Sweden has claimed team Olympic showjumping gold at Tokyo 2020, nearly 100 years since they last took home the top honour.
A magnificent performance all week from Henrik von Eckermann with King Edward, Malin Baryard-Johnson and Indiana and Peder Fredricson with All In led to high expectations that they would bring the ultimate honour back to their country for the first time in 97 years, having last won in Paris 1924 with Ake Thelning (Loke), Axel Stahle (Cecil) and Age Lundstrom (Anvers), and before that on home ground in Stockholm in 1912 and in Antwerp in 1920.
But at Tokyo 2020 it went down to the wire with Sweden and the USA neck-and-neck from the first round.
The US team of Laura Kraut with Baloutinue, Jessica Springsteen with Don Juan van de Donhoeve and McLain Ward with Contagious collected silver, and Belgium was already assured of bronze when collecting 12 faults in the opening round.
Both Sweden and the US completed the first round with eight faults apiece. Team France looked set to be the biggest threat to all others when single time faults from both Simon Delestre and Berlux Z and Mathieu Billot with Quel Filou, in the opening round left them sitting pretty before Penelope Leprevost set off. But elimination at the third fence for Vancouver de Lanlore shattered the French dream of repeating the glory they enjoyed five years ago in Rio de Janeiro.
So Pieter Devos (Claire Z), Jerome Guery (Quel Homme de Hus) and Gregory Wathelet (Nevados S) could sit back in the knowledge that the third step of the podium would belong to Belgium.
The British team withdrew after its first two riders, Holly Smith (Denver) and Harry Charles (Romeo 88) notched up 24 faults between them. It meant individual gold medalist Ben Maher and Explosion W did not take to the arena. “I’m not a quitter on the team, I always push to the end, but we’re a long way off any medal contention and he’s done everything for Team GB and me as a ride this week, and the welfare of him becomes a priority,” Maher said.
“It doesn’t make any difference that we won the individual gold. Yes, he goes back as an Olympic champion – I always knew he was an incredible horse before he came here this week – but this decision is based purely on the team as a whole. We had a decision as a team and any horse’s welfare becomes a priority. This way, he goes home one round less and saved hopefully for another day when we are in medal contention,” Maher said.
Sweden vs. USA in the jumpoff
In the jumpoff, Kraut led the way for the USA with her 11-year-old gelding, scorching through the finish in 41.33 seconds to set the pace. And although Sweden’s von Eckermann took a new route he was a little slower when breaking the beam in 42.00 seconds with King Edward who, sensationally, never lowered a single pole in five rounds of tough jumping this week.
Springsteen returned clear for the USA in 42.95 seconds so when Baryard-Johnsson was quicker, crossing the line in 41.89, the Swedes already had a small advantage. But Ward was next to go, and shaving seconds off all those ahead of him he raced through the finish in 39.92 to really put it up to Swedish anchorman Fredricson, who with All In won his second successive Individual silver medal just three days ago.
In the end, just 1.3 penalty points separated the two sides.
Baryard-Johnsson, a member of the Swedish side that took Olympic team silver in Athens 17 years ago, said it was a dream come true: “To win an Olympic gold medal I think that’s every athlete’s dream for sure! We knew it was very possible for a jump-off because it was only one round and we knew we didn’t want the silver medal this time.”
Von Eckermann said there should be medals awarded to the horses as well as the riders. King Edward certainly deserved a medal having jumped through the entire week without dropping a pole.
Fredricson was thoughtful when asked what the victory meant to him. “It’s unbelievably satisfying to get this gold. And my horse deserves it also for the way he jumped, I’m so happy for him and his owner and groom and the whole team and my teammates. This is a great feeling,” he said.