That wasn’t “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee” they were playing during the eventing medal ceremonies at the FEI World Equestrian Games this afternoon. The tune is the same, but it actually was Great Britain’s “God Save the Queen,” commemorating that nation’s team and individual gold.
The U.S., sadly, wasn’t anywhere near the podium at the Tryon International Equestrian Center, finishing eighth of 16 teams. That was where the squad stood after Saturday’s cross-country. But there was hope that the show jumping—delayed a day because of rain and flooding from the former Hurricane Florence, morphed into a tropical depression—would get America into the top seven nations qualifying for a 2020 Tokyo Olympic berth here. (Japan, which finished fourth, is already qualified as the host country.)
Unfortunately, what U.S. supporters wished for didn’t happen. Phillip Dutton and Z finished as the highest-placed American combination, winding up thirteenth on 34 penalties with the only fault-free U.S. trip over the course designed by Alan Wade, who is also doing the routes for grand prix show jumping.
On the bright side, Phillip is very high on Z, and he had a good outing with the Zangersheide gelding here. He noted proudly that the horse covered for him when there was a rider error involving leaving out a stride to the third fence. Click on this video to hear what he had to say about Z and his Tryon experience.
Will Coleman and Tight Lines did not have a good Tryon, and they wound up sixty-sixth with 99.2 penalties total after a 12-fault show jumping round.
Expectations were high for Boyd Martin and the Trakehner gelding Tsetserleg to move ahead from their refusal in the water on cross-country. Yet Boyd also had three rails—two in the triple combination, one in the double. His final total was 70.70 penalties. Boyd, who noted his mount is “very difficult through the combinations,” had hoped for better, but he always bounces back. To hear his thoughts, click on this video.
After Phillip’s trip, U.S. fans were rooting for Lynn Symansky, who had been ninth on the thoroughbred Donner after a brilliant cross-country effort. His show jumping, alas, wasn’t deserving of that designation, as he dropped a pole on the middle element of the triple and the B element of the double. That plummeted her to twenty-fifth place on a score of 40.30.
“I felt like I lost him a little bit in the beginning with his nerves,” said the disappointed rider.
“I thought he was just a little bit distracted. When I tried to up it a gear, he was probably a little flat. I would have liked to bring a better score back for myself and the team, but that’s part of the game,” she added, noting Donner is still her horse of a lifetime, and she’s proud of him.
Ros Canter of Great Britain, number three in the world, went next-to-last and even with a perfect trip aboard Allstar B had to wait for the turn of the overnight leader, Germany’s Ingrid Klimke, until she knew what color medal she was going to win. Ingrid, who went to the lead after cross-country with SAP Hale Bob, was on her way to the top of the podium until she had a rail at the last fence, an oxer. That gave her bronze with 27.3 penalties.
Ros ended on her dressage score of 24.6, with great confidence in her horse.
“As long as I get it right,” she stated, “he’ll go higher and higher for me.”
Britain’s proud chef d’equipe, Dickie Waygood, said his nation could have produced two WEG teams, so great is its depth. There were questions about why world number one Oliver Townend wasn’t on the squad, but Dickie said selectors picked the horses they thought would cope best with the hot, humid conditions in Tryon while having enough stamina to handle the big hill near the end of the course—a feature everyone was talking about for months.
Ireland, finishing on 93 penalties, won its first global championships medal since 1978 when John Watson (father of Sam Watson, who was on the team here) took individual silver at the eventing world championships in Kentucky. Padraig McCarthy brought home another silver for himself with Mr. Chunky after a clear show-jumping round that gave him the individual honors and a score of 27.20.
France, the champion nation at the last Olympics, took the bronze on 99.8.
Japan wound up fourth on 113.9 penalties, showing great promise two years before the Tokyo Games.
“We are working so hard for Tokyo,” said team member Yoshiaki Oiwa, who is coached by Germany’s Dirk Schrade.
“This is the biggest score for us. We are always far from the top competition position. This is the first time we are in the top ranking, so we are really enjoying this moment. Four years ago, the last WEG, we didn’t have a rider for eventing. So here, we have four riders and we are competing well, so it’s completely different.”
While Britain, Ireland, France, Germany, Australia and New Zealand won’t have to worry about qualifying for Tokyo, the 2019 Pan American Games in Lima, Peru, will be the crucial stop for the U.S. as it attempts to make the cut.
Erik Duvander, who has been U.S. eventing performance director only since October, was praised by both Phillip and Boyd for his efforts. But he understandably was down about the American finish.
“It’s obviously been a tough week. But it’s the world championships, so you can’t expect anything else,” Erik said.
“We wished for more, but the reality is that this is where it’s at. We’ve just got a couple of years of hard work in front of us leading into the Olympics. I know now quite clearly what I think we need to put into place,” he continued.
Erik said he has a plan, but before revealing it, he needs to talk to the riders and others involved with the program.
He would say this much, however, “It’s putting a lot of things into place; we need to think about every part of what we do.”
So ends a turbulent Week One at the WEG. We’re hoping for better during Week Two with Florence out the door. Show jumping begins with the warm-ups today, while Nations’ Cup competition gets under way Wednesday. Like the eventers, the U.S. show jumpers—whose mounts all passed the horse inspection today-- are trying to gain Olympic qualification as well as the medals, but this squad is higher rated than the eventers and could be looking at a gold medal—or maybe even more than one.