US takes individual dressage gold, silver at Pan Am Games

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Steffen Peters (USA) and Legolas 92 won individual dressage gold at the Pan American Games in Toronto on Tuesday.
Steffen Peters (USA) and Legolas 92 won individual dressage gold at the Pan American Games in Toronto on Tuesday. © FEI / StockImageServices.com

The US has taken out silver and gold in the individual dressage competition at the Pan American Games in Toronto, with Steffen Peters and Legolas topping the podium with a score of 80.075.

Steffen Peters (USA) shows off his second gold medal of the week, after adding individual dressage gold to his team medal at the Pan American Games in Toronto on Tuesday.
Steffen Peters (USA) shows off his second gold medal of the week, after adding individual dressage gold to his team medal at the Pan American Games in Toronto on Tuesday. © FEI / StockImageServices.com

It is the second gold of the week for Peters, who anchored the US team to gold earlier in the week, and a back-to-back individual double for Steffen Peters who went close to his Pan-American Games record score of 80.132, set at Guadalajara in Mexico four years ago with Weltino’s Magic.

The result brings the US tally to eight team and nine individual dressage titles in the 64-year history of the event, and a fifth consecutive team victory.

The USA’s Laura Graves and Verdades won silver with 79.825, with Canadian newcomer Chris Von Martels winning bronze in his first PanAm Games, riding Zilverstar to a score of 79.500.

Canadian riders filled the next two places, with Belinda Trussell fourth and Brittany Fraser, both finishing with a score of on 76.800. Using the artistic marks to break the tie, Trussell was placed fourth.

Brazilian riders Leandro Aparecido Da Silva (73.3, Di Caprio) and Joao Victor Marcari Oliva (73.275, Xama dos Pinhais) filled the next two placings, ahead of the USA’s Kimberley Herslow riding Rosmarin to a score of 73.175.

A total of 21 horse-and-rider combinations contested the individual medals. Of these, 17 performed Intermediare 1, while the final four Big Tour partnerships performed the Freestyle.

With just six left to go, Canada’s Chris von Martels and Zilverstar rocketed to the top of the leaderboard with a percentage score of 79.500 for his Intermediare test. Judge at M, Great Britain’s Stephen Clarke, awarded 81.500 and at judge at H, the USA’s Lilo Fore, awarded 80.750, and all five Ground Jury members put the Canadian temporarily into first place.

The 32-year-old rider from Ontario held on to the advantage until overtaken by Peters and Legolas who posted the first, and only, over-80 per cent score when third-last into the arena. Fore, Clarke and Ground Jury President Elizabeth McMullan chose this pair for the No. 1 spot this time around, setting the new target at 80.075. And when, last to go, 27-year-old Graves and Verdades collected 79.825 they scooped silver and pinned von Martels and Zilverstar back to bronze. It was an extremely close-fought affair, with only 0.575 separating the three medal-winners.

Chris von Martels and Zilverstar were the best placed Canadian combination in the individual dressage competition, winning bronze on Tuesday at the Pan American Games.
Chris von Martels and Zilverstar were the best placed Canadian combination in the individual dressage competition, winning bronze on Tuesday at the Pan American Games. © FEI / StockImageServices.com

“I’m obviously very happy and thrilled with Zilverstar,” said von Martels of his 11-year-old bay Dutch Warmblood gelding by Rousseau.  “He has been absolutely fantastic throughout the whole Games here.  He is peaking at the right moment, and I am very proud of him for being able to come onto the international scene and shine like he has.”

Individual bronze medalist Chris von Martels of Ridgetown, Ontario.
Individual bronze medalist Chris von Martels of Ridgetown, Ontario.

For von Martels, earning personal best scores in all three phases in front of a home crowd was a thrill.

“I’m very proud,” said von Martels, 32. “Our home town audience is, of course, very fanatical and supportive, which is a boost.”

