The U.S. team rallied to qualify two riders for the individual final today in Greenwich Park but would have been less than satisfied with the team seventh place finish at these Olympic Games. It was Germany all the way for gold medals and a gallant Great Britain holding onto the silver medal as New Zealand ousted Sweden to take the bronze, which was some consolation for Double Olympic Champion Mark Todd who dropped out of individual medal contention when Campino lowered the first part of the double in the team event.
Germany’s Michael Jung made history by becoming the first event rider to be Olympic, World, and European Champion when Sam jumped a double clear today to finish on 40.6 penalties after Sweden’s Sara Olgotsson Ostholt’s Wega lowered the last fence to drop to silver medal position with 43.3. Germany also took the bronze medal when Sandra Auffarth and Opgun Louvo moved up from fifth place after Britain’s Mary King (Imperial Cavalier) and Tina Cook (Miners Frolic) each had the same two fences down in the final round.
The day did not start well for the American camp when Otis Barbotiere was sent to the holding box in the veterinary inspection and Boyd Martin subsequently decided to withdraw. It was a huge blow for Boyd and for the team effort since Boyd was sitting in 26th place overnight. “As the first out yesterday I was a bit worried about slipping, and maybe we over studded a little bit. I think he’s got a bit of a sprained ankle. We thought he was improving this morning and he looked OK on the way down but on that hard ground on the way back he was pretty sore,” commented Boyd who consequently decided that it was in his best interests to withdraw him.
And so it was down to the remaining four riders to make amends with Will Coleman leading the way in front of a packed crowd that had showed yesterday they were going to create a unique atmosphere for these games. Will showed that he was up to the task with a super clear jumping round adding just a couple of pesky time faults - time proved to be tight for many of the riders today. Despite Twizzel’s advancing years he really jumped well especially after a tiring cross country track. “He was a little tired but if you do help him he tries, he jumped well, two time penalties is a little infuriating but the time seems to be really tight,” said Will who also summed up his cross country round, “The horse started well, I really went for it from the beginning and I do think he was getting a little tired. I think mentally it was very fatiguing on the horses, they just never get a chance to just cruise along, the whole course was like being in a washing machine. When I came up that hill I still felt I had horse underneath me but he was definitely feeling it, he was tired and I went up to that bank and he poked his nose out and I sat right back dug my spurs in him and he kind of half went and I thought we were going then all of a sudden like a cat he just he just bought two feet off the edge of the world and came back onto the ground and once they go backwards it was just so close to going the other way. It was really disappointing, I’m furious at myself but at the same time those kind of things do happen and that’s part of the sport and I think going forward I’ll just gear up for the next one.”
There can be no doubt Will Coleman has the temperament for the big occasion and really rose to the challenge of being a team member under Olympic pressure. “I kind of look on this like I’m here to do a job and try to keep that professional outlook no matter what’s going on around you and there is a lot going on to distract you at something like the Olympic Games. There may be a lot of hoopla about this but it’s still a three day event. I have a lot of confidence in my ability to perform here on this kind of stage - it didn’t go well for me this weekend but I don’t think it’s always going to be like that and I would anticipate and expect that the next time; we as a team can do better and I personally can do a lot better. There’s no reason we can’t win medals for the United States and I think we will in time.”
As for Twizzel being an older horse Will and his owner Jim Wildasen will consider after the horse has the rest of the year off whether he will come out next year for Rolex or Badminton. As Will quipped. “I think he’s got one left in him, he owes me something after not going off that bank.”
Tiana Coudray was looking to make amends for the twenty penalties on cross country when Ringwood Magister came cantering into the arena, after being delayed in the warm-up arena, clearly focused on the pace which may have cost them the two rails to finish 40th on 88.6. “We had a little moment in the warm up area where we couldn’t quite leave so we had to get through that and once we got through that we needed to just get in the ring,” she explained. “My horse is a super, super jumper and I can count the rails he’s had in the last few years and it’s not many but the time was so tight in there that the instructions were go fast and I think we compromised a few rails for the sake of going fast. I think yesterday really affected the horses turning as well... they’re not feeling as well in general as they normally do at the end. And then to go fast in there we’re paying for it.”
Summarizing her cross country performance she said, “I think fence 3a-b was a fairly influential fence and I think the ground was slippery and the horses weren’t reading the line very well and things come together pretty quick is a perfect recipe for things to happen. I’ve got a laundry list of things that I should have done better to prevent that from happening and it’s going to haunt me for a long time but it is what it is and not really what you want to have happen fifteen seconds on course but you’ve got to kick on and I’m actually really pleased with what we got after that. We were able to go quite quickly, he threw a shoe - we put the biggest stud we had and then to run around bare foot compensating on the other leg I’m sure is exhausting on them and of course the foot takes a beating so he’s quite a good sport to have a stiff upper lip and come out today and try for me. I’ve learned a lot about this particular horse about what I could do differently.”
Following terrific form since partnering with Mystery Whisper, hopes were high for Phillip Dutton who was lying in 12th place going into the stadium. But it was not to be his day and a rare refusal plus two fences down in the team round lowered them to 21st place before the final round where they collected a further eight faults to finish in 23rd on 81.10. For Phillip who was riding the horse for the last time in competition as he will go back to his owner Arden Wildasin after these games, it was not the note to finish on. “I’m a bit gutted,” he admitted, “we warmed up a small arena and in hindsight I probably should have got him going a bit more forward. I was more concentrated on getting him careful. He always is a careful horse. He got a bit more cautious in there and then he spooked at the blue boat and stopped on me which I’m pretty embarrassed about. I think it surprised him, I was obviously conscious of the time,” he commented after the team round. “He’s a great horse and he deserves a better finish than that.”
Olympic veteran Karen O’Connor brought all her experience to these games to produce the best U.S. performance by finishing ninth on 53.0 with two foot perfect rounds today on Mr Medicott. Karen was delighted with the outcome but really disappointed about the team, “it was a huge hit for us [losing Otis Barbotiere] and then the two mistakes from the rookies but they’ve learned a lot from that, they’ll be here another time, there’s no doubt about it.”
While disappointed with her cross country time faults she explained that, “he was very strong at the end and I didn’t want to trip at some of those low jumps at the end.” Her double clear show jumping rounds is a continuation of her show jumping form since she began working with Marilyn Little-Meredith, “Marilyn and Dirk Schrade were the brokers on the deal to buy Mr Medicott and since that time it was the beginning of her taking over my jumping program and she’s been incredibly instrumental in that, not only in the show jumping but also in the cross country. She’s a very fast cross country rider because she has such a foundation in the show jumping and it’s like doing a jump off so I watched her ride cross country and show jumping and I thought I have a lot to learn from her. She’s a lot younger than me but in many ways a lot wiser, a lot more experience than I have certainly in the show jumping,” added Karen.
Karen was very happy to be competing in her fifth Olympic Games and noted that her biggest take away from these games is the need for Americans to spend more time on this side of the pond. “It’s really important to spend time here and on the continent - the Germans have an incredible program. I know that in the United States we have the talent and horse power, we have the hunger but it’s still in my opinion slightly fragmented and it needs to all come together and utilize that talent and really get on a program with the best young talent and young riders and give them a way forward. We’re competing against all these top countries that are funded so they don’t have to sell their best horses. They get to go to Warnedorf and study and not worry about the financial aspect of it. The USOC is trying its best to subsidize the athletes as much as they can but we’re up against the lack of government funding and its a huge handicap.”