The first jumping competition of the London 2012 Olympic Games at Greenwich Park threw up some big surprises on Saturday, with two of the biggest stars of the game among four to be eliminated.
Olympic course designer Bob Ellis’ track was expected to be a relatively gentle introduction for the riders. A total of 32 riders of the 75 starters finished on a clear round, with eight picking up a single time fault and 11 incurring four faults. The remainder had penalty scores ranging from five to 22. The tough course also produced four eliminations.
A total of four nations completed on a zero score, and Sweden was amongst them despite elimination for Lisen Fredricson at the troublesome double at fence three where she took a heavy fall when landing in the middle of the opening triple bar. The Netherlands, Switzerland and Belgium also kept a clean sheet, while Brazil, France, Germany and the USA each collected just one time penalty to finish in equal-fifth ahead of Saudi Arabia, with three on the board, in ninth place.
The Greenwich Stadium was packed to capacity as the action got under way, and with seven foot-perfect rounds from the first nine riders it seemed that the observation made by German Chef d’Equipe, Otto Becker, was fairly accurate. “The course is right for a first qualifier, but since the level of riders is very high I expect it to be much more difficult tomorrow,” he said. It was vintage Bob Ellis, with lots of loops and roll-backs as it twisted and turned its way home.
Starting out over an oxer, there was a left-hand turn to a vertical at fence two and a bending line to the double at three. It was here that Brazil’s Carlos Ribas was eliminated when the nine-year-old Wilexo didn’t like the look of it and ducked left twice. And then, just a few horses later, Fredricson got into a muddle with Matrix. There was a choice of six forward or seven holding strides, but the Swedish rider’s horse found a very long-distance launching pad, and paddled through the poles of the opening triple bar, firing his rider onto the floor.
Teams from 15 nations lined out, and the hosts from Great Britain slotted into equal-10th alongside Australia when a single error from Scott Brash had to be taken in account after Peter Charles also fell victim to the distance between the second and third fences. The Ukraine finished 12th, Canada 13th, Mexico 14th and Chile 15th. There were 32 clear rounds, eight horse-and-rider combinations picked up a single time fault and 11 completed the course with just one fence down. All teams go through to Sunday’s first round of the team competition and the top 10 nations then qualify for Monday’s second round medal-decider.
Brash said his horse, Hello Sanctos, was a little nervous, “but he got better as the round went on. I watched the other British rider, and their horses were tense too. I now hope my horse will improve.”
Nick Skelton and Big Star had gotten things under way for the Brits with a fantastic clear inside the time; this was replicated soon after by Ben Maher with Tripple X, to finish clear with no penalties.
“He jumped great, with the crowd and the roaring, he’ll have to get used to it,” Skelton said. “The atmosphere has been like this for the dressage so I knew what I was going to get but it’s great, the public are just unbelievable.”
The class settled down then for some time, but the closing stages produced some odd results. Picture-perfect runs from Australia’s Edwina Tops-Alexander and Itot du Chateau, and 2012 Rolex FEI World Cup champions Rich Fellers and Flexible for the USA, were followed by more of the same from Belgium’s Dirk Demeersman (Bufero van het Panishof), The Netherlands’ Gerco Schroder (London) and Brazil’s Rodrigo Pessoa (Rebozo).
There was a gasp of disappointment when the extraordinary Ian Millar, who at the age of 65 is the only Canadian ever to collect High Performance Funding and his state pension at the same time, and who is setting a new record with his 10th Olympic appearance at these Games, lowered the skinny penultimate vertical with Star Power. Typically stoic, Millar said “I would have preferred one less rail down, but if you are going to make mistakes then this is the time to do it.”
Millar continued: “The course designer knows what he’s doing. He’s positioning the horses to romp up a level, and that is the hallmark of a great course designer.”
Of the atmosphere in the arena, he said: “We’ve got Olympic fever! I’ve never known a nation to be so excited or part of the Games. We have had an incredible experience, and only Sydney (2000 Olympic Games) can compare with this.”
