Explosion W for Gold with Ben Maher in Tokyo
The speed of the Olympic Games is un-relenting with both the dressage and horse trials eventing completed. During the last few days of competition in Tokyo, it was the turn of the show jumpers to step up to the plate and jump for both team and individual medals.
For the teams, the rules were similar to the dressage and eventing in that there were three members from each team from twenty countries. There were a total of seventy five athletes/horses from thirty five different countries – the largest number ever. The competition was effectively split into two. The first part was a qualifying class and a final class for the Individual medals, and the second part was for the Team medals. Like with the previous team competitions, there were only three members to each team and all the scores counted, a new directive for this Olympic Games. In other words, no discarded scores allowed as had been the case for previous games.
To try to guess who would be in the running, particularly for showjumping is a really futile exercise, however, we all like to speculate. In dressage, once the riders have been through for the first time, one gets a pretty good idea of who is on form and how the judges are judging the competition, so it is not as difficult to predict the top places. In showjumping, reliance on who jumped a clear on day one does not take into account of how the same horse if feeling on day two and he just may not perform?
The first class was a qualifier for the individual medals. 73 horses were in the class which had a jury of five. The first and president of the jury/judges was Carsten Soerlie from Norway; Kazuya Hirayama from Japan; Kim Morrison from Canada; Joachim Geilfus from Germany and Gabriela Teuscher from Mexico. The course was designed by David Evans from Great Britain and built by Santiago Varela from Spain. The highest fence was set to be at 1.65m. The time allowed was 89 seconds to complete the 590m course without incurring time penalties. The top best 30 riders qualified for the final for the individual title, to be staged on day two of the showjumping festival. There were 14 fences with 17 jumping efforts required in this class.
The first horse in from Jordan decided to retire, so not a great start for the course designers, but the sixth horse in, from the home nation Japan, Daisuke Fukushima, scored the first clear round. The eighth to come in was one of the possible big players, Darragh Kenny from Ireland who also went clear. Japan must have been delighted to see their second combination to go clear, Koki Saito. After the first 25 horses had completed the first round, Ireland were top of the tree with all three of their riders going clear, the final rider being Cian O’Connor. All three of the Japanese riders had competed and the final one had just 1 time fault – Eikin Sato. The French three riders had also all completed with only Nicolas Delmotte going clear. There were nine clears at this point in the competition. By the time 45 competitors had gone, the leader board changed with Ben Maher riding Explosion W from Great Britain at the top. With some of the top riders having competed by now, all the riders from Sweden had gone and all were clear; the same was the case for the British riders whose other riders were Harry Charles, (son of Olympian medal winning father Peter) and Scott Brash. Switzerland had also seen their three riders complete with only Martin Fuchs getting a clear. Biat Mandl had 1 time fault and Steve Guerdat had a pole down on fence five.
At this stage, there were still 27 to jump and there were still all the riders from Germany, The Unites States and Belgium to grace the arena, including the world number one Daniel Deusser. When his turn came, he went clear riding Killer Queen. With only the one round of jumping in this class, the judges after nearly four hours of jumping must have been relieved. Ben Maher with Explosion W remained in the lead with the very early to go Darragh Kenny from Ireland riding Catello in second. In third was Israel’s Ashlee Bond riding Dontello 141. Of the three Israeli riders, all were born in either Mexico or the United States, and all now live in the United States. Interesting!! There were a total of 25 clear rounds, all of whom qualified for the final for the individual title on day 2. There were four others who were clear but got one time fault. That was 29 of the 30 qualifiers allowed, and the final one to qualify was from New Zealand, Daniel Leech who got two time faults. Anyone who got more than three faults was therefore eliminated from the individual final. That left some of the best riders in the world out of contention including Steve Guerdat from Switzerland, the former number one showjumping athlete for some 15 months. The Germans did not have a good day, they only got one through, Daniel Duesser; The United States got no riders through at all, the best of them was Jessica Springstein. Only Sweden, Great Britain and Japan got all their three riders qualified.
The Showjumping Individual Medal Day
In another late night show in the Baji Koen Equestrian Park, the final thirty combinations fought it out for the medals. The course designer on this occasion was Santiago Varela from Spain and the technical delegate was Louis Kronickx from the Netherlands. There were 14 obstacles with 18 jumping attempts required with a top height of 1.65m. The course incorporated two double fences and one treble. The time allowed was 88 seconds for the distance of 585 meters. The jury was the same as the qualifying round. The order in which riders competed was determined by the qualifying round. The least successful, ie those with faults went first followed by the clear rounds, and they came in according to the time they took to complete round one with the slowest going first.
After the first ten athletes had completed their rounds, there was only one clear round from Sweden’s Henrik Von Eckermann riding King Edward. There were several who failed the time and collected time faults and one rider was eliminated and two others retired. Ireland’s Cian O’Connor riding Kilkenny was clear but had 1 time fault. All the others in the first ten had fences down. One of the retirees was a surprise – Biat Mandli from Switerland. The next ten saw some of the world’s best. In at number 13 was Japan’s Daisuke Fukishima riding Chanyon, who went clear as did Malin Baryard-Johnsson, again for Sweden riding Indiana. World number one, Daniel Deusser (GER) collected 8 faults and so did Martin Fuchs (SWU). Harry Charles (GBR) retired after collecting 12 faults, and Neils Burynseels (BEL) was another elimination. The last ten to go saw the third Swedish rider Peder Fredricson riding All In go clear – all the Swedish riders clear and currently in all the medal positions. Scott Brash (GBR) riding Jefferson had one down as did Gregory Wathelet (BEL) riding Nevados S. In the final five to go, Ben Maher (GBR) with Explosion W got a clear and finally so did Maikel Van der Vleuten riding Beauville Z for the Netherlands.
The Individual Jump off for the Medals.
Of the thirty starters, there were only six clear rounds, all who would jump again against the clock. The first of the six was for Japan, Daisuke Fukushima, who rode a careful but clear round. Going first is always difficult, and probably it was his best chance to go clear and hope everyone else had poles down. The second to go was the first of the Swedish riders, Malin Baryard-Johnsson who carved 3 seconds off the Japanese time and also went clear. Peder Fredricson, fellow Swede was to follow, and he too went clear, and in 1 second faster. The fourth in was Ben Maher. His long striding horse Explosion W took no prisoners and went clear – four in and four clear of the six. Ben carved another second off the top time. The penultimate rider was yet another Swedish rider, Henrik Von Eckermann. He went clear but in a slower time resulting in being behind both Ben Maher and fellow Swede Peder Fredricson. The final rider to spoil Ben Maher’s Gold medal party was from The Netherlands in the form of Maikel Van der Vleuten – the fastest clear in the first round. Yes another clear but in 38.02 seconds, just behind Ben with 37.85 seconds.
So for the second time, Peder Fredricson got the individual Silver medal, he did the same in Rio five years ago, and again Great Britain with Ben Maher took the Gold as they did in Rio with Nick Skelton. The individual Bronze medal was Mikail Van der Vleuten. One has to feel for the Swede? It was another nail biting round with the best in the world as it should be, but Ben Maher and Explosion W just showed why the horse is thought to be the best showjumping horse in the world. Congratulations to them both.
We look forward to the Team showjumping in a couple of days time.
Images courtesy Jon Stroud, British Showjumping