Ben Maher and Explosion W showed just what it means to explode around a course in breakneck speed because that’s exactly what they did. That race to the finish earned them the Individual Show Jumping gold medal at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.
Maher earned his first place finish on August 3rd when he led the way to the top of the final 30 from a starting field of 73 to show that he and his horse have just what it takes to be an Olympic Champion.
In the finals, only six riders from those 30 were able to achieve a clear round that led them to the deciding jump-off for who would claim each of the coveted medals.
First to return based on their time was Japan’s Daisuke Fukushima riding Chanyon who nailed the course leaving all the rails up and setting the pace for the rest of the field to know that to win a medal they first had to go clear and then had to beat Fukushima’s time of 43.76 seconds.
There was no waiting necessary as those who rose to the top had played and won or lost this clear race game against the clock many times before. So, when Malin Baryard-Johnsson entered the ring on Indiana it was clear she wasn’t holding anything back and finished clear in a time of 40.76.
Now the pressure was on for the next rider in the arena. Peder Fredricson aboard All In was definitely all in for winning a medal. He nailed not only the clear round but his time of 38.02 set a new time to beat.
However, it took no time to see if that would happen as Maher and his mount exploded around the course in a time that no one else would ultimately be able to achieve. Their amazing, tight turns and speedy round stopped the clock in 37.85, which ultimately earned him the gold and Fredricson the silver. Next in, Henrik von Eckermann and King Edward did their best, achieved the clear round but the time of 39.71 left them out of the medals in the fourth slot.
The last combination to go, Maikel van der Vleuten and Beauville Z may not have beaten Maher’s time, but his fast round in 38.90 was just what they needed to slip into the bronze slot.
Afterwards, the medalists reflected on a new format that only allowed the top 30 riders to qualify for the individual finals.
Maher commented, “Yesterday it was tough to get qualified with the new format. It’s tough when you get six people in the jump-off. The course had a little bit of everything today. It was fair and big but it caused a lot of trouble for a lot of people.”
That trouble led some of the top riders to retire with too many rails down or refusals that disqualified them.
Yet, this was a happy day for Maher who is in awe of Explosion W. “There is nothing like him. We started a little late this year to try to peak at this time. Never again in my lifetime will I ride a horse like Explosion. The owners made it possible to keep him for me for this moment. He is a phenomenal horse. He is more of an athlete then just another horse and the speed that he can go is just another level. He just has so many gears. I can’t explain it. He has a huge stride and I don’t have to slow down to jump the jumps.”
“It’s a new format but it’s the same for everybody,” he continued. “I think yesterday to qualify was tough. I prefer the team first but I’m quite happy right now so I wouldn’t change anything this week.”
Fredericson was pleased with the design of the course noting, “I thought the course designer did a wonderful job and asked all the right questions.”
For Fredricson this silver medal had a similar feel as five years earlier he had also won the silver on the same horse at the Rio Olympic Games. COVID and other things interfered with All In’s training schedule and so it was only recently that he got to be in the shape he needed to be in to be able to compete in these Games but upon reflection he commented, “Sometimes it’s good to catch an Olympic Games on the way up rather than on the way down.”
Maikel agreed with the others saying, “It was hard to go clear today but I think we saw fantastic sport in the jump-off. I got Beauville when he was 7 years old. I developed him in a quiet way. He is still young and I came here with no expectations. It is a horse that really fights for me. I think we support each other very well. Now I am sure that a horse with a good mentality you can get to where you want in this sport.”
Three special horses and three incredibly talented riders showed what it takes to win a medal at these Olympic Games in the new format.
Unfortunately, that new format also lost some of the top riders including all three American riders. Along with many of the others who competed in that first round, they too had the misfortune of dropping rails, despite putting in good performances. Jessica Springsteen rode Don Juan van de Donkhoeve to an excellent powerful round but downed one rail.
Kent Farrington and Gazelle followed in his hoof steps and just the slightest touch on one of the rails gave him the four faults that left them out of the individual finals.
For Laura Kraut it looked like she might be the only one to make it clear but as she headed down the final line, she left two rails down in the process.
Sometimes it just happens and while they were all disappointed not to make it into the individual finals they were not disappointed with their horses. They had jumped well and clean for most of their rounds but this time luck just wasn’t with them.
There is still the team finals to go with the qualifier on August 6th and the finals on August 7th which would help call and end to these Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games with a closing ceremony on August 8. So, there’s still hope for the Americans to prove they still have what it takes.