And there was a huge groan from the home crowd when Britain’s Peter Charles and Vindicat missed their stride to the opening element at three, demolishing the first element and lowering the second but somehow re-grouping to complete with just 10 faults on the board. Charles said “it was a disgraceful start, but it got better. He (Vindicat) was a little tentative and distracted by the crowd”, he said.
There were just eight horse-and-rider combinations left to run when Christian Ahlmann set off with Codex One. And they were looking good all the way until reaching the last test on the track, the Stonehenge double, where the 10-year-old stallion backed right off the first element and then, landing short, put down again when the one-stride distance just didn’t come up. And when asked to take it on a second time the stallion still refused to cooperate. Ahlmann was hugely disappointed afterwards. “I can’t explain what happened,” he said. “It might be that he (Codex One) got frightened after the pole down in the combination. I can count myself lucky that he stayed clear at the second try!”
Ahlmann will continue to compete as part of the German team, but is out of contention individually, and the same applies to the USA’s Beezie Madden. It wasn’t her day either. Her 14-year-old mare, Via Volo, was putting in some enormous jumping efforts all the way around the track, but at the double at fence nine it all unravelled when the horse went too high at the opening vertical and then couldn’t make the distance to the following oxer. And the mare didn’t want to know about it when asked again a second time. Madden said afterwards “it was all going well and she was jumping amazing, then she started fighting me quite a bit and all our good work went wrong. She hasn’t done a lot of shows recently and I think she became a bit too impressed with the whole place. Luckily the rest of my team went well, so I must get things right tomorrow.”
Australia’s Matt Williams was also eliminated much earlier in the day when his nine-year-old gelding, Watch Me, decided he didn’t like the wide oxer at fence five, or its bright blue water-tray, and wouldn’t even approach it. Williams explained afterwards, “He is only young, and it all got too much for him,” he said.
At the end of the day, the Dutch were the only side to complete with four absolutely clean sheets from Jur Vrieling (Bubalu), Maikel van der Vleuten (Verdi), Marc Houtzager (Tamino) and Gerco Schroder (London), and that may be a warning to the rest as Sunday’s action gets under way. But as Belgium’s Jos Lansink said, “funny things happen at championships and the Olympics always produce surprises. For instance Beezie (Madden) was my favourite for individual gold and look what happened to her today! I have a good feeling for our team, so I hope this will continue,” he said.
“I am very, very surprised and very, very happy,” Lansink said. “Normally, she (Valentina) can be hectic and aggressive on the first day, but here she is really relaxed. There is so much space to work in the arenas and we can go hacking through the trees. This is what we do at home, so I think she does not realise she is in England.”
Defending Olympic champion Canada’s Eric Lamaze also qualified on Derly Chin de Muze. “It wasn’t Hong Kong (where he won individual Olympic gold) but any clear round is very rewarding. My mare is not very experienced but she is ahead of her time and she is a real trooper! Everything with her was done last-minute so we have had very little time to get used to each other”.
Talking about his Olympic gold medal winning horse, Hickstead, who died suddenly last year: “He had at least one more Olympics in him, but it wasn’t to be.”
Saudi Arabia’s Ramzy Al Duhami talking about competing at London 2012: “Of course I am excited. It’s always a joy to see the best horses and riders in the world. This is my fifth Olympics, but I am not that old. At my first Olympics I was only a baby!”.
Ireland’s Billy Twomey and Cian O’Connor both qualified for the next round, with O’Connor going clear but Twomey picking up four faults that will influence his starting position in the second qualifier and will affect his total score at the end of the three qualifying rounds.
Twomey was first of the Irish into the arena at Greenwich, but a touch of the planks by Tinka’s Serenade towards the end of their otherwise perfect round put the unwanted four penalties on his card.
O’Connor was third-last to jump with Blue Loyd and produced a textbook round that left him with zero faults, and will aid the 32 year-old in his bid to qualify for the final.
Britain’s chef d’quipe Rob Hoekstra said that as the competition went on the crowd got louder and louder and more excited. “We started off really well. The last two horses were definitely a bit affected by the environment when they came in. That’s why I think the mistakes happened quite early in the course and it happened to some of the other nations as well, not only our nation. Then luckily they got better and better and actually finished very well.
