A fabulous performance from Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro ensured that Britain maintains the lead in the team competition after the Dressage Grand Prix concluded at the London 2012 Olympic equestrian venue at Greenwich Park on Friday.
But the advantage is a very slender one, as Germany lies only just over half a point behind going into the medal-deciding Grand Prix Special next Tuesday.
The Dutch lie third, boosted by a brilliant test from double Reem Acra FEI World Cup Dressage champions Adelinde Cornelissen and Parzival who slotted into runner-up spot ahead of Germany’s Helen Langehanenberg (Damon Hill) and Kristina Sprehe (Desperados) who claimed third and fourth places individually.
There was a time when tense situations really overwhelmed the Dutch rider’s big chestnut gelding, Parzival, but he has learned to cope much better in recent years. But Cornelissen had an un-nerving moment as she rode down to the arena. “He almost stopped and said ‘Aaaagh, what are all those people doing in there?’ But when we got going he said, ‘Oh, I know this stuff’, so it was fine”, the 33-year-old rider said with a laugh afterwards.
Dujardin’s score of 83.663 set a new Olympic record, although due to changes to the rules this only dates back to the Athens Games in 2004, as results were measured in points before that, so it is impossible to make comparisons with earlier events. But the talented 27-year-old knew that she and her wonder-horse had produced something extraordinary. “It was unbelievable! I wanted to come here and to have fun. I wanted to go out and show what this horse can do, it was a once in a lifetime opportunity,” she said. It certainly looked like fun, and all five members of the Ground Jury were in agreement that she was their first choice.
“It went pretty much to plan,” she said. “Valegro tries, and he hates to get it wrong. He always wants to please you.”
The first show piece movement is an extended trot across the diagonal which is the perfect start for them but a slight loss of contact towards the end started nerves wrangling. Dujardin has ridden Valegro, or Blueberry, for five years and knows exactly how to handle the situation so it was soon put behind them as the continued in tremendous style. The crowd was silent; all realising that they were watching something truly special. High scores for passage and piaffe further boosted the marks towards the end and they finished as the crowd erupted into sheer delight. The wait for the score seemed like an eternity but it was finally confirmed as 83.663% which gave the lead and a new Olympic record.
“Blueberry is just unbelievable, to think he’s only 10 and we only started grand prix last year. He knows what he has to do when he gets in there he’s just brilliant and never lets me down. I just enjoyed it from start to finish and when you stop and have that crowd around you, it’s just magic.
“The marks haven’t been that high so I was hoping for an 80; my best before this was 81 so to come to the Olympics and smash that is a little bit crazy. I had such fun. It’s such a buzz I can’t tell you! I’ve been here since Sunday and I’ve just wanted to get in and do my piece. It was so exciting; when you ride in with all those people around you, it’s just amazing. I’m wearing my lucky breeches, the ones I broke the world record in at Hagen so maybe they helped!
“It’s an amazing opportunity to get here and ride a horse like Valegro and I wanted to enjoy it, you work a lifetime to get to something like this and I would have hated to go in there and put too much pressure on myself and then made mistakes. I just wanted to go in there and do what I would normally do at home or at any other show and that’s what we did. I never had any doubts that he would do it.”
It was Dujardin’s team-mate and mentor, Carl Hester, who held the overnight lead as competition began, and his score of 77.720 on Uthopia wasn’t threatened by the opening group of riders. The Netherlands’ Edward Gal posted 75.395 when last to go before the first break riding the 11-year-old Undercover, but it was Germany’s Sprehe and her lovely stallion Desperados who dislodged the Briton from pole position despite a stumble at the end of the extended canter which led to the stallion kicking the arena boards before completing with a flourish. An otherwise lovely test, full of lightness, from the free-moving stallion was rewarded with the new leading score of 79.119. “He is a fighter in the arena and is very strong,” Sprehe said. “He came in contact with the rail but no harm done. I felt the score reflected my test.
