Japan's Sato Kenki riding Toy Boy won individual eventing gold and also helped their team to gold. © Miriam Tilli
Sato's team-mate Yoshiaki Oiwa took individual bronze, and Japan scored a convincing victory in the team competition, finishing with a 26-point advantage over the silver medalists from Thailand while China pipped the squad from Hong Kong by the narrowest of margins in the battle for team bronze.
Thailand's Nina Ligon was one of the hard luck stories of the three-day fixture. The US-based rider produced a great test from Chai Thai to take the lead after the dressage on Thursday and was still out in front after a flawless cross-country run on Friday, but a single fence down in the both of the decisive jumping rounds left her just outside a medal position.
A total of 30 riders from seven nations - China, Korea, Hong Kong, Japan, Kazakhstan, Qatar and Thailand - contested the event.
The Japanese headed the team leaderboard after dressage but their advantage was slight as Thailand was just over two points further behind. Nina Ligon produced the best individual score of 40.60, but Sato was only 1.7 points in arrears after Ground Jury members Sumiko Suzuki (JPN), Brian Schrapel (AUS) and Tom Pantapa (THA) awarded him a mark of 42.30. And there was little separating the riders in third and fourth places, either - Thailand's Kingwan Promton (Nice Nelly) scoring 42.70 and Japan's Yoshiaki Oiwa (Noonday de Conde) registering a mark of 43.80.
Ligon, who is trained by US Olympic silver medallist and three-time Kentucky three-day-event Kim Severson, produced a great cross-country run to get home well inside the time with her nine year old Dutch warmblood/Selle Francais gelding Chai Thai. A dual US and Thai citizen who competed under both flags as a junior, she elected to represent Thailand when she turned 18 last year. She was the youngest rider, and first woman, to win an individual equestrian gold medal for Thailand when taking team and individual gold at the Southeast Asian Games in Pattaya, Thailand in 1997.
Friday's 21-fence cross-country track included 31 jumping efforts, and only two riders exceeded the time allowed of 5.40 minutes. A total of 21 riders completed with nothing to add to their dressage mark, but the team from Qatar disappeared from the reckoning when both Ahmed Al Badi (Wait and See) and Faisal Al Mapri (Graffiti de Lully) were eliminated, while the side from Kazakhstan was reduced to just three when pathfinder, Valeriy Chekalin (Armond), retired. These were the only three not to complete the event.
Team silver medalist Nina Ligon (Thailand) and Chai Thai.
The first round of jumping decided the team medals and Ligon's luck began to run out when she left the a pole on the floor which dropped her to third going into the individual final. And one more mistake pushed her out of the medals - Japan's Oiwa staying clear first time out and adding just four in the next round to seal bronze behind Cheon and Sato who took silver and gold without a single addition to their score-sheets.
Sato's family have a long and distinguished connection with equestrian sport. His father, Shodo, was selected for the Japanese team for the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow but didn't compete due to the Japanese boycott and his younger brother, Eiken, competed on the Japanese jumping team at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games before coming out to score a surprise victory in the Rolex FEI World Cup qualifier at Mechelen in Belgium last December.
Riding Toy Boy, Sato finished 12th in the CIC 2-Star at Hunxe, Germany last July and was 17th in the CIC 2-Star at Schenefeld, Germany the following month. Earlier in the year he won the CIC 3-Star in Vairano, Italy with Hop and Skip.
He has been riding since he was seven years of age, and believes his equestrian career balances well with his Buddhist background.
"I like riding, and do what monks normally do, and I take both seriously" said the 26-year-old who has completed a year's study at the Buddhist monastery where his father is the clerical leader.
Individual eventing gold medalist Sato Kenki, of Japan. © GAGOC/FEI
He finished 35th overall with Hop and Skip at the World Equestrian Games in Kentucky in October.
He sees himself pursuing "a special life path" as he combines the two important aspects of his life and he showed his dedication to and appreciation of his equine partner, Toy Boy, when he added "I would like to thank my horse - we two have been supporting each other all the way here!".
Japan took team gold with a final score of 133.40 while Thailand took silver with 159.60 and China held on for bronze with a total of 164.90, while three great jumping clears left Hong Kong just 0.3 points further behind in fourth place.
Eventing Individual Championship:
1 (Gold) Toy Boy (Kenki Sato) JPN 42.30;
2 (Silver) Thomas O'Mally2 (Jai Sik Cheon) KOR 47.10;
3 (Bronze) Noonday de Conde (Yoshiaki Oiwa) JPN 47.80.
Silver medalist Cheon Jai Sik of Korea, and Thomas O'Mally2. © Miriam Tilli