Switzerland will take a narrow lead into today's eagerly-awaited team finale of the Bank of America Merrill Lynch Jumping Championship at the FEI World Equestrian Games™ Tryon 2018 (WEG).
Italy’s Lorenzo de Luca heads the individual competition, which finishes on Sunday. The host nation of the United States also made its presence felt through brilliant displays by McLain Ward and Adrienne Sternlicht that pushed the team into second behind the Swiss, with Germany in third.
Joining those three nations in the final at U.S. Trust Arena will be Sweden, the Netherlands, Ireland, France, Australia, Great Britain and Canada, with the top six finishers all securing prized Olympic qualification for Tokyo 2020.
As he had done for the opening flurries on Wednesday, course designer Alan Wade (IRL) produced another immense course that tested combinations to the maximum.
So much so, there were only five clear rounds without time faults from the listed 122 starters—De Luca, third-placed Peder Fredricson, of Sweden, Germany’s Simone Blum in fourth, Irish challenger Cian O’Connor, who is fifth, and seventh placed Max Kuhner of Austria.
Switzerland’s lead would have been more than just 0.95 penalties had overnight leader Steve Guerdat not had a fence down in his round, but Janika Sprunger led the way with just one fault, matching the scores of American pair Ward and Sternlicht.
Reflecting on his round with Clinta, Ward said, “The last line was very difficult and I decided to do the one extra stride and ran out of room and somehow the horse fought her way through that situation. She was just spectacular. We are right up there in medal contention and we will just stay focused on that.”
De Luca, meanwhile, was drawn right at the end of a long day’s action aboard Irenice Horta, and he said, “That was really difficult as I watched many riders and it was a long day, but I had a good chance to watch a few rounds and I know my mare so I figured out what I needed to do. She is in super shape, and she did another amazing round. She has a great mind—I just need to ride good and give her the chance to do her best.”
While De Luca is top of the individual roster, arguably the round of the day belonged to O’Connor and Good Luck. They did not need one ounce of luck, though, not touching a pole in delivering a jumping masterclass.
“He walked around the course. He jumped it easily,” O’Connor said. “He is an extraordinary athlete. He has learned to be a little more economical with his jump—when I got him, he jumped very high and up—so we had to teach him to relax and jump across the fences more, but now he can do everything.
“He has learned to compact himself like an accordion and make that spring off his hocks.”
Team medals will be decided this afternoon, while the top 25 individual riders at the end of the team competition will progress to Sunday’s final, which is two rounds, plus a jump-off, if required.