Saudi team leads Olympic showjumping contest

HRH Prince Abdullah Al Saud and Davos produced a fabulous clear to help Saudi Arabia go into the lead after the first round of the team Jumping competition at the London 2012 Olympic Games equestrian venue in Greenwich Park today.  Photo: FEI/Kit Houghton.
HRH Prince Abdullah Al Saud and Davos produced a fabulous clear to help Saudi Arabia go into the lead after the first round of the team Jumping competition at Greenwich Park on Sunday. © FEI/Kit Houghton.

Saudi Arabia holds the lead going into the team Olympic showjumping  medal-decider carrying just a single time penalty.

Great Britain, The Netherlands, Sweden and Switzerland lie less than a fence behind in silver medal spot carrying four faults apiece at the London 2012 venue at Greenwich Park.

With five faults on the board, Canada finished sixth and, with only the top eight teams going through to the second round, Brazil and USA clinched the last two available places when closing their day with eight faults.

But there were heads shaking in disbelief when Germany missed the cut along with France and Belgium, as not one of the riders from any of these top-level nations managed to keep a clean sheet. The Germans are giants in this game, and even though they encountered selection problems in the lead-up to London when star riders Carsten-Otto Nagel, Ludger Beerbaum and Marco Kutscher had issues with their horses, it had been expected that they would feature strongly.

Bob Ellis’s brilliant course building had a significant impact. Once again the loops and roll-backs tested control and accuracy, and the Olympic arena at Greenwich Park has proved that it is no place for shrinking violets. Horses need courage and conviction to come home without penalty, and riders need to execute their plans to perfection.

The 13-fence course was tough from the outset, the red London Bus wall at fence three penalising several including Germany’s Marcus Ehning and Plot Blue. The following line from fences four to six presented all kinds of questions, the eye-catching Tower Bridge vertical causing some horses to back off, which left riders having to drive hard to make the four-stride distance to the London Montage, the oxer to vertical double at five, which was followed by the Abbey Road vertical at six.

A sweeping right-hand bend led to the open water at fence seven, and riders then had to gather their reins quickly to turn left-handed to the following triple combination at eight. This wasn’t named the Great Fire of London without reason – its black and flame-coloured fillers giving horses plenty to look at before they turned left once again for the busy oxer at nine which was surrounded by representations of famous London landmarks including Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament and the London Eye.

The final three obstacles took their toll, many finding their horses off-balance turning to the triple bar at 10 and then struggling to hold their line and find the right distance to the Post Box and Penny Black planks vertical at 11. From there it was a case of holding it all together over the penultimate Downing Street vertical at 12 and clearing the Nelson’s Column oxer at 13 before galloping through the finish.

Marc Houtzager and Tamino for The Netherlands.
Marc Houtzager and Tamino for The Netherlands. © London 2012

Saudi Arabia’s Prince Abdullah Al Saud, who jumped a superb clear round again  to help secure pole position for his country going into Monday’s second round, put it in a nutshell when he said “what with the weather, the London bus and the Tower Bridge, I felt like I was sight-seeing today!”

He led the way for his side with a foot-perfect effort from the 12-year-old Davos, and when team-mate Ramzy Al Duhami and Bayard van de Villa There did likewise the only score to be added to the Saudi account was the single time penalty collected by Kamal Bahamdan and Noblesse Des Tess, as Abdullah Sharbatly’s mistake with Sultan at the triple combination was the discard score. It was an impressive performance all round and, due to the draw, it was clear at an early stage of the competition that they were unlikely to be overtaken. Bahamdan said “my mare was amazing. There was only one moment when I let her down and I relied 100% on her heart to bring us through!”

And those chasing them had to work hard to qualify for day two. The British were strengthened by two great clears from Nick Skelton (Big Star) and Ben Maher (Tripple X), and it looked like they would add a third until Scott Brash’s Hello Sanctos clipped the front pole of the final oxer. When Peter Charles and Vindicat lowered both the second element of the troublesome triple combination and the penultimate vertical the host’s had to take Brash’s result on board. The Scotsman said afterwards, “my horse jumped amazing. It didn’t feel as though we had done anything wrong on the approach and, if I had to do it again, I would probably ride it the same way. I am chuffed to bits with him as there was a big difference in his attitude today.”

