|Mark Todd | One Second Away From Gold After Cross Country|
The Cross Country Phase of the London 2012 Olympic Eventing competition will surely go down as one of the greatest events the sport has ever seen, and probably the most exciting day the London Games is likely to witness. 74 horses jumped out of the start box, and fifteen did not make it through to the finish, a number of which surprised everyone. Four nations held firm, to maintain team scores that have a chance of putting their team on the podium, Great Britain, Germany, New Zealand & Sweden.
|Dressage Leader Yoshi Oiwa Out Of The Games|
From the individual medal standings of the dressage phase only Mark Todd remained, and given he was one second over the time on cross country, which meant he was still in bronze position and not Gold because of that, he probably gave himself something of a talking to! Sadly the overnight leader from the dressage, Yoshi Oiwa eliminated himself in the second half of the course, losing both his individual and team medal chances in the blink of an eye. A real shame, as I saw him ride the meridian line fence as well as any that day.
Cross country day gave us everything you would hope to see from an Olympic Games. The elite riders from the FEI top 15 or so gave us a masterclass in keeping horses forward and balanced, on what can only be described as one of the most demanding tracks we are ever likely to see, demanding not necessarily because fences were big, bold and challenging, but because Sue Benson, had been incredibly clever with the terrain, and even without the fences, keeping horses balanced and forward would have been a challenge in itself. In mid field we had several riders giving us rides that made you hold your breath as they corrected mistakes, fought to rebalance their horses on the tight bends and struggle to pace their way round the ups and downs of Greenwich Park. On top of all this we had surprise eliminations of former medal winners, influential fences you wouldn’t have given a second thought to on a novice track, and the less experienced nations throwing their hat in the ring, with varying degrees of success.
|The Small Capacity Crowd Really Engaged With The Competition|
Like Badminton & Burghley what this Olympics demonstrated is the impact that environment of the course has on how it rides – the crowds & their engagement, the weather & how this affects everything, and the terrain, and I don’t just mean the hills, but also trees in full leaf, the sunshine and shade that creates, etc.
Above all else it gave us a glimpse of some very interesting riders breaking on to the ‘big’ scene, like Swedish rider, Ludvig Svennerstal, the most impressive rider under 25 at the event, Irish rider, Aoife Clark, who rode a fabulous Olympics on the highly desirable Master Crusoe, and individual bronze medalist, Sandra Auffarth who rode the lake fence with the speed and accuracy of an F1 driver at Monaco.
|Chris Burton & HP Leilani Set The Benchmark With The First Clear Round Inside The Time|
I had thought the Aussie challenge would fly high or die, and sadly Clayton Fredericks joined Sam Griffiths on the elimination list, and Lucinda’s run out at the water fence left the Aussies with no hope of a team medal. Chris Burton produced another peak performance on cross country day, finishing clear inside the time to stay in the top ten by the end of the day only to drop to 16th after showjumping, but I think this guy is a legend in the making. It was the experienced Andrew Hoy though riding Rutherglen who climbed up the leaderboard to 13th to be highest placed Aussie.
|William Fox-Pitt & Lionheart|
Great Britain, may have missed out on Team Gold and an individual medal chance, but they were the only nation to have 3 riders in the top 10 at the end of the competition, and provided the home crowd with plenty to cheer about. On the cross country you could hear cheers for every British rider at every fence from anywhere in the park, and on showjumping day the grandstands visible shook under the foot stamping, cheering crowd. Horses literally entered and exited via a ‘wall of sound’.
|Karen O’Connor Speeds Round The Cross Country On An Eager Mr. Medicott|
For me the Americans had a surprisingly uneventful Olympics. Boyd Martin rode a superb cross country round on Otis Barbotiere only to find himself needing to withdraw the horse before show jumping the following morning. Karen O’Connor who finished best of the US riders in 9th place, had her work cut out on Mr. Medicott, who was as keen as mustard all the way round the cross country, and came thundering past me out of the arena, calling “whoa, whoa” to steady him up. Phillip Dutton’s wonder horse, Mystery Whisper, had the most surprising stop in the show jumping, and Tiana Coudray found it hard to maintain an even tempo on Ringwood Magister. I missed Will Coleman’s ride but by all accounts it was a ‘good show’ for his first Olympics.
