British Team Gold Eventing Glory After 49 Years

With the Olympic dressage done and dusted, we then proceeded onto the Horse Trials Eventing for the next few days. The dressage and showjumping elements of the eventing Olympic Championships were held in the Baji Koen Equestrian Park with the cross country being staged at The Sea Forest Park with a great view of the city of Tokyo itself and Tokyo Bay in the back ground. As with a five star event, the dressage took place on days one and two; followed by the cross country for the third day and showjumping to wrap up the eventing on day four.

The cross country course from the air in Tokyo Bay

As with any event, the most talked about part of the competition is the cross country. The course was designed by Derek di Grazia from the United States and is well known as the course designer for the Kentucky five star event every spring. The course was built on reclaimed land on the edge of Tokyo Bay and had 23 elements with 36 different jumping efforts required, all themed around Japanese heritage. The course was slightly shorter than a usual Olympic course at 4420 meters with a suggested time allowed of about 7 minutes 45 seconds. Because the climate is hot and humid, it has been made a bit shorter to put less stress on the horses. Because of the limited space available, the course was very twisty which in turn made the course really quite technical. The Japanese theme was present throughout the fence designed with known as the Samurai Sword, another as Mt Fuji and a third as Lone Tree Moguls. Generally, however, there was nothing which was so bold it would put the horses off, but there were subtleties which could worry a horse if it was not fully concentrating on the jumping. The designer used the access to water to the full with no less than five jumps with some sort of water feature.

In the first trot up, Poland’s Pawel Spisak’s mount Banderas was sent to the holding box and after re-examination was spun by the vets, so they had to withdraw. Another sent to the holding box was Castle Larchfield Purdy for Puerto Rico ridden by Lauren Billys; they were later allowed to compete and accepted. There was an announcement from Jessie Phoenix that her horse Pavarotti was slightly injured during a training gallop, so they were out. The Polish team replaced Banderas with their reserve rider Jan Kaminski riding Jard. This meant that there were 63 starters for the eventing for both the individual and team events. The team riders were also riding for themselves as individuals as well for their country and team. There were 18 combinations riding just for themselves in the individual competition only, and the other 45 combinations would represent their country in the team event as well as riding as individuals.

Laura Collett (GBR) thought to be front runner

As always, there was considerable speculation before the first horse even entered the dressage arena as to who would win all the medals. Great Britain were clearly considered to one of the major teams to beat with both world ranked number one Ollie Townend riding Ballaghmor Class, recent winner of the Kentucky event in early May this year. Another representing Great Britain who was highly regarded was Laura Collett riding London 52 who has been in great form since winning the 5 star at Pau in October last year. Both Germany and New Zealand had some good team members in the Price husband and wife duo from N. Z. and Michael Jung from Germany. The French, as always sent a competent team in Nicolas Touzaint and Christopher Six. In truth, speculation of medal winners before the off was probably rather futile – however, we all do it don’t we?

First day of dressage

Oliver Townend (GBR) led after day one

Day one saw the first two of the three sections of dressage, when the first 40 or so combinations preformed. In the individual medal table thus far, Ollie Townend from Great Britain ended the day at the top of the tree on 23.60 penalties with Alex Hua Tian from China and riding Don Geniro just behind on 23.90 penalties. The first of the Germans, Julia Krajewski, was third on 25.20 and one of the pre games favourites Laura Collett was lying fourth on 25.80. It has to be said that Laura was very disappointed with her score as her dressage is thought to be one of the best in the business. The top team of the day was Great Britain some way ahead of both Sweden and Japan who were lying in second and third respectively. It should be noted that the dressage test for the eventers has been changed very significantly this Olympics because of the expected and realised intense heat. Therefore, instead of a dressage test lasting 6 to 7 minutes, the riders were in and out in only 3 ½ minutes which as some said, hardly gave them time to think!.