Skelton said Big Star “felt like he looked. He jumped fantastic, he felt fantastic and he is fantastic. There are no negatives with this horse, he is the most perfect animal!”

“For me it was perfect, a really nice course. It wasn’t crazy big but you had to be careful enough and there were tricky lines. There are enough tests out there but Big Star is jumping unbelievably.

“He’s got everything, I feel great, he’s in great condition, he hasn’t got a negative, he is the most perfect horse. I mean for a young horse to jump like that, he’s a freak. There’s a long way to go yet but I wouldn’t want to swap horses. Big Star is a very, very quiet horse outside but as soon as he comes into the arena he lights up ten gears. The crowd are unbelievable, it won’t be their fault if we don’t win!”

Maher and Tripple X II pulled out all the stops to also produce a foot-perfect round. Punching the air as he came through the finish resulted in the crowds leaping to their feet and roaring their delight in a sea of Union Jack flags.

Canada's Eric Lamaze and Derly Chin de Muze.
Canada’s Eric Lamaze and Derly Chin de Muze. © Cealy Tetley,

“Tripple X knows what he’s doing so I’m just letting him get on with it a bit. He jumped well, as soon as he saw the red bus fence in the arena he thought, hold on a minute, this isn’t a normal day, something new is going on here and it caught his attention and he started to try harder.  The water felt a long stretch, it felt like a river not a water jump but it’s great.  The course is difficult today, it’s not the biggest but it’s technical.

“I know Tripple X will improve, I know he can still be better than that again. We’re going to stay focused and do the best we can.”

Brash, competing in his first Olympic Games, entered the arena to not only a tremendous cheer from the crowds but also the start of a heavy shower. The pair produced a superb round with the crowds riding every fence with him, however a slight touch on the front pole of the final fence, the Trafalgar Square oxer saw a late falling pole incur them 4 penalties.

“Santos jumped amazingly and as I rode to the last I thought he was good and I thought just let him jump it – I didn’t feel like he did anything wrong. I need to look back at the videos, maybe I needed to hold him a little bit more, but at the minute I think if I was to ride it again I’d ride it the same. He jumped fantastic everywhere else.

“He jumped super, I’m chuffed to bits with him, it was a big difference to yesterday, just in his attitude and the way he felt to ride as he felt normal again. Yesterday he was quite shell shocked so it’s good.   The rain was no trouble, I’m not using that as an excuse the conditions were actually quite good for me but I wanted to jump clear for the team.”

Peter Charles and Vindicat W were the last of the four British combinations into the arena. Having cleared fence 7, the Open Water with a width of 4.30m he was unlucky in the following fence, a combination,  resulting in the incurring 4 faults in the middle section. A lowering of a pole at the Penny Black vertical on a related distance saw another 4 faults being incurred before sweeping left and then right to clear the final two fences.

“It was a bit of a building round from yesterday, I thought when I jumped the first line then spun back to the water he felt good and then from what the guys tell me we were a little bit unlucky in the middle of the combination.

“It’s very unfortunate what happened to him yesterday, for a first year Grand Prix horse that really unsettled him. He’s not jumping bad but not as good as we hoped for. That round today will have done him a power of good but it’s not what we want, it’s an Olympic Games and we want to jump clear.”

The Dutch also produced two clears, from Maikel van der Vleuten (Verdi) and Marc Houtzager (Tamino). It was important for them to drop the double-error from pathfinders Jur Vrieling and Bubalu, so there was a lot hanging in the balance as, fourth-last to go Gerco Schroder and London came into the ring. A clear would put the Dutch out in front, but the first part of the double at five put four faults on the board to see the Dutch join the British in runner-up spot.

Jens Fredricson and Lunatic led the way for Sweden and left the middle element of the combination and the last fence on the floor. And when his sister-in-law Lisen Fredricsson, bravely sporting some heavy bruising following her fall on Saturday, posted four faults with Matrix, the Swedes didn’t look particularly competitive. But both Henrik von Eckermann (Allerdings) and Rolf-Goran Bengtsson (Cassal) returned without incident to join the other second-placed teams. The Swiss started out with a mistake from Steve Guerdat and Nino des Buissonnets just one fence from home, but Paul Estermann and Castlefield Eclipse kept them in the hunt with a lovely clear before Werner Muff and Kiamon also hit the penultimate vertical. Pius Schwizer was under plenty of pressure when last in for his side, but he showed why he has become such a great anchorman when steering Carlina across the line with a clean sheet that guaranteed another team in the joint-runner-up position.

