Britain has won the gold medal for eventing at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, with the team of Oliver Townend, Laura Collett and Tom McEwen finishing with just over three rails in hand from Australia, with France taking the bronze by the narrowest of margins.
It was Britain’s fourth team title but it’s been a very long wait since Richard Meade, Mary Gordon-Watson, Bridget Parker and Mark Phillips stood top of the podium a full 49 years ago in Munich in 1972. Australia took the silver, and defending champions from France claimed the bronze.
Tom McEwen paved the path to Britain’s team victory with a superb round from Toledo de Kresker over the first of Santiago Varela’s beautifully decorated tracks. And he was filled with confidence that his team-mates would do the rest of the work without difficulty.
A four-fence advantage and more after the previous day’s cross-country test had left his side sitting comfortably ahead, and as it turned out his confidence was not misplaced.
“He was incredible,” he said of his 14-year-old horse. “I just put him on the spot and he was up and away. Everyone that follows eventing knows he’s a great jumper so it’s just up to me on top,” he said.
But team-mate Laura Collett had a scary moment when London 52 balked at the water tray at fence four and scattered poles everywhere before regaining his equilibrium. “He started like his normal self but just as I came around the corner the light shone on the water and he suddenly started to draw back and I was quite far off it and he just went up and paddled. I was lucky he’s such a great jumper and it didn’t faze him and he got it back together and finished really nicely. I’m gutted and it’s a shame but I think it could have been a whole lot worse,” she said.
Oliver Townend was heading the Individual rankings going into the closing stages after a sensational run in both dressage and cross-country with Ballaghmor Class. The first element of the double at fence nine, four fences from home, hit the floor but that still left Team GB finishing on a score of 86.30 and under no threat from their closest rivals.
“It’s very unreal and hasn’t sunk in yet but at the same time we were three riders on exceptional horses and that’s what’s been so special, Townend said. “All three of us have been on horses of a lifetime and we knew that coming here we had a very good chance.
“Looking back at the whole week I feel relieved and very proud of the whole team, not just the people here, but the whole team at home, people who put in the hard graft every day — they deserve this as well.”
Collett described being on the podium as a “completely surreal experience”.
“I’m a bit lost for words, just to be here at an Olympics is a dream come true let alone win a gold medal. It’s going to take a few days, weeks, months for this to actually sink in.”
The real battle was played out between Australia and France, Kevin McNab opening the Aussie account with a foot-perfect run with Don Quidam before Shane Rose’s Virgil also fell victim to the first element of fence nine. Nicolas Touzaint and Absolut Gold, who were part of the gold medal-winning French side at the Rio 2016 Games, returned with just 0.4 for time, while second-line rider Karim Florent Laghouag faulted only at the first element of the triple combination at fence five.
The two sides had started the day with a hair’s breadth between them, and even though Frenchman Christopher Six was clear and clean with Totem de Brecey, Andrew Hoy made no mistake with Vassily de Lassos to bag the silver for Australia when last to go, the two sides separated by just 1.3 penalties.
IOC Vice-President and Chair of the Coordination Commission for Tokyo 2020 John Coates was on hand to see Australia take team silver and offered his congratulations to the three team members.
Shane Rose said that the attitude for the Australians is “team first”.
“We’re all mates on this team so you ride everyone’s highs and lows with them. How you perform individually affects your team-mates so you always want to give your best foot forward. We don’t get team opportunities very often, I’m based in Australia and these guys are based in Europe so we only get to see each other every few years and when we do come together it’s amazing how quickly we bond.”
Germany finished fourth with 114.2, just ahead of New Zealand with 116.4.