There were few surprises after the first day of dressage for the eventing competition at the Olympic Games at London’s Greenwich Park on Saturday, with Germany’s Beijing team gold medalist Ingrid Klimke posting a sub-40 score on Butts Abraxxas.
Posting 39.30, Klimke leads over team mate Dirk Schrade and King Artus with 39.80, with the host nation’s Mary King and Imperial Cavalier in third with 40.90.
A total of 37 horse-and-rider combinations started, but just seven of the 12 competing nations fielded three riders – the remaining four sending in just two of their five team members. So while the team leaderboard shows the Aussies on top, with a score of 133.20 for a four-point lead over Germany, and almost 17 points ahead of the third-place team from the USA, there is likely to be changes when the action resumes on Sunday morning.
The atmosphere in the ring was electric from the outset, but the USA’s Boyd Martin and Otis Barbotiere kept their cool when pathfinders to score 50.70. That was immediately relegated by the 46.20 posted by Chris Burton and HP Leilani which gave the Australians a strong start. And when Sam Griffiths (Happy Times) put 45.79 on the board and Andrew Hoy (Rutherglen) was even more impressive with 41.70, then the men from Down Under were sitting pretty.
But it was Klimke who clinched pole position when upstaging team-mate Dirk Schrade with a test that oozed precision, power and accuracy. “I enjoyed the ride, he did a good job,” she said of the 15-year-old Butts Abraxxas. “He’s usually relaxed but he came into the ring a bit spooky,” she said. “I was happy he listened to me. He was easy and supple to ride so I could go for the extensions, and he was relaxed in his walk so I was able to ride everything totally correct. When a horse is like that you have the chance to get everything totally correct.”
She’s already thinking ahead to Monday’s cross-country phase. “It’s a very beautiful course. When we walked it I thought that it’s very clear to the horses what they have to do and that is good. On Monday I will see how Peter (Thomsen) goes. After he has gone we will have more information,” she said.
The Australian team has not had the easiest lead-in to Games time, with both Shane Rose and Megan Jones suffering the disappointment of horse injuries leading to a very late call-up for Griffiths just two days ago. But they seem to be coping with all the hiccups with consummate ease and look a real threat at this early stage.
Hoy’s ride was confident and clean, and the four-time Olympic medallist is already assured of making his mark in London by matching the record set by the USA’s Mike Plumb for most Olympic appearances in eventing by competing at his seventh Games. But another medal to add to the three team golds won at Barcelona 1992, Atlanta 1996 and Sydney 2000, and individual silver also in Sydney, would be a very nice bonus, and Rutherglen certainly looks fit and ready.
For Griffiths, it was a huge relief to get the dressage test out of the way after being called into the team just over 48 hours earlier.
“I’ve been concentrating on the dressage for the last couple of days. Now I can relax, put that behind me and turn my attention to the cross country course. I’d been in the training camp and we had an excellent camp. As a reserve we were all treated as though we were going, so we are well prepared,” Griffiths said.
“As the other athletes went off to the Games and I went home, that was a bit of a downer for me. Then to get the call up was just amazing. The good thing about not coming straight into the Games is that why they were all practicing their dressage test, I was at home mowing the lawn, so I have come in quite relaxed,” laughed Griffiths.
Australia’s Burton said he was nervous the day before the competition and did not march in the opening ceremony. “Mum back in Australia was very disappointed – but I nodded off watching it on TV in the Village (next to the Stadium). Then at midnight there was this big bang and I thought we were being bombed – a but it was only the fireworks!”.
In the stands were Clayton and Lucinda Fredericks who not only cheered on their fellow team mates, but took it all in ahead of their dressage competition that will take place on Sunday morning. Lucinda will be on the main arena at 11.28am with Clayton to ride at 2.46pm.
The home fans were given plenty to cheer about when their heroine Mary King, whose career as an Olympian spans 20 years, produced yet another of her trademark polished performances with Imperial Cavalier. Nicola Wilson managed to contain the exuberant Opposition Buzz to kick-start the British effort with a mark of 51.70, but King’s 40.90 has pinned them into a secure position, and with Zara Phillips (High Kingdom), Tina Cook (Miners Frolic) and the inimitable William Fox-Pitt (Lionheart) still to come, the home side can look forward to further improvement.
Wilson and Opposition Buzz, in their traditional pathfinder role, produced a smooth, accurate test without mistakes to finish on a score of 51.70; perhaps fairly harshly marked. The crowd whooped and cheered when Wilson entered the arena and the pair stayed remarkably cool despite the rowdy reception.
Wilson said being at the Olympic Games is something she had dreamed of since childhood. “It’s absolutely fantastic and the atmosphere when I rode into the main arena was amazing. The view from the arena is fabulous, but clearly I wasn’t looking at it that much. It really is a dream come true.”
“So many cheers went up from the crowd and so I raised one hand to wave at the crowd to let Dodi [Opposition Buzz] know it was OK rather than let him get tense. It seemed to work as he stayed with me and really tried. We produced the best test we could have done; I’m very, very proud and pleased with him. We’ve been very fortunate to have support through UK Sport Lottery Funding to improve what would be his weakest phase and it’s really paid off. I’m delighted with how he tried for me today,” she said.