Nick Skelton (GB) and Big Star.
Nick Skelton (GB) and Big Star. © London 2012

The Canadian team was reduced to three when Tiffany Foster’s gelding, Victor, was disqualified for hypersensitivity due to a cut on his left front leg. At a press conference following the competition, FEI President Princess Haya emphasised, “It is important to make clear that there is no accusation of malpractice on Tiffany’s part, but the horse was too sensitive. We are here to stand beside her (Tiffany) and we look forward to many great performances from her in the future. This is a well-being of the horse issue and we understand that this is a crushing experience for Tiffany in her first Olympic Games.” The Canadian team filed a protest earlier in the day, but the decision taken by the Ground Jury on hypersensitivity is not open to appeal.

A tearful Tiffany Foster said at the press conference: “I would never do anything to jeopardise the welfare of my horse. What happened is totally devastating to me. I understand why the rules are in place and I understand why they look for hypersensitivity. I just feel so bad for my team.”

Team Canada still lies well within sight of an Olympic medal, with just five faults on the board following a pole down for Jill Henselwood and George, a single time fault from Eric Lamaze and Derly Chin de Muze, and a fabulous clear from Ian Millar and Star Power who join 12 others with a completely clean sheet at the top of the individual table. The 65-year-old record-setting veteran said his horse was “tense yesterday. I love the fans and the crowd and I don’t wish to criticise, but they elevated the level of anxiety of my horse. Today was perfect. My horse was sharp, up in the air and listening to me. I was very pleased with the step up from yesterday.”

Brazil did well to ensure qualification as they fielded only a three-man side due to the withdrawal of Carlos Ribas and Wilexo who were eliminated on Saturday. A clear from Alvaro de Miranda (Rahmannshof’s Bogeno), and four faults from both Jose Fernandez Filho (Maestro St Lois) and Rodrigo Pessoa (Rebozo) did the trick to see them share an eight-fault total with the USA’s McLain Ward (Antares), Beezie Madden (Via Volo), Reed Kessler (Cylana) and Rich Fellers (Flexible).  The latter partnership produced the only US clear, and the big British crowd erupted with almost as much of a roar as they gave their own riders, as this is a much-loved and admired horse-and-rider partnership. Fellers said, “I am thrilled with my horse but I wish we were in a better position. We are all fighters and we can come back tomorrow”, adding that his horse was “being typically Flexible, he was a little more on his game today.”

The course was too much for some, with the latest batch of riders knocked out of the individual competition including Ireland’s Billy Twomey, French star Penelope Leprevost and USA teenager Reed Kessler.

Canada's Ian Millar and Star Power.
Canada’s Ian Millar and Star Power. © Cealy Tetley,

“Eight faults is never good enough,” Twomey said after his round. “I am very disappointed, and I can’t lay the blame anywhere other than with myself.”

Twomey’s fellow Irishman Cian O’Connor is still in the individual hunt, though, with the current field of 46 whittled down by another 11 after Monday’s action.

Twomey moves onto the ten-strong reserve list, should any of the qualified combinations drop out before Monday’s competition.

It was a good day for Irish Sport Horses at Greenwich, with two amongst the 12 horses that produced clear rounds and claim equal first positions. Switzerland’s Paul Estermann recorded a zero score on the OBOS Quality mare Castlefield Eclipse (ISH) as did the USA’s veteran horseman Rich Fellers and the Cruising stallion Flexible (ISH).

The Saudi team are not getting too carried away with their success. Team trainer Stanny van Paesschen said: “We are naturally delighted with the way the team jumped, and it is great to be in the lead, but we still have another day to go, and it is important that we stick to the same routine that we have throughout the Games.”

They will certainly have to stay on their toes if they are to clinch the gold because, as The Netherlands’ Gerco Schroder said this evening, “the team situation is very very close. It is all to play for.”