The cross country course itself was a masterpiece of competition course design, and Sue Benson deserves much praise for her clever use of terrain and environment, no more apparent than at the sun dial fence where riders came round a blind corner, usually into a wall of sound and the cheering crowds to tackle a straightforward looking combination of ‘deer feeder’ followed by a skinny brush down a sharp slope ridden on three or four strides, only to find it all too easy to run out or unseat a rider. Fences themselves were given great attention to detail in their construction with techniques employed you would only find in a cabinet makers workshop. Overall I wasn’t a big fan of this sharp, twisting turning track that I think more than a few horses will have found themselves paying the price for it. Especially after such a spectacular opening ceremony to the games, I think much more creativity could have been applied to the course.
|Andrew Nicholson & Nereo|
I spent much of cross country day watching with various riders and trainers, learning a lot from their comments as we witnessed a variety of styles, abilities and tactics tackle what proved to be a very intense course. It’s very interesting the subtle differences you can spot between different rides, even between masters of cross country like Andrew Nicholson & Mark Todd, who both rode the meridian line fence on three strides, but with different tactics – Mark made it look like a schooling exercise, whilst Andrew stretched out the last stride.
All of the Kiwis were every bit as good as the British & Germans throughout, they just lacked the sheer macro precision that the Germans apply to everything they do. At no point in the competition did any of the key German riders look to be in any danger of relinquishing their Gold position, even with Butts Abraxxas’ known issues showjumping, so I think the Brits should be very pleased with their Silver, as the Kiwis and Swedes looked threatening once or twice.
|Michael Jung & Sam | European, World & Olympic Champions|
Michael Jung has to be the ‘man of the match‘, with or without the Gold medal. There were of course many with higher expectations for his dressage, particularly when we were seeing so many low 40s & sub 40 scores, but he rode every phase like a masterclass of the pure discipline, you just couldn’t fault him. From everything I’ve ever read or watched about Michael Jung you can see he is a master of meticulous detail, leaving absolutely no stone unturned in his pursuit of producing the perfect performance on the day. His accomplishments so far, European, World & Olympic Champion, not to mention World Cups, & Luhmühlen 4 Star, I think put him on a par with countryman Michael Shumaker, and one of a mere handful of people capable of winning the Rolex Grand Slam. He’s someone I’d very much like to meet, and rumour has it he’s heading to Badminton 2013 – Now that’s going to be an interesting triple header (William Fox-Pitt aiming for his Rolex Grand Slam, Mark Todd aiming for back-to-back Badmintons 2 years apart with NZB Land Vision, and the Jung Meister making his debut) .
If I had time just now to wax lyrical about all the great rides I saw, I would, but I think it safe to say, the British, Germans, and New Zealanders all stood out as exceptional. Huge kudos also to the two swedes (Sara Algotsson Ostholt & Ludvig Svennerstal), Boyd Martin, Victoria Panizzon, and Aoife Clark.
I’m incredibly pleased I managed to be there to witness it all, and I’d like to see it all again, instead I’ll leave you a few additional photos from cross country day:
|Boyd Martin Gets Cross Country Day Underway|
|Opposition Buzz Makes The Olympic Cross Country Course Look Like A Game Of Checkers|
|The Inland Water Fence|
|Aoife Clark & Master Crusoe At the Sundials Fence|
|Getting Your Games Face On!|
|The Inland Waterways Fence|
|Kenki Sato Unseated At The Sundials Fence Lands Safely On His Feet|
|Phillip Dutton & Mystery Whisper|
If anyone knows whether these maritime flags actually spell out a real message I’d be very interested to know.