King rode a bold test with the switched on Imperial Cavalier, scoring 9’s for the highlights to go into second place individually behind Schrade on 40.9, their best score at 4* level. On entering the arena King held her fingers to her lips to signal quiet to the crowds who responded with uncharacteristic quiet; you could have heard a pin drop in the main arena. Afterwards the stadium erupted for both British riders and both were visibly touched by the experience.
King said her horse was “a bit tense and we made a few little mistakes, particularly at the last flying change, when I lost him. But I’m absolutely delighted to think this was probably the second best Olympic dressage test I have ever done”. The six-time Olympian was feeling very emotional as she left the arena to resounding applause – “I’m not going to cry but I’m close to it with the home crowd all around me and so behind me!” the 51-year-old said.
“Absolutely fantastic, I’m not usually tearful but coming in here with all the home crowd is emotional. I knew if they cheered that Imperial Cavalier would have exploded and we would have found it hard to ride a test after that, so although they were all behind me they were very well behaved.
“People know he is a horse with tremendous enthusiasm and energy and I need all the help I can get from the crowds. He made a couple of errors when the tension got to him a little especially the last flying change but I was really pleased with his shoulder in, medium trot and half passes. This was close to his best score at this level and to do it in this atmosphere is amazing. I’m chuffed to bits,” King said.
“He’s a very talented horse, beautiful looking, which helps a lot. The crowds love him and so do I!”
New Zealand’s Jonathan Paget is in sixth position on Clifton Promise in his Olympic debut, with his teammate Jonelle Richards24th on Flintstar with 56.70.
Paget, talking about his former career as a bricklayer, said: “Yes, this (competing at the London 2012 Olympic Games) is much better than laying bricks! I did five years of it before I did an apprenticeship in horse riding, Even then I still used to lay bricks in Sydney and Queensland in the closed-season.
“The fact that this is called the Olympics makes it special, but it’s the same size arena as in any other competition.”
The USA’s Karen O’Connor is ninth on Mr Medicott, and she credits a change of gear for her test result of 48.20. “I changed him (Mr Medicott) into a double bridle this morning and I am grateful I did because I could keep pushing. That’s what saved my test,” she said.
Aoife Clark is the best ranked of the Irish riders, ranking 12th after a formidable performance on the Irish-bred Master Crusoe. The 30 year-old recorded a penalty score of 48.90. Michael Ryan was the first of the Irish team into the arena with Ballylynch Adventure, finishing on a dressage score of 60.20, while Joseph Murphy completed the day on 55.60 penalties with Electric Cruise.
Japan’s Atsushi Negishi and Pretty Darling are first into the arena on Sunday morning, while former World and European champion Zara Phillips, grand-daughter of Queen Elizabeth II, will be a big crowd-puller when third to go of the remaining 36 who have yet to undertake their dressage challenge.
For Ireland, Camilla Speirs and the 151cm Portersize Just a Jif enter the dressage arena at 11.52, with Ireland’s last team member, the experienced Mark Kyle performs his test with the grey Coolio at 15.10.
Commenting on the cross country phase to come, Britain’s Mary King said: “It’s fantastically built with wonderful ground. It’s going to be a great challenge of horsemanship; a test of speed and agility. The fences aren’t hugely built but the time will be difficult – the speed will make the mistakes.”
Team-mate Wilson agreed. “I’m very, very excited about the cross country; Dodi is a super horse to ride in this phase and it’s an amazing course, so different and that really makes it special. It’s beautifully presented and extremely twisty and hilly, the time looks like it will be tight to get. It’s definitely an Olympic course!”
|1||33||KLIMKE Ingrid||BUTTS ABRAXXAS||39.30|
|2||18||SCHRADE Dirk||KING ARTUS||39.80|
|3||24||KING Mary||IMPERIAL CAVALIER||40.90|
|6||26||PAGET Jonathan||CLIFTON PROMISE||44.10|
|7||16||GRIFFITHS Sam||HAPPY TIMES||45.40|
|8||2||BURTON Christopher||HP LEILANI||46.10|
|9||15||O’CONNOR Karen||MR MEDICOTT||48.20|
|10||7||CAULIER Virginie||NEPAL DU SUDRE||48.30|
|11||20||BENNETT-AWAD Hawley||GIN & JUICE||48.70|
|12||19||CLARK Aoife||MASTER CRUSOE||48.90|
|=13||1||MARTIN Boyd||OTIS BARBOTIERE||50.70|
|15||32||GUYON Lionel||NEMETIS DE LALOU||50.90|
|=16||9||WILSON Nicola||OPPOSITION BUZZ||51.70|
|18||30||COUDRAY Tiana||RINGWOOD MAGISTER||52.00|
|19||21||BOUCKAERT Carl||CYRANO Z||53.00|
|20||29||ZABALA-GOETSCHEL Ronald||MASTER ROSE||53.30|
|21||8||TANAKA Toshiyuki||MARQUIS DE PLESCOP||55.00|
|22||34||MURPHY Joseph||ELECTRIC CRUISE||55.60|
|=26||23||CARVALHO JORGE Marcio||JOSEPHINE||58.50|
|29||10||ALGOTSSON Linda||LA FAIR||59.80|
|30||5||RYAN Michael||BALLYLYNCH ADVENTURE||60.20|
|31||3||MESPLES Denis||OREGON DE LA VIGNE||61.50|
|32||35||BARRY Peter||KILRODAN ABBOTT||61.70|
|33||14||ALBERT Samantha||CARRAIG DUBH||67.20|