“So I think we had a good strong start with the first two most experienced horses; although Big Star is a young horse he obviously has seen quite a bit. I’m quite happy, we needed to get this round out of the way, the horses are fine, the riders have got their first feel of an Olympic venue which is different to anything else, anywhere we’ve ever been and I’m really positive for tomorrow. We’ll get stuck in and see if we can get three fantastic clear rounds tomorrow.”
Facts and Figures:
26 nations – Argentina, Australia, Azerbaijan, Belgium, Bermuda, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Egypt, France, Great Britain, Germany, Ireland, Jordan, Japan, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Mexico, Netherlands, Portugal, Russia, Switzerland, Sweden, Syria, Ukraine, USA.
11 countries represented by individuals only.
Saturday’s competition was the first individual qualifier, the team competition takes place on Sunday and Monday, and the individual final takes place on Wednesday 8 August.
Saturday’s competition decided the starting order for teams in Sunday’s first round of the team competition.
12 fences on the course, which was designed by Bob Ellis.
The biggest spread on the course was at the oxer first element of the double at 3a which was 1.90m wide and 1.50m high.
The tallest fences on the track stood at 1.60m – the Abbey Road vertical at 6, and the Olympic Fence vertical at fence 12.
At 18 years of age, America’s Reed Kessler is youngest-ever US jumping team member. She only began competing at Grand Prix level earlier this year.
32 clear rounds
8 horse-and-rider combinations finished with 1 time fault
1 horse-and-rider combination finished with 2 time faults
11 completed with 4 jumping penalties
4 eliminations – Watch Me (Matt Williams) AUS, Wilexo (Carlos Motta Ribas) BRA, Matrix (Lisen Fredricson) SWE, Via Volo (Beezie Madden) USA.
The double at fence three, and the penultimate vertical were the bogey fences on the course.
There were three doubles on the course and all of them produced faults for some of the 75 starters.
|=1||366||VRIELING Jur||BUBALU||0 Q||+|
|=1||315||AFFONSO de MIRANDA NETO Alvaro||RAHMANNSHOF’S BOGENO||0 Q||+|
|=1||341||SKELTON Nick||BIG STAR||0 Q||+|
|=1||333||DELESTRE Simon||NAPOLI DU RY||0 Q||+|
|=1||384||RIVETTI Cassio||TEMPLE ROAD||0 Q||+|
|=1||377||FREDRICSON Jens||LUNATIC||0 Q||+|
|=1||330||BLUMAN Daniel||SANCHA||0 Q||+|
|=1||371||GUERDAT Steve||NINO DES BUISSONNETS||0 Q||+|
|=1||389||WARD Mclain||ANTARES||0 Q||+|
|=1||311||le JEUNE Philippe||VIGO D’ARSOUILLES||0 Q||+|
|=1||365||van der VLEUTEN Maikel||VERDI||0 Q||+|
|=1||354||AL SAUD Hrh Prince Abdullah||DAVOS||0 Q||+|
|=1||340||MAHER Ben||TRIPPLE X||0 Q||+|
|=1||345||MEYER Janne Friederike||LAMBRASCO||0 Q||+|
