"It was a truly bizarre marathon for me. Before we started the last phase of the marathon I tested the carriage once more," Chardon said. "The brakes worked different than usual, but I felt I had to continue. As soon as we started I cleared my mind and I focused on the obstacles.
"Luckily it went well from the first obstacle and I had a good feeling. Just before the last obstacle I noticed my horses got a little tired and told my son Bram and my wife Paulien who are my grooms that I wanted to take the long route. Bram however told me not to give it away now and to take the short route. I am happy he told me this otherwise I would not have been able to win the marathon and to come so close to Boyd."
The Marathon consists of three sections. The first is a 6.84km trot course that has an optimum time allowed window and 15 compulsory flags. The second section is a mandatory 1km walk that also has an optimum time allowance. At the end of the second section is a rest area. It is here that horses are inspected by veterinarians to ensure that they are fit to compete in the final section, which is comprised of an 8.49km course featuring eight obstacles, referred to as hazards, and 22 compulsory turning flags.
The marathon was followed by a large number of spectators, who enjoyed watching the 25 international competitors on the eight marathon obstacles, designed by USA's Richard Nicoll. The temperatures rose to 30 degrees Celsius and all necessary precautions were taken to ensure the welfare of the horses, with plenty of ice, water and misting fans at the halt and finish of the marathon.
The competitors treated the spectators to much excitement as they went through the obstacles and it became a marathon with ups and downs. US favourite Chester Weber, who was tied in second place with Chardon after dressage, had a groom down in obstacle 7 when one of his wheeler horses jumped over a leader trace, dropping Weber to 13th place in the individual standings.
Dutch driver Koos de Ronde made up for his disappointing dressage and finished fourth in the marathon, climbing to the seventh place in the overall standings. Tucker Johnson moved up to the bronze medal position after finishing seventh in his last marathon.
Sweden's marathon specialist Tomas Eriksson, who broke his foot at the CAIO in Breda five weeks ago on the dance floor, was in the lead in the marathon, despite two extra circles in obstacle 3, but had to give way to Chardon when the Dutch driver entered the course.
"My leaders were too strong in obstacle three," Eriksson said. "This was a difficult obstacle since we had to enter it from the sun into the shadow under the trees. My horses nearly ran off with me in the fifth obstacle as well. The left leader used to be a single horse and is sometimes too fast. I took the same route as my compatriot Fredrik Persson in obstacle four. I went down without control, I don't know how I did it, but it went well!"
Exell gave away his opportunity to win the marathon when he decided to drive the safe route in the last obstacle where Chardon beat him by 3 seconds.
He has kept the lead in the standings, but is only 1.72 penalty points ahead of Chardon, who has closed the gap after his marathon win. "Normally on most marathons you'll have one little something somewhere, but today seemed almost perfect. Even going safe we were still fast, " said Exell, 38. "I wanted to go fast enough to put pressure on Chardon, but not make mistakes. The horses were machines out there, they just really did it on their own.
"My navigator Lisa Banks was ahead of me all the time to warn me when there was a left turn coming up so I could slow down and prepare myself. In this way I did not have to put so much pressure on my injured left hand. We told ourselves before the marathon that we did a really bad dressage test in order to work hard in the marathon. We will do the same tomorrow."
The Netherlands has taken the lead in the team standings. Host nation USA follows with 26 penalty points difference, so it seems that the Dutch are almost certain of their second consecutive gold medal. Sweden is in third position.
Exell, along with teammate Gavin Robson, has put Australia in the team medal hunt too. They're in fourth, with 311.99 penalties, just behind Sweden. Australia has never won a team medal at the Driving World Championships.
The US's Johnson, currently in third, is hoping to conclude his impressive driving career with an individual medal. This would be the first individual medal for the US driver at a World four-in-hand Championship. But he has to drive clear in order to secure his bronze medal as Dutchman Theo Timmerman is following him in the standings with only 1.73 penalty points difference. And double World Champion Eriksson has moved up into the Top Five with his second place in the marathon and is breathing down Theo Timmerman's neck; so the bronze medal is still wide open.
Johnson, 46, concluded his marathon by saluting the cheering spectators with a raised fist after exiting the last obstacle. "It was a bittersweet moment for me, and I wanted to thank the crowd. I felt a little sadness that it was over and happiness for my performance. Given all the circumstances, I think my last marathon may be my best," he said.
He added that teammates Chester Weber and Jimmy Fairclough had suffered bad luck before he started, both of them getting penalties for putting grooms down in an obstacle. Those penalties, combined with the speed of Chardon and teammate Theo Timmerman today, broke the tie between the Netherlands and the United States for first place after dressage.
"This competition has a high level of competitors and our coaches Michael Freund and Peter Tischer have worked hard to get us here. All lines and obstacles went fluent for me; I am very pleased the way my horses went. We are still in the team medals and my goal for tomorrow is to drive clear."
The battle for the gold and silver medal will take place in the exciting final obstacle driving competition tomorrow, when Chardon will be trying to pile all the pressure on Exell.
Individual standings after dressage and marathon:
1. Boyd Exell (AUS) 130.52
2. IJsbrand Chardon (NED) 132.24
3. Tucker Johnson (USA) 147.06
4. Theo Timmerman (NED) 148.79
5. Tomas Eriksson (SWE) 149.82
6. Christoph Sandmann (GER) 151.18
7. Koos de Ronde (NED) 153.56
8. Daniel Würgler (SUI) 159.61
9. Fredrik Persson (SWE) 161.42
10. Georg von Stein (GER) 164.11
Nations Team standings after dressage and marathon:
1. The Netherlands 273.77
2. USA 300.92
3. Sweden 311.24
4. Australia 311.99
5. Germany 315.29
6. Switzerland 328.18
7. Canada 522.79