Day Two

Michael Jung led after dressage phase – going for his third consecutive eventing Gold medal

With the final 23 to do their dressage tests, everything was still to play for with some serious combinations still to go. The last to go was Michael Jung, and obviously in no mood to take any prisoners. He did a really good dressage earning himself and of course the German team 21.10 penalties. This put him in the lead and in front of Ollie Townend with Alex Hua Tian in third, and Germany’s Julia Krajewski in fourth. Tim Price of New Zealand conducted a very tight dressage test earning him 25.60 penalties which put him in fifth place pushing Laura Collett, in fourth after day one, into six place. The team result after the dressage was Great Britain just holding onto gold medal position by 2 penalty points with Germany just behind and New Zealand in third on a collective 86.40 penalties. So with the cross country coming next, everything still to play for and no rider in the top teams could really afford any problems on the course. Even time faults could determine this one!

Day three – Cross Country Day

One of the five water features in this cross country course

Built on reclaimed land and being a piece of ground which is a narrow type of spit, this was always going to be a technical course with distances between the various elements needing to be quite accurate to be able to negotiate a clear round. Tine of 7 minutes 45 seconds was also thought to be very tight. The main comment made by the riders after the cross country was that all the fences were very close together. The normal chance of giving a horse a bit of a breather and a gallop at some stage on the course just was not there and as a result, as soon as one fence had been jumped, the next was already there in front of you.

Ollie Townend was second to go and was in individual silver medal position and more importantly was one of the British team members in Gold after the dressage, but only just, so a clear round from him was essential to keep the Great Britain momentum going. He completed with a clear so all was well. The leader after the dressage, Michael Jung leader after the dressage, collected 11 penalties after taking out a flange pin so dropped to 10th place. Alex Hua Tian from China in third, also took a flange pin out with Don Geniro and collected some time faults which dropped him down to 18th position. In fourth place after the dressage was Germany’s Julia Krajewski who had a clear round over cross country and she elevated herself to individual silver behind Ollie Townend. The bronze individual position was taken by another from Great Britain, Laura Collett who finished the cross country on her dressage score. Tim Price, who was in fifth place after the dressage, was in the hunt for a medal, and went up a place in fourth, but he collected a couple of time faults. Another to increase their position was from Japan, Kazuma Tomoto riding Vince de la Vigne. He finished the dressage in seventh place but with just a couple of faults for time, elevating himself to fifth place going into the showjumping.

Tom McEwen climbs up leader board after cross country

The final of the three British riders, Tom McEwen riding Toledo de Kerser was in sixth place individually following the cross country, giving the Great Britain team a very strong position going into the showjumping for team Gold. In the dressage, Tom was in twelfth place getting 28.90 penalties, but a clear over the country gave him a significant boost. The Great Britain Team were well in the lead with a four fence and 17 plus point advantage going into the showjumping ahead of Australia. Andrew Hoy, Shane Rose and Kevin Macnab all had excellent cross country with a total of 92.20 penalties.  Andrew and Shane got clear rounds and Kevin just collecting a couple of time faults. In team Bronze position after the cross country was France, whose riders again, put in a superb performance. Nicholas Touzaint and Christopher Six collected 4 time penalties between them and Karim Florent Laghouag went completely clear. They ended the day with 97.10 penalties. Germany had dropped to sixth place in the team – so a disappointing or even bad day at the office for them; with the United States in fifth and just off the team medals at this stage were New Zealand in fourth.

The final day for the Eventers.

The final day’s battle ground

The final day is show jumping day and also is the day to decide both the team medals and the individual medals. There are two parts to the showjumping phase in the Olympics. The first is a team event, and every team rider jumps. Each fence down costs the rider 4 penalties and if they go over the time allowed, they collect 0.4 of a penalty for every second they are over the time. The team who have the lowest number of penalty points when all the penalties are added together are the winners and declared the Gold medal winners. The second part is just for the individual medals, each of the top twenty five riders jumping take with them their scores on the dressage and cross country, and the score of the earlier showjumping round. The individual with the lowest score of penalties is declared winner of the Gold medal. A further change to the rules this time around is that if a rider does not compete in the cross country round, for whatever reason, they can still compete in the showjumping round, but suffer a 200 penalty  fine; provided they did not have a horse fall and were not eliminated at any stage.  Is this a rather pointless idea as we are not quite sure the reasoning behind it?