On Monday, August 6, the top eight teams go forward to contest the three team medal positions on offer.  The competition starts at 2pm local time.

The top 45 riders will also battle it out for a place in Wednesday’s Individual Final, with only the best 35 qualifying. All qualified riders start on a zero score in the first round on Wednesday, with the top 20 then moving on to the last jumping round, where medals will be decided.

The riders said …

Germany’s Marcus Ehning: “In the end I was a bit unlucky to have the London bus down. I did not ride so well today and it was not my best round. The stallion was rather flat in the warm-up ring already. The whole round did not flow well and maybe he was irritated because of some unusual lines. We had to take the water from a very tight angle and that is unusual for us coming from Europe. That also caused the small hiccup in front of the treble combination.”

USA’s McLain Ward: “It was rougher than I would like. In the back of my mind was Beezie’s (teammate Madden being eliminated) problem yesterday and I was over riding so it was a rider error. It is a long week and we will keep digging.”

Brazil’s Alvaro de Miranda: “I was very happy with my horse as he jumped even better today. He was fresh and careful. I am very happy with the organisation here. You have even arranged the weather according to the country. I like the sunshine for Brazil.”

Sweden’s Henrik von Eckermann: “We were just hoping that Lisen (Fredricsson, who had a fall yesterday) could start today. Even though I did a clear she did the biggest round with her injury.”

USA’s Reed Kessler: “It wasn’t quite as good as yesterday. I am not someone who has time faults so I was a woman on a mission today and I just rushed it too much and we had two down.”

Sweden’s Rolf-Goran Bengtsson, when asked about going for individual gold after winning silver at the Beijing Games four years ago: “All of us are here for that dream.”

Facts and Figures:

15 teams started in the first round of the London 2012 team jumping competition.
The top eight teams qualified for the second round – Saudi Arabia, Great Britain, The Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland, Canada, USA and Brazil.
A total of 62 horse-and-rider combinations started in the competition.
Just 15 produced clear rounds. 12 of those are sharing pole position on the individual leaderboard with two clear rounds so far, taking into account the first qualifying round.
Two riders completed today’s course with just one time penalty – Colombia’s Daniel Bluman (Sancha), and defending Olympic champion Eric Lamaze from Canada (Derly Chin de Muze).
A total of nine horse-and-rider combinations picked up just four faults.
The course consisted of 13 fences.
It included an open water (Kew Gardens) at fence 7, and the bogey obstacle today was the Great Fire of London triple combination at fence 8.

