, "We had a strong team, but anything can change in a heartbeat. It’s been a long time since winning a gold, and I think this is the boost our country needs in show jumping."
After a much-needed day off, 34 riders came back to compete for individual medals and five available individual Olympic spots. Hough chose not to come back because she felt she was a little far out of contention for an individual medal and she was worried about further damaging Windy City’s hoof after losing a shoe in the Nations’ Cup.
With a larger and more technical course, only three riders would put in a clear round. Engle was the first U.S. individual rider to compete. She had a rub at a large green and yellow oxer, but the rail stayed up. In her second round, Perin got hurried with a lead change and dropped a rail to finish with a score of 10.4 penalties. She said, "I was thrilled with the way he handled the heat. He felt nice and fresh today.
"The boys were ganging up on me. I can’t help that," she joked referring to Kappler and Watring’s powerful performances.
Madden, who came into the individual in contention for a bronze medal started the first round clear and fast but then had a tough time getting through a three-part combination. In a huge surprise, Conquest stopped at the third element twice and was eliminated.
Kappler had a rail down in each of the two rounds giving him a final score of 10.4 penalties. In the first round, Royal Kaliber took down a skinny fence with a left/right option. "He noticed the camera man and caught the middle standard with his hind legs." In the second round, the rail he took down was "a tricky fence. It came down for probably half the class," he said.
Watring was the last to go. In order for him to stay in contention for the gold medal, he could only knock down two fences over the two courses. He continued his tradition for the week with a clear first round. In the second round, he dropped a fence and had one time fault, but it was still good enough to clinch the individual gold medal and one of five coveted individual spots for Puerto Rico to go to Athens next year.
"There was a bit of pressure," he said. "I knew Chris was right on my tail. But it made me ride harder." He said his goal coming into the Games was to earn a spot for the Olympics. "Winning the gold was the icing on the cake."
Kappler gave Watring credit as well. "Mark had a great week," he said. "He pulled out two fantastic rides today. I take my hat off to him."
In the end, Watring won gold, Kappler took home silver and Engle the bronze. The five individual Olympic spots were awarded to Puerto Rico, Canada, Colombia and two places to Brazil in addition to Rodrigo Pessoa who had qualified with his FEI ranking.
Overall, the riders were very pleased with the facilities and organization of the 2003 Pan-American Games. From the planning of the competition so the horses didn’t have to compete in the heat of the day to the layout of the barns to the good footing, there were many compliments to go around. Kappler summed it up when he said, "It’s as nice as any championship I’ve been to."