“Yesterday (Thursday) Dorothee Schneider did such a good job and, in a way, she did me a favour. But it was also a pressure because I wanted to do as good a job for my team,” Sprehe said.
Gal, who started riding Undercover only six months ago, said the pair was still building a partnership. “It was a really good test, but we are still building a combination together. He was a little tense at times and was taking off with me a little, especially at the extended trot. I hope we will get a medal. But I don’t know which colour yet.”
Sprehe’s score remained unchallenged until Dujardin set off with the 10-year-old gelding Valegro, whose confidence and concentration is astounding for such a young horse, and whose partnership with his rider allows him to demonstrate his exceptional ability just about every time he goes into the ring.
At Hagen CDI 4* in Germany in April, the dynamic pair brought the crowd to their feet when setting a new standard in the Grand Prix Special with a mark of 88.022. Dujardin is a relative rookie at the top end of the dressage game, but was a member of Great Britain’s first ever team gold medal winning side at the FEI European Dressage Championships in Rotterdam (NED) last August, and it seems her star is ever in the ascendant. Having thrown down a mark of 83.663, to the delight of the ecstatic home crowd, she sat back as the final group of riders took their turn. And they challenged all the way.
Italy’s Valentina Truppa posted 75.790% with Eremo del Castegno when just the fourth in the arena.
After the first break, in cantered Britain’s Richard Davison to a wonderful reception, despite a rain shower, with the Countess of Derby’s Artemis. The Floristan-sired gelding was clearly on his toes but Davison had ample time to settle him round the vast arena. Once in the test, the marks quickly came and Davison used all his expertise to coax every single point possible. 72.812% was their score which left them 18th at the close of play and safely qualified for the Special.
“Boy that was hard work! I didn’t have one second to think or enjoy any part of that test; I was busy!” Davison said. “With the rain shower and the ponchos coming out Artemis suddenly got all jumpy so the last ten minutes of our warm up were not what I wanted; what I’ve been dreaming about for the last four years.
“I was getting a more and more scared horse on my hands. It felt like taking a child for its first day at school; he was scared and I had to take him by the hand and say ‘come on, let’s do this together listen to me and you’ll be absolutely fine.’ He has got that side to him – in the last few months with doing all those indoor shows he’s really grown in confidence.
“Halfway round the test I felt him take his first breath and I thought, that’s where I want him to be – they’re horses and they run away when they’re frightened. Believe me he wanted to run away from Greenwich all the way back to Staffordshire!
“I’m really pleased with him though and the way he grew in confidence as the test went on, nothing can prepare you for being in that arena. I was just glad to get to the final halt.”
The 2009 FEI World Cup Dressage Final winning duo of Steffen Peters and Ravel improved the USA’s chances when putting 77.705 on the board with a great test that would eventually be good enough to clinch sixth place individually and move his country up to fifth place behind the very consistent Danes. But it was the penultimate partnership of Cornelissen and Parzival who came closest to Dujardin’s score.
The combination has missed some work owing to a slight injury but they looked better than ever following the rest.
Parzival’s initial surprise at the scale of what he was letting himself in for simply faded away, and he settled to produce one of the best performances of his career. Cornelissen didn’t appear to be battling his enormous strength this time around, and the movements looked softer and easier for both horse and rider. They worked in complete unison, the big horse pounding out his trademark piaffe and lovely passage to rack up a mark of 81.687 that would come closest to the leading score. There was something very convincing about it. Cornelissen said of her 15-year-old horse, “he really is super fit. I have devised a special training programme, and he has arrived in London at his fittest ever level. He feels really, really good.”
Last to go was Helen Langehanenberg and her stallion, Damon Hill, who slotted into third with a mark of 81.140 to secure Germany’s second-place position going into Tuesday’s team final competition. She was really pleased with her result. “My horse wasn’t either too fresh or too lazy, it just all felt perfect, and I’m delighted with him!” said the 30-year-old who has, for some time, been tipped as a medal contender.