Kamal Bahamdan (Saudi Arabia)  and Noblesse Des Tess
Kamal Bahamdan (Saudi Arabia) and Noblesse Des Tess. © London 2012
Rk Bib Athlete Horse Result +
=1 341 Great Britain SKELTON Nick BIG STAR 0 Q +
=1 354 Saudi Arabia AL SAUD HRH Prince Abdullah DAVOS 0 Q +
=1 340 Great Britain MAHER Ben TRIPPLE X 0 Q +
=1 305 Australia TOPS-ALEXANDER Edwina ITOT DU CHATEAU 0 Q +
=1 360 Mexico MICHAN Alberto ROSALIA LA SILLA 0 Q +
=1 365 Netherlands van der VLEUTEN Maikel VERDI 0 Q +
=1 363 Netherlands HOUTZAGER Marc TAMINO 0 Q +
=1 378 Sweden von ECKERMANN Henrik ALLERDINGS 0 Q +
=1 386 United States of America FELLERS Rich FLEXIBLE 0 Q +
=1 376 Sweden BENGTSSON Rolf-Goran CASALL 0 Q +
=13 330 Colombia BLUMAN Daniel SANCHA 1 Q +
=13 322 Canada LAMAZE Eric DERLY CHIN DE MUZE 1 Q +
=15 357 Saudi Arabia BAHAMDAN Kamal NOBLESSE DES TESS 2 Q +
=15 353 Saudi Arabia AL DUHAMI Ramzy BAYARD VAN DE VILLA THERE 2 Q +
=17 351 Japan SUGITANI Taizo AVENZIO 4 Q +
=17 323 Canada MILLAR Ian STAR POWER 4 Q +
=17 389 United States of America WARD Mclain ANTARES 4 Q +
=17 371 Switzerland GUERDAT Steve NINO DES BUISSONNETS 4 Q +
=17 345 Germany MEYER Janne Friederike LAMBRASCO 4 Q +
=17 336 France STAUT Kevin SILVANA 4 Q +
=17 372 Switzerland MUFF Werner KIAMON 4 Q +
=17 364 Netherlands SCHRODER Gerco LONDON 4 Q +
=17 310 Belgium LANSINK Jos VALENTINA VAN ‘T HEIKE 4 Q +
=27 384 Ukraine RIVETTI Cassio TEMPLE ROAD 5 Q +
=27 344 Germany EHNING Marcus PLOT BLUE 5 Q +
=27 317 Brazil PESSOA Rodrigo REBOZO 5 Q +
30 333 France DELESTRE Simon NAPOLI DU RY 6 Q +
=31 368 Portugal DINIZ Luciana LENNOX 8 Q +
=31 301 Argentina LAROCCA Jose Maria ROYAL POWER 8 Q +
=31 348 Ireland O’CONNOR Cian BLUE LOYD 12 8 Q +
=31 361 Mexico PIZARRO Nicolas CROSSING JORDAN 8 Q +
=31 304 Australia PATERSON-ROBINSON James LANOSSO 8 Q +
=31 303 Australia HARGREAVES Julia VEDOR 8 Q +
=31 381 Ukraine NAGEL Bjorn NIACK DE L’ABBAYE 8 Q +
=31 338 Great Britain BRASH Scott HELLO SANCTOS 8 Q +
=31 366 Netherlands VRIELING Jur BUBALU 8 Q +
=31 377 Sweden FREDRICSON Jens LUNATIC 8 Q +
=31 311 Belgium le JEUNE Philippe VIGO D’ARSOUILLES 8 Q +
=31 312 Belgium WATHELET Gregory CADJANINE Z 8 Q +
=31 347 Germany MICHAELS-BEERBAUM Meredith BELLA DONNA 8 Q +
=31 334 France GUILLON Olivier LORD DE THEIZE 8 Q +
=31 373 Switzerland SCHWIZER Pius CARLINA IV 8 Q +
Eliminated after 2nd Qualifier
Rk Bib Athlete Horse Result +
=47 314 Bermuda TERCEIRA Jillian BERNADIEN VAN WESTUUR 9 +
=47 321 Canada HENSELWOOD Jill GEORGE 9 +
=47 335 France LEPREVOST Penelope MYLORD CARTHAGO 9 +
=47 387 United States of America KESSLER Reed CYLANA 9 +
=51 332 Egypt EL ZOGHBY Karim WERVEL WIND 10 +
=51 356 Saudi Arabia SHARBATLY Abdullah Waleed SULTAN 10 +
=53 331 Colombia DIAZ Rodrigo ROYAL VINCKENBURG 11 +
=53 326 Chile COUVE CORREA Tomas UNDERWRAPS 11 +
=53 359 Mexico FERNANDEZ Federico VICTORIA 11 +
=56 349 Ireland TWOMEY Billy TINKA’S SERENADE 12 +
=56 329 Chile MILTHALER Carlos HYO ALTANERO 12 +
58 382 Ukraine OFFEL Katharina VIVANT 16 +
59 328 Chile PAROT Samuel AL CALYPSO 17 +
60 308 Azerbaijan RAHIMOV Jamal WARRIOR 18 +
61 325 Chile CARRASCO Rodrigo OR DE LA CHARBONIERE 22 +
62 380 Syrian Arab Republic HAMCHO Ahmad Saber WONDERBOY 30 +
320 Canada FOSTER Tiffany VICTOR DSQ
Canada's Jill Henselwood and George.
Canada’s Jill Henselwood and George. © Cealy Tetley,
Rank Team Result +
Saudi Arabia Saudi Arabia
1 +
Great Britain Great Britain
4 +
Netherlands Netherlands
4 +
Sweden Sweden
4 +
Switzerland Switzerland
4 +
Canada Canada
5 +
Brazil Brazil
8 +
United States United States
8 +
Mexico Mexico
10 +
Australia Australia
12 +
Germany Germany
12 +
France France
14 +
Belgium Belgium
16 +
Ukraine Ukraine
21 +
Chile Chile
22 +

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