August 13, 2008

Germany held onto the top spots in both the team and individual three-day-event at the Olympics Games in Hong Kong overnight. The team finished with more than a jump rail in hand to Australia, with the favoured British team in third.

In the individual medals, Germany also took the top spot, with Hinrich Romeike and Marius holding onto their lead from the USA's Gina Miles riding McKinlaigh. Most of the favoured riders were shut out of the top positions, with third going to Britain's Kristina Cook and Miner's Frolic, who made her way onto the squad from the reserves.


The individual Eventing Olympic medallists: Hinrich Romeike (GER), gold; Gina Miles (USA), silver; and Tina Cook (GBR), bronze. © Kit Houghton
The tension-filled team decider was a thriller all the way, with just 10 clear rounds over the clever track created by Leopoldo Palacios in conjunction with Mike Etherington-Smith and Steve Stephens - and two of these were produced by German riders. The bogey on the 13-obstacle course was the green oxer at fence seven, while the final line of oxer to double also claimed plenty of victims. The dog-leg line from the oxer at eight, which had a right and left-hand option, proved the undoing of many who failed to find the correct distance to the following planks, and the questions asked by the intriguing course-plan were all about control, trust and the willingness of horses to give their all one more time.

The win was Germany's third eventing team gold, after 1936 and 1988 - and they may feel they have exacted revenge after they had to forfeit their gold from Athens, when Bettina Hoy went over the starting line twice. Their appeal against losing the medal was turned down by the Court of Arbitration in Sport.

"It's most satisfying to get back what they took from us," national team coach Hans Melzer told DPA. "What happened in Athens gave us wings for this achievement."

It was a great effort by the Australians who took the fight for gold right down to the wire. Sonja Johnson (Ringwould Jaguar) jumped clear, Clayton Fredericks (Ben Along Time) had one rail and Megan Jones (Irish Jester) who was the last of the Australians to jump also had one fence down giving the Germans just three rails (12 penalties) breathing room.

The Aussies discounted the scores of Shane Rose (All Luck) who had two rails and Lucinda Fredericks (Headley Britannia) who were clear jumping but incurred two time faults.

Either Australia or Germany could have won gold right until the last rider cantered into the arena. From Germany Andreas Dibowski (Butts Leon) jumped clear followed by Ingrid Klimke (Abraxxas) who had one rail as did Hinrich Romeike. A performance that was good enough to earn them victory by just 5.1 penalty points.

Despite losing two of their five team-members due to horse injury, the three-strong Swedish (230.50) side fought like tigers to stay in the game and did even better than that when moving up from fifth to finish fourth ahead of New Zealand (240.90).

Veteran Kiwi rider Mark Todd and Gandalf managed one of the few "triple" clears of the competition, picking up only time faults on the cross-country, and going clear in both showjumping rounds to finish 17th individually overall. He told Fairfax he was considering his options with regard to his eventing future, and had an eye on the World Equestrian Games at Kentucky in 2010 - and possibly the London Olympics in 2012.


The victorious German team. © Kit Houghton


Britain's bronze medal-winning team show.
© Natasha Slavic

The New Zealanders were in sight of fourth as a team but their hopes were dashed with Andrew Nicholson being eliminated in the cross-country, and Joe Meyer and Snip taking five rails and incurring time faults in the showjumping.

The Italians were lying just one place off a medal as the competition began, but four fences down for Susanna Bordone (Ava) and three on the floor for Roberto Rotatori (Irham de Viages) sent them plummeting to sixth while the USA remained in seventh as the Irish finished eighth.

Triple errors from three of their team members ensured the Canadians remained in ninth while Brazil finished 10th. And eventing fans will remember this Olympic Games for the quality of both horsemanship and horse-power. The days of haphazard eventing show jumping rounds are long gone.

The Brazilian side was also reduced to just three in the closing stages, but they battled on bravely to finish with 334.10 on the final scoreboard - Marcelo Tosi producing one of those very special clears with the aptly-named Super Rocky. The Canadians registered a total of 321.00, while the Irish, on 276.10, were upbeat despite failing to make any improvement from overnight eighth - their new team manager, former Olympic champion Ginny Elliott, looking forward to a promising future and particularly delighted with the results produced by Geoff Curran and Kilkishen who picked up just two time faults and Austin O'Connor and Hobby du Mee who stayed clear and went through to the individual final.

