Luck wasn’t on the Americans’ side yesterday, on the final day of eventing competition at the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games.
First, Becky Holder withdrew Courageous Comet after the third horse inspection, prior to the show-jumping phase. The fourteen-year-old Thoroughbred gelding, it turned out, had thrown a front shoe early on in his cross-country run on October 2 and had “overcompensated” with the other leg, according to the official statement. As I write this, officials haven’t gotten back to me, so I’m still waiting to find out about the extent of Courageous Comet’s injury. Diagnostic procedures were to have been carried out yesterday at the on-site clinic at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, site of the Games.
Given that Holder and Courageous Comet were in third place individually going into show jumping, their withdrawal was a real blow to the chances of a US medal. But they were competing as individuals, not as part of the four-member team; and so it looked to be up to Boyd Martin on Neville Bardos, Phillip Dutton on Woodburn, Karen O’Connor and Mandiba, and Bruce “Buck” Davidson Jr. on BallyNoe Castle RM to claim the precious metal.
Things looked promising at first: Martin finished on his dressage score of 49.50, putting in a blazing clear round on a chilly, overcast Sunday afternoon with spitting rain. Neville Bardos looked fresh and fit after cross-country, handily negotiating Richard Jeffery’s thirteen-fence, 560-meter course in 87:59, well under the 90-second time limit.
But Davidson had a rail for four faults, and Dutton had a rail and also finished over the time limit, incurring one time fault. The USA’s medal chances slipped away for good when Mandiba ran out at fence 7, the Kentucky Fence Line, an imposing but not overly scary-looking dark-brown gate created to look like those found on many farms in the Bluegrass State. O’Connor stayed on and Mandiba cleared the obstacle at the second presentation, but the damage was done, with the pair incurring four time faults and eight jumping faults.
With the US out of the running, the New Zealand team of Mark Todd on Grass Valley, Andrew Nicholson on Nereo, Caroline Powell on Mac MacDonald, and newcomer Clarke Johnstone on Orient Express stepped up to win the bronze medal with a final team total of 154.80 penalty points. The overjoyed Canadians – who had not won a world-championship eventing medal since 1978 – won the silver medal with 151.50. Team Canada comprised Stephanie Rhodes-Bosch on Port Authority, Selena O’Hanlon on Colombo, Hawley Bennett-Awad on Gin & Juice, and Kyle Carter on Madison Park.
The other team that returned to the podium after a lengthy drought was Great Britain. The eventers’ gold medal was Britain’s first since 1994. Riding for GBR were the veteran Mary King on Imperial Cavalier, the much-decorated William Fox-Pitt on Cool Mountain, Nicola Wilson on Opposition Buzz, and Kristina Cook on Miners Frolic.
It is no accident, said the Canadian team members, that they found themselves back on the WEG eventing podium after having been coached by 2000 Sydney Olympics individual gold medalist David O’Connor, who is also the current president of the United States Equestrian Federation.
“Our success has every bit to do with him,” said Carter. “Four years ago at the WEG, our performance was very disappointing. He is asking and expecting much better results.”
Continuing his domination of the individual portion of the competition, Germany’s Michael Jung on La Biosthetique-Sam FBW sewed up the gold with a clean stadium round as the last rider to go. He finished on his dressage score of 33.00, a full nine penalty points lower than the individual silver medalist, William Fox-Pitt of Great Britain on Cool Mountain. Kiwi Andrew Nicholson’s clean trip aboard Nereo clinched him the bronze medal on a final score of 43.50.
Dressage enthusiasts will be interested to know that US dressage Olympian Guenter Seidel bred Jung’s horse, a ten-year-old Baden-Wurttemberg gelding (Stan the Man xx x Heraldik).
Gracious in defeat, Fox-Pitt said of Jung: “Michael Jung won, the rest nowhere.”