But it was Dujardin who was the show-stealer, and her ability to rise to every new challenge is astounding. She doesn’t have nerves of steel, it seems she has no nerves at all. Her trainer and friend, Carl Hester, said that while he couldn’t get any sleep the night before he did his test, “Charlotte slept like a baby!” Her super-cool nature is one of her greatest assets it seems. “You wait a lifetime to get here (to the Olympic Games) and I would not want to spoil it by putting too much pressure on myself” she said.
She’s already learning what it feels like to be a super-star. The reaction of the crowd after she delivered the ride of her life was near-hysterical. “I loved every minute of it in there!” she said when she came out of the arena. “When you finish your final halt it is wonderful. The applause is just amazing, and I want to thank everyone who supported us.” She said Hester told her to “just enjoy it! He said it was an amazing opportunity to have a horse like Valegro.”
At the end of the day the leading four riders – Dujardin, Cornelissen, Langehanenberg and Sprehe, had all broken the Olympic record, but one of the most popular performances came, as it so often does, from Spain’s Juan Manuel Munoz Diaz, whose showmanship with his horse, Fuego, almost always secures a prime spot in the Freestyle at every championship. His score of 75.608 was really competitive, and helped Spain to remain amongst the top-seven nations that qualify for Tuesday’s team medal decider which, with so little between the leading nations, promises to be a cracker.
Of his test, Diaz said: “My horse does exactly what I want. He is classical, and at the end of the day Dressage is about classical, fluid movements. I am going 100% for the Freestyle and I love the English crowd. Valegro is the best, I love him!”
Denmark’s Nathalie Zu-Sayn Wittgenstein, who is in 13th place individually with Digby, was pleased with her mark of 74.924. “He made a mistake in the changes, which happens very seldom. I have no explanation for that. I am very proud because he is home-bred and at the start he did not look like a dressage horse. He had a very good walk and canter, but he could not trot. I am very pleased he learned to trot.”
Canada’s Ashley Holzer advances to the next round of individual competition after finishing 20th with 71.809% riding Breaking Dawn.
London marks the fourth Olympic appearance for Holzer, 48, who was a member of Canada’s bronze medal team at the 1988 Seoul Olympics.
“I can’t say enough about the horse,” said Holzer of Breaking Dawn, owned by herself and P.J. Rizvi. “This horse has not even competed at the Grand Prix level for a year yet. In his test, he kept on getting better. It’s amazing. I’m thrilled. He’s a phenomenal horse and I’m privileged to be his rider.”
Fellow Canadian Jacqueline Brooks performed the Grand Prix on Thursday riding D Niro, a 13-year-old grey Swedish Warmblood gelding, earning a score of 68.526 percent. She finished in 41st position individually and will not advance to the Grand Prix Special. But Brooks will go down in the history books, as the first athlete to wear a safety helmet instead of the traditional top hat in Olympic dressage competition.
Ireland’s Anna Merveldt narrowly missed out on qualifying for the Grand Prix Special. Thirty-two riders qualified for the Grand Prix Special from the 50 starters but Merveldt ended up 33rd.
Because of new team qualification rules, two riders with scores below her went through, together with the top 11 individuals. However, Merveldt and Coryolano, being in 14th place in the individual classification, would need two riders above her to drop out before the Grand Prix Special on Tuesday.
“It is heartbreaking to miss out so narrowly but I was proud of how we performed but the margins are so tight at this level,” she said.
“We were a little unfortunate that we had to do our warm up and test during a hail storm but in fairness the horse never faltered,” she said.
The top seven nations, as well as the top 11 individuals not already included as members of the top seven teams, advance to the Grand Prix Special to be held on Tuesday, August 7. At the conclusion of the Grand Prix Special, team medals will be awarded. The top 18 individual competitors will then contest the individual medals in the Grand Prix Freestyle to music on Thursday, August 9. The individual medals in Dressage will be the final equestrian sport medals to be awarded at the 2012 London Olympics.
Facts and Figures
The centre-line of the Dressage arena runs right along the Meridian line, the point from which everywhere else on earth is measured in terms of distance.
