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Canada claims showjumping gold at Pan American Games

July 31, 2007

Show jumping at the XV Pan American Games was the last equestrian discipline, with individual medals being awarded three hours before the closing ceremonies. The Brazilians were looking for a return to the gold medal podium they had occupied in 1991, 1995 and 1999, after losing to the US in 2003. Canada's show jumpers had not won a team gold medal since 1987. The defending Americans had sent a less experienced team than its main rivals, which would be reflected in the final results. Mexico, having won bronze in Santo Domingo in 2003, was also gunning for a medal.

Canada's Jill Henselwood riding Special Ed to an individual gold medal in the showjumping.

Brazil's Rodrigo Pessoa on Rufus won the individual silver medal. His father, Nelson, was on hand to watch his son achieve the same success that he attained at the Pan American Games 40 years earlier.

Bronze medal winner, Eric Lamaze of Canada, on Hickstead.
Ken Braddick/FEI

Ten nations sent show jumping teams to Brazil, with another seven countries represented by individuals. Among the 47 horse-and-rider combinations, there were several from smaller countries, such as Bermuda, Barbados, and El Salvador. Puerto Rico had two entries, including the defending individual gold medalist Mark Watring on his 2003 Pan Am horse Sapphire. Brazil's own Guilherme Jorge had a delicate balance to maintain as course designer: to make the courses friendly enough for some of the less experienced competitors, while still putting the best on the podium.

The first round of competition, a Table C speed class, quickly revealed that the battle for gold would be between Canada and Brazil. Canadians Jill Henselwood on Special Ed and Ian Millar on In Style sat in first and second place individually at the end of the day. Brazil also had its share of stars, with Rodrigo Pessoa and Bernardo Alves receiving a 'bye' to the team; they came from Europe along with their youngest member, 24 year old Pedro Veniss. When the calculations had been done at the end of the first day, Canada had 2.72 penalties and held down a narrow lead over Brazil with 5.67. Mexico was right behind with 5.89, and the Americans trailed with 10.2 after two of its members put in below par performances.

Team medals were decided the following day, Friday, with a two round Nation's Cup. Jorge gave the riders plenty to think about with a challenging course that resulted in the elimination of three countries and a handful of individuals. By the end of the first round, the tables had turned on Canada, whose Eric Lamaze had a rail for the second day in a row with Hickstead. Canada's fourth team member was Mac Cone on Melinda. Brazil was ahead by 1.1 points after three clear rounds from Pessoa on Rufus, Veniss on Un Blancs de Blanc, and Cesar Almeida on Singular Joter II. Mexico didn't have a single clear round, so the US moved past them into third after Cara Raether and Ublesco went clear and her teammates Lauren Hough on Casadora and Laura Chapot on Little Big Man took a single rail each. Their fourth team member, Todd Minikus on Pavarotti, fell at the water jump and didn't return for the second round.

The same course delivered no changes in the team positions in the second round. Brazil thrilled the home crowd by maintaining its lead with two clear rounds and a single knockdown from Pessoa. The Canadians, with a single rail each from Henselwood and Millar, took home their country's third equestrian team silver medal of the Pan Am Games. The Americans, now down to three horses, also added eight faults to their score to take bronze. Mexico remained out of medal contention in fourth place. "Our best opponents were the Canadians, and we stayed very close to them," said Rodrigo Pessoa. "It has been an emotional experience. Winning in your own country is very special."

Canada - Brazil - Canada on the individual podium

The individual final on Sunday was a two round Table A with a maximum height of 1.6m. Jorge set shorter courses than in the Nation's Cup, but the time in the second round would prove to be difficult to make; only five horses finished without time penalties. The scores were so tight that just one rail separated Pedro Veniss in first place from Eric Lamaze in sixth. Veniss took himself out of contention with a rail in the first round, and Ian Millar fell to fourth with a rail in the second. Lauren Hough, starting the day in fifth place with Casadora, had a twelve fault first round and chose not to compete in the second. At the end of the day the medals would go to the three riders who put in faultless performances over both rounds.

After three days and only one rail to her name, Canada's Jill Henselwood finally earned Canada a gold medal. Special Ed, the 13-year-old Oldenburg gelding that has carried Henselwood through the World Equestrian Games and World Cup Final as well as numerous Grand Prix wins, has never won a major title. "He's always been a super horse, but he's never had a title," she said. The gold medal is significant for Henselwood too; it's her first individual medal, and it's the first time a woman has won the individual gold medal in Pan Am Games show jumping since American Anne Kursinski of the US won in 1983.

Rodrigo Pessoa moved from fourth place to the silver medal on a horse he has been riding only since January. "Rufus has developed very quickly," he said. "He was great today, with two clear rounds. The future looks very good for him." Lamaze made the biggest leap to the podium, rising from sixth to the bronze medal with his performance on Hickstead, an eleven year old Dutch Warmblood stallion. "It has been a great week, with excellent courses and footing. This was as competitive a Pan Am Games as I've seen," he said. Although he has competed in two previous Pan Am Games, this was the first time he has reached the podium individually.

The XVI Pan Am Games will take place in Guadalajara, Mexico, in 2011.



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