The US team claimed team gold for the third consecutive time in the Reining Championship at the World Equestrian Games in Kentucky today. © FEI/Kit Houghton.
Interview with US Reining Chef d'Equipe Jeff Petska
Interview with Belgian rider Jan Boogaerts
"We were always trying for third place, so silver is a dream come true!" said Belgium's Cira Baeck afterwards. But the team effort produced by the Americans was exceptional and, as US Chef d'Equipe Jeff Petska said, "we came here under a lot of pressure - reining is a big sport on our home soil, but my boys really rose to the occasion".
Tom McCutcheon was first of the Americans into the ring today, and when his score of 224.0 with Gunners Special Nite put him on level-pegging with first-day leader Stefano Massignan from Italy it was clear the home runners were almost untouchable at the head of the leaderboard. But last man in, Shawn Flarida left nothing to chance with RC Fancy Step.
"My ride was good and the noise coming from the crowd was deafening," said the 41 year old from Springboro, Ohio who, as leading money-winner in his sport in the US has a huge fan-club of supporters.
"I was hoping we could be good today and my horse was really sweet. I'm very lucky to be part of a dream team of horses and riders that have won over $9 million between us!" he said after slotting into the number one spot on a score of 227.0 to seal the gold.
All of the US team members were medal winners at previous FEI World Equestrian Games but Craig Schmersal said today's victory was particularly special. "We may never put together another team like this - we have a great group of riders, and in 20 or 30 years I know I'll be proud and happy to look back and remember I was part of this," he said.
Belgium's silver medal was particularly creditable because first-line rider, Jan Boogaerts, got the ride on Gumpy Grumpy only a few weeks ago.
"My own horse got a stifle infection and had to be operated on, I still don't know if he will ever see the show pen again but he's doing OK otherwise," he said.
After losing his own ride he called Belgian Chef d'Equipe Susie Baeck to explain the situation "and she went very quiet," Boogaerts said. But 30 minutes later Susie, who is sister to team-member Cira Baeck, called back to say "we want you on the team - you can have Cira's alternate horse, so they're the ones who made sure I came here and I'm very grateful to them for that."
When asked how a European-based rider had such a strong US accent, Boogaerts said: "being such a small country we don't have many dubbed TV shows so I have watched a lot of American TV. I think my accent came from watching Bonanza and Chuck Norris and the Texas Rangers - that's where it came from!"
For the Italians, however, international success is nothing new. They have claimed reining bronze medals in each of the previous World Equestrian Games. In 2008, they bested the US team by winning the FEI World Reining Championships.
"We're tired of being third for the third time. It's time to move up!" said Italian chef d'equipe Mario Sbrana.
As the US team fielded questions during the post-competition press conference they exuded a sense of great relief in having lived up to expectations on their home turf, but one reporter took them by surprise.
As she looked up onto the podium at the line-up of the three teams she asked if the US side thought they won because of, or despite, the fact that they were carrying "more kilos of bodyweight" than all the others!
The room exploded with laughter, but US Chef d'Equipe Jeff Petska was quick to respond when saying that "this is the World Championships, so we brought a bunch of heavyweights to a heavyweight party!".
The US heavyweights go into Thursday's individual medal decider full of confidence after today's result, but as Shawn Flarida pointed out "that's a whole other day" because all the riders start on a scratch score.
"And I know that I will need to be better than I was today and my horse will need to be better than he was," he insisted.
Tuesday's second individual qualifier provides those not already qualified with one final chance to make the cut. For now however, it is time for the home team to celebrate a superb hat-trick of World Championship Reining titles.
1 - GOLD: USA 674.5 - Hollywoodstinseltown (Tim McQuay) 220.5, Mister Montana Nic (Craig Schmersal) 223.5, Gunners Special Nite (Tom McCutcheon) 224.0, RC Fancy Step (Shawn Flarida) 227.0.
2 - SILVER: BELGIUM 659.0 - Gumpy Grumpy BB (Jan Boogaerts) 205.0, Whizdom Shines (Ann Poels) 219.5, Peek A Boom (Cira Baeck) 218.0, BA Reckless Chick (Bernard Fonck) 223.5.
3 - BRONZE: ITALY 655.5 - Smart and Shiney (Mrco Ricotta) 0, Yellow Jersey (Stefano Massignan) 224.0, Red Chic Peppy (Dario Carmignani) 216.5, Spat a Blue (Nicola Brunelli) 215.0.