|=1||360||MICHAN Alberto||ROSALIA LA SILLA||0 Q||+|
|=1||370||ESTERMANN Paul||CASTLEFIELD ECLIPSE||0 Q||+|
|=1||303||HARGREAVES Julia||VEDOR||0 Q||+|
|=1||363||HOUTZAGER Marc||TAMINO||0 Q||+|
|=1||318||REYNOSO FERNANDEZ FILHO Jose Robert||MAESTRO ST LOIS||0 Q||+|
|=1||322||LAMAZE Eric||DERLY CHIN DE MUZE||0 Q||+|
|=1||336||STAUT Kevin||SILVANA||0 Q||+|
|=1||378||von ECKERMANN Henrik||ALLERDINGS||0 Q||+|
|=1||347||MICHAELS-BEERBAUM Meredith||BELLA DONNA||0 Q||+|
|=1||372||MUFF Werner||KIAMON||0 Q||+|
|=1||305||TOPS-ALEXANDER Edwina||ITOT DU CHATEAU||0 Q||+|
|=1||386||FELLERS Rich||FLEXIBLE||0 Q||+|
|=1||309||DEMEERSMAN Dirk||BUFERO VAN HET PANISHOF||0 Q||+|
|=1||364||SCHRODER Gerco||LONDON||0 Q||+|
|=1||351||SUGITANI Taizo||AVENZIO||0 Q||+|
|=1||376||BENGTSSON Rolf-Goran||CASALL||0 Q||+|
|=1||348||O’CONNOR Cian||BLUE LOYD 12||0 Q||+|
|=1||310||LANSINK Jos||VALENTINA VAN ‘T HEIKE||0 Q||+|
|=33||357||BAHAMDAN Kamal||NOBLESSE DES TESS||1 Q||+|
|=33||344||EHNING Marcus||PLOT BLUE||1 Q||+|
|=33||314||TERCEIRA Jillian||BERNADIEN VAN WESTUUR||1 Q||+|
|=33||335||LEPREVOST Penelope||MYLORD CARTHAGO||1 Q||+|
|=33||331||DIAZ Rodrigo||ROYAL VINCKENBURG||1 Q||+|
|=33||387||KESSLER Reed||CYLANA||1 Q||+|
|=33||380||HAMCHO Ahmad Saber||WONDERBOY||1 Q||+|
|=33||317||PESSOA Rodrigo||REBOZO||1 Q||+|
|41||353||AL DUHAMI Ramzy||BAYARD VAN DE VILLA THERE||2 Q||+|
|=42||361||PIZARRO Nicolas||CROSSING JORDAN||4 Q||+|
|=42||312||WATHELET Gregory||CADJANINE Z||4 Q||+|
|=42||349||TWOMEY Billy||TINKA’S SERENADE||4 Q||+|
|=42||338||BRASH Scott||HELLO SANCTOS||4 Q||+|
|=42||381||NAGEL Bjorn||NIACK DE L’ABBAYE||4 Q||+|
|=42||323||MILLAR Ian||STAR POWER||4 Q||+|
|=42||301||LAROCCA Jose Maria||ROYAL POWER||4 Q||+|
|=42||334||GUILLON Olivier||LORD DE THEIZE||4 Q||+|
|=42||382||OFFEL Katharina||VIVANT||4 Q||+|
|=42||329||MILTHALER Carlos||HYO ALTANERO||4 Q||+|
|=42||304||PATERSON-ROBINSON James||LANOSSO||4 Q||+|
|=53||321||HENSELWOOD Jill||GEORGE||5 Q||+|
|=53||308||RAHIMOV Jamal||WARRIOR||5 Q||+|
|=53||332||EL ZOGHBY Karim||WERVEL WIND||5 Q||+|
|=53||325||CARRASCO Rodrigo||OR DE LA CHARBONIERE||5 Q||+|
|=53||359||FERNANDEZ Federico||VICTORIA||5 Q||+|
|=58||326||COUVE CORREA Tomas||UNDERWRAPS||6 Q||+|
|=58||356||SHARBATLY Abdullah Waleed||SULTAN||6 Q||+|
|=60||328||PAROT Samuel||AL CALYPSO||8 Q||+|
|=60||320||FOSTER Tiffany||VICTOR||8 Q||+|
|=60||368||DINIZ Luciana||LENNOX||8 Q||+|
|=60||373||SCHWIZER Pius||CARLINA IV||8 Q||+|
|64||302||MADORNO Alejandro||MILANO DE FLORE||9||+|
|=67||350||HANI BISHARAT Ibrahim||VRIEDA O||12||+|
|69||343||AHLMANN Christian||CODEX ONE||15||+|
|70||383||ONISHCHENKO Aleksandr||COMTE D’ARSOUILLES||18||+|
|=72||306||WILLIAMS Matt||WATCH ME||42||+|
|=72||319||MOTTA RIBAS Carlos||WILEXO||42||+|
|=72||388||MADDEN Beezie||VIA VOLO||42||+|