The top seven teams go forward to Tuesday’s Grand Prix Special – Great Britain, Germany, The Netherlands, Denmark, USA, Spain and Sweden.
Canada was already out of contention since team-member David Marcus was eliminated on Thursday.
The teams from Poland and Australia, who finished in eighth and ninth places, do not go forward to the Grand Prix Special.
Just 0.562 points separate the second-placed German team from the host nation leaders, Great Britain, going into Tuesday’s medal-deciding Grand Prix Special.
To date, the record score in Grand Prix remains with The Netherlands Edward Gal and the stallion Totilas who registered 84.085 at the FEI European Championships at Windsor (GBR) in 2009 and 84.043 at the FEI World Equestrian Games at Lexington (USA) a year later.
Charlotte Dujardin’s score of 83.663, recorded on Friday with Valegro, is the highest result at Olympic level since the current marking format was introduced for the Athens Olympic Games in 2004.
In Athens, the highest score in the Grand Prix was registered by Germany’s Ulla Salzgeber and Rusty – 78.208.
At the Beijing Games equestrian events in Hong Kong in 2008, the highest score in the Grand Prix was awarded to Germany’s Isabell Werth and Satchmo – 77.708.
|1||226||DUJARDIN C||VALEGRO||83.663 Q||+|
|2||236||CORNELISSEN A||PARZIVAL||81.687 Q||+|
|3||229||LANGEHANENBERG H||DAMON HILL||81.140 Q||+|
|4||231||SPREHE K||DESPERADOS||79.119 Q||+|
|5||227||HESTER C||UTHOPIA||77.720 Q||+|
|6||254||PETERS S||RAVEL||77.705 Q||+|
|7||224||BECHTOLSHEIMER L||MISTRAL HOJRIS||76.839 Q||+|
|8||230||SCHNEIDER D||DIVA ROYAL||76.277 Q||+|
|9||233||TRUPPA V||EREMO DEL CASTEGNO||75.790 Q||+|
|10||219||MUNOZ DIAZ JM||FUEGO||75.608 Q||+|
|11||237||GAL E||UNDERCOVER||75.395 Q||+|
|12||213||KASPRZAK A||DONNPERIGNON||75.289 Q||+|
|13||216||ZU SAYN – WITTGEN.||DIGBY||74.924 Q||+|
|14||248||VILHELMSON SILFVEN||DON AURIELLO||74.271 Q||+|
|15||246||KITTEL P||SCANDIC||74.073 Q||+|
|16||239||VAN GRUNSVEN A||SALINERO||73.343 Q||+|
|17||205||MAX-THEURER V||AUGUSTIN||73.267 Q||+|
|18||225||DAVISON R||ARTEMIS||72.812 Q||+|
|19||217||BARBANCON MESTRESM||PAINTED BLACK||72.751 Q||+|
|20||210||HOLZER A||BREAKING DAWN||71.809 Q||+|
|21||207||FASSAERT C||DONNERFEE||71.793 Q||+|
|22||245||CARVALHO G||RUBI||71.520 Q||+|
|23||255||VAN OLST A||CLEARWATER||71.322 Q||+|
|24||228||BALKENHOL A||DABLINO||70.973 Q||+|
|25||238||VAN DER MEER P||UZZO||70.912 Q||+|
|26||222||LINDH M||MAS GUAPO||70.729 Q||+|
|27||252||KONYOT T||CALECTO V||70.456 Q||+|
|28||223||MICHEL J||RIWERA||70.410 Q||+|
|29||221||KANERVA E||SPIRIT||70.395 Q||+|
|30||251||EBELING J||RAFALCA||70.243 Q||+|
|37||203||OATLEY L||SANDRO BOY||69.377||+|
|39||220||MARTIN DOCKX J.||GRANDIOSO||69.043 Q||+|
|41||209||BROOKS J||D’ NIRO||68.526||+|
|44||247||TELDE M||SANTANA||67.477 Q||+|
|47||208||TAVARES DE ALMEIDA||PASTOR||65.866||+|