The Americans completed with 250.00 points and Gina Miles' clear ensured that she would feature prominently in the following individual medal drama.

Sweden meanwhile was on the rise thanks to gutsy rounds from both Dag Albert (Tubber Rebel) and the wonderful 18-year old Stand by Me ridden by Linda Algotsson who left all the timber intact so that Katrin Norling's five faults with Pandora was all they had to add. The time-allowed of 94 seconds was hugely influential throughout the competition.

A simpler track with just nine fences faced the 25 through to the individual final, but only 11 managed to leave them all in place. With each country now only entitled to field a maximum of three riders under the new Olympic individual formula, the top-10 included three Germans and three Australians and there was less than a fence between the top seven.

Phillip Dutton (USA) was eliminated from the individual competition because the hind boots used on Connaught weighed more than 500g. This is in contravention of FEI Rule 257.253, which was introduced in February. Chef d'Equipe Mark Phillips and Dutton both said they were not aware of the rule, and did not intend to operate outside the rules.


A jubilant Tina Cook. © Kit Houghton
Lying seventh, Tina Cook applied the heat on the remaining six when producing a flawless run with Miners Frolic to register a final score of 57.40. And when Clayton Fredericks and Ben Along Time caught the first element of the influential penultimate double, the British rider began to move up the order.

She improved even further when Andreas Dibowski and Butts Leon hit both the oxer at seven and the second element of the double at eight but Gina Miles halted her progress when the American's 14 year old Irish-bred eased his way home without incident.

Third-last into the ring, Megan Jones knew there was no room for error and was looking good all the way to the very last where, to groans of disbelief from the crowd, Irish Jester clipped the rail for four very expensive faults and the end of an Australian dream. It seemed now that Germany, once again, would capture both gold and silver, Klimke lying second and Romeike heading the field although with only a fractional advantage. Klimke's chances were dashed however when, beginning to look a little weary, her fabulous gelding lowered the oxer at fence two and now only Romeike stood between Miles and that glittering prize.

But the German was partnering one of the great eventing horses of our time and, despite a very nervous ride by his master, the gorgeous grey holsteiner seemed to have the gold in sight himself. Romeike's eye for a stride was not as accurate as it had been in the previous round so Marius seemed to take command as he skipped home in the finest of style.

The story of the 2008 Olympic gold individual medal is all the more extraordinary for the fact that Hinrich is only an amateur. By day his time is spent in his dental surgery attending to his many patients so his riding is restricted to after-hours. "I ride after work, about 6 or 6.30pm" he explained, "I'm lucky because I have a few horses and I have a great groom to help me." So how does a part-time rider manage to beat some of the greatest professionals in his sport in the world? "I don't know the answer to that" Hinrich replied, "I just do it."

He knows he has been gifted in his partnership with Marius - "He is the one who did it today, I didn't ride well. My horse never makes a mistake, but I make many - today however not too many!" he added. And he was thinking about his family and friends back in Germany. "Tonight they are in my surgery with a big flat-screen TV watching this all happening and they will be drinking champagne - so why are we sitting here drinking water?" he quipped to the delight of his listeners.

Miles expressed her gratitude to the horse found for her at Punchestown in Ireland many years ago who has taken her to the very top. "McKinlaigh and I have grown up together and he has never had a cross-country jumping penalty during his whole career - we have been on a great journey and this is where it has taken us - I feel very lucky," said the rider who hails from California and was relishing a career-defining moment as she held her silver medal in her hand.

And bronze-medallist Cook said, "this is the realisation of a dream. I was originally on the reserve list and only came here because Zara (Philips) and Lucy (Wiegersma) couldn't - I always thought that if I got the chance I could show the world what I could do. Today I got that chance" she said with pride.

Earlier in the day at the horse inspection silver medalist McKinlaigh was sent to the holding box. On returning to the inspection ramp, rider Gina Miles had to undergo an agonising five-minute consultation between the Ground Jury and veterinary team before eventually getting the nod.

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