There were two horses spun by the vets at the morning’s trot up. One was from Poland and the other from Italy. All the others presented were accepted by the panel.  There were 51 combinations still in the team event.

From the first ten combinations to jump, the first six all ended up with over 100 penalties, but after that the penalty count started to drop dramatically. The competition really hotted up at this stage as there were only 25 penalties, between the rest of the whole field, which meant that any fence down was likely to be very costly.

Team GB all accepted for the final day’s competition

The first in of the medal contenders after the cross country was France, with Nicolas Touzaint riding Ansolut Gold. He got a time fault of 0,40. Following him was Australia’s Kevin McNab riding Don Quidam and he also got not further penalties. Finally, the first team member for Great Britain was next, Tom McEwen riding Toledo de Keyser who also added no penalties to the British score. At the end of the first round of jumpers for the teams, the medal positions did not change. Michael Jung riding Chipmunk was the next rider for the German team and he went clear. This at meant allowed him to go through to the final of the individual event as he was defending his Olympic individual championship, he won the title in both London and Rio, however, if he was to complete the hat trick, he had a tough row to hoe and would have to have some above him make catastrophic mistakes! Not impossible though! The second rider for the French team, still currently in Bronze medal position was Karim Florant Laghouag riding Triton Fontaine. They added 4 penalties with one pole down. Following them was Australia’s Shane Rose riding Virgil who also collected another 4 penalties with one down and finally, defending their current Gold status was Great Britain’s Laura Collett riding London 52. She, like the other two in the medal positions also had a fence down ending with 4 penalties added to the team score.

62 year old Andrew Hoy (AUS) keeps his medal chances alive

Going into the final round for each team member, the team leader board had not changed. The first of the medal contenders, France sent in Christopher Six riding Totem de Brecey who rode a confident clear, as did Australia’s Andrew Hoy, now 62 years of age, riding Vassily de Lassos. So with a massive 17.80 penalties separating Great Britain from the rest, Oliver Townend riding Ballaghmor Class had the luxury of having four fences down, and still keep the Gold medal for his country. He had one fence down which meant that Great Britain won the Olympic Team Gold medal, the first time the British eventers had achieved this since 1972, plenty of silver medals in the interim period, but never Gold. A remarkable achievement from a young British team, none of whom had ever competed in the Olympics before.

The final for the Individual medals.

Team GB win Gold for the first time for GB since 1972.

With the team result sorted, the final phase of this Olympic Horse Trial event took place with the top 25 placed horses eligible to compete for the Individual medals. Ollie Townend’s fence down in the team showjumping round meant that he started the final leg in silver position. Germany’s Julia Krajewski was in the lead by just 2 penalties, and in fact the top four were within one fence. In bronze medal position was fellow Brit Tom McEwen and Andrew Hoy was occupying fourth place. Laura Collett from Great Britain was in fifth, and the only other rider in the competition with less than 30 penalties. In a tense and thrilling final line up, Japanese rider, Kazuma Tomoto, who has been training with William Fox-Pitt for some time went clear with one time fault and saw himself in gold medal position with only four more to go. He was riding Vinci de la Vigne. Next came Andrew Hoy who rode a lovely round and was completely clear. He went into Gold at that time. Next came Great Britain’s Tom McEwen, who rode a faultless round, and with two left to go, Tom climbed into silver.  Oliver Townend, with no room for any faults, came in next and had a fence down and a couple of time faults. This cruelly dropped him down to fourth behind the Japanese rider with one still to go.

Julia Krajeweski win Individual Gold for Germany at jsu 26 years old!

The final rider, Julia Krajeweski, a 26 year old rooky for the Olympics, had everything to gain with a 2 penalty advantage – so time faults may be ok, but a fence down would not. She rode a clear round, not looking like dropping any of the poles. She did get one time fault, but that was OK. She took the Individual Gold medal for Germany with Tom McEwen in Silver for Great Britain and Andrew Hoy taking Bronze for Australia. One, who must be mentioned was the fourth place, and so nearly a first medal winner for equestrianism ever for Japan, was Kazuma Tomoto.

images courtesy of Jon Stroud, Reuters, Goldeneye Photography

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