Continuing to speak of the Canadian Dressage Team’s strong results at these Games, von Martels noted, “I think it paints a clear picture that we are really competitive on the international scene.  Not only here in Canada, but in Europe or the US. We have proven at this competition that we are absolutely right on track with the rest of the top countries of the world.”

After Sunday’s Grand Prix Special, Peters admitted to having some issues in the execution of his test, but on Tuesday he put all that behind him and came out once again with all guns blazing. “I’m still on cloud nine!” he said, shortly after the prizegiving.

“On Sunday Legolas did a good job but I didn’t do my best riding job, so I wanted to prove today that Legolas deserves to be one of top horses in the world. I gave it every bit of my strength and he produced a wonderful clean test. And on top of that he allowed me to be within a tenth of a second to the music so we had high artistic scores,” he explained.

“This season we have had a few ups and downs, so to finish so strong in the last test of the season – I can hardly describe how I feel right now,” he added. Asked about team-mate Laura Graves’ close silver-medal finish, Peters continued, “I knew before the competition today that it would be awfully close. I saw her doing a beautiful clean test, so the tension to last second today was quite something. I have to admit I got very emotional when Legolas was called out the winner!”

And the 50-year-old rider was quick to refer back to his US team-mates and the success they have achieved over the last few days. “Let’s not forget that every single rider, including the fourth horse contributed to the team gold medal. There was a combination of drop scores, so everyone did their job, and it is a fantastic group of people – all good-hearted athletes. It’s quite something to win with wonderful friends you almost have to call family!” he said.

On the podium after the individual dressage final at the Pan-American Games  in Toronto, Canada, from left: Laura Graves (USA) silver, Steffen Peters (USA) gold, and Chris von Martels (CAN) bronze.
On the podium after the individual dressage final at the Pan-American Games in Toronto, Canada, from left: Laura Graves (USA) silver, Steffen Peters (USA) gold, and Chris von Martels (CAN) bronze. © FEI / StockImageServices.com

There were changes to the starting lineup before the competition, with a decision being made on the number of riders who could take part in the final. It meant that Canada’s Megan Lane could not compete in front of her home crowd, but the local rider gave a hors concours performance before the start of the Grand Prix Freestyle portion of the Individual Final.

FEI rules state that half the starters in team competitions qualify for the individual final, and the Technical Handbook for Dressage at the Pan-American Games does not mention any restrictions on the number of riders per nation. The Pan-American Games are staged under Pan American Sports Organization (PASO) rules, but the FEI decides on the sports format and this year introduced a new concept with the combination of Small Tour and Big Tour.

Based on the Technical Handbook, it was announced at a meeting of chefs d’equipe on Sunday that four riders would be eligible to go through to the Individual Final and the draw was then made for the Individual Final (Freestyle), including four riders from both the United States of America and Canada.

No protest was lodged within the 30 minute deadline after that meeting. But at a chefs d’equipe meeting on Monday morning it was announced that according to the PASO rules, a maximum of three riders per country would be eligible to go through to the Individual Final. Those present agreed to ask PASO for an exception so that four riders could participate, and that the two riders that would lose their places could start in the Individual Final as extra riders.

PASO was prepared to consider the unanimous request from the chefs d’equipe, but later in the day, Venezuela and Mexico stated that they had changed their minds. When PASO was informed that there were two countries that were no longer in agreement with the original vote, PASO said it would not agree to an exception.

Following the PASO decision not to grant an exception, a re-draw was made with three riders each from the USA and Canada on the start list.

“This is an unfortunate situation, in which PASO was very willing to make an exception to its own rules providing all competing countries were in agreement,” FEI Director Dressage and Para-Equestrian Dressage Trond Asmyr said, “but the unanimity at the morning’s chefs d’equipe meeting no longer prevailed this afternoon and PASO had no choice but to enforce its rules of allowing only three riders through to the Individual Final.”

Additional reporting: Louise Parkes, Jennifer Ward.

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