As I told you on Tuesday, Italy’s Lorenzo de Luca was definitely one of the favorites for an individual show jumping medal at the FEI World Equestrian Games. And sure enough, today he jumped from ninth to first after a precision round at the Tryon International Equestrian Center with the eye-catching dark dapple gray, Irenice Horta.
Right behind him is the USA’s star, McLain Ward, who handled both pressure and the flamboyant Clinta to boost himself six places in the standings. He had a single time penalty—Clinta has such wings that she spends a bit of extra time in the air. But his effort, along with a gutsy 1-time penalty trip by his student, Adrienne Sternlicht, and a round marred only by a 4-fault error at the water from Devin Ryan, moved the U.S. from fourth after Wednesday’s class to second place. And now they can take aim at the gold.
U.S. fortunes were totally invested in McLain’s anchor trip, and the tension seemed to shimmer in the air from anxious American supporters around the huge U.S. Trust Arena. I watched while sitting next to trainer Katie Monahan Prudent, who has ridden on many teams over the decades. She practically rode on this one too—Katie was taking every fence with McLain, which did nothing to ease my tension. As he crossed the finish line and all the rails stayed in place, we heaved a collective sigh of relief, with the Stars and Stripes enthusiastically popping into evidence around the grandstands.
Alan Wade’s intriguing course included not only a water jump after a delicate orange skinny fence, but also a liverpool, as well as the expected double and triple combinations.
Analyzing his round on Clinta, McLain said, “When I turned to the liverpool (at the end of the ring) she definitely was trying very hard. I wanted to do the add (an extra stride) to the very difficult last double, which, as big a jumper as she is, I knew was going to be difficult, but I thought it was the right choice. And she jumped the triple bar so big… I started to run out of room…Her athleticism there was pretty incredible. We didn’t give up and she didn’t give up and jumped out actually easily and finished up great,” said McLain.
Once again, it was near 90 degrees and humid today, but McLain is never a victim of the weather. He understandably looked a bit tired after his ride, but as always, he was happy to share his thoughts and answer questions until we ran out of things to ask. Click on this video to hear what he had to say.
Today’s competition among the 10 best teams of the 23 nations that started here will decide not only the medals, but also the top six teams that will earn a berth at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. The Swiss stayed in first place with 11.64 penalties, even though Steve Guerdat—the winner on Wednesday—had a rail with Bianca. The U.S. is right there with 12.59 penalties, while Germany took a big leap from eighth to third, though it’s further back with 18.09 penalties.
Adrienne had a rather rocky round with the exceptional mare, Cristalline, in Wednesday’s class, but today they were totally in sync, aided by a change of bit and McLain’s coaching. He’s not into diplomacy.
“Adrienne stepped up brilliant today,” he commented, while noting “I yelled at her yesterday. She’s tough. The reason I was confident to stand behind her selection to this team is that I knew she could take pressure. This isn’t amateur hour, people’s lives are changed by this. She was ready. She was a little green and a little frozen yesterday. I was very clear I was not impressed. Today she came roaring back as I know she can and was as good as any rider in the world.”
Always mindful of how important her pre-ride routine is, Adrienne had her sports psychologist on hand and also took several other measures to make sure her mind was in the right place. Listen to her talk about it by clicking on this video.
McLain is very confident Devin will jump clean tomorrow, saying he had been unlucky. Devin understandably was disappointed about his trip. His Eddie Blue jumps so well, but water can be tricky, and he’s never faulted at a water jump before. To hear how Devin analyzed it, click on this video.
The U.S. drop score of eight faults belonged to Laura Kraut and Zeremonie. The mare had a rail at the skinny orange jump, and then tipped the last fence as well. “She touched it so lightly that I didn’t know I had it until I heard the crowd moan. And the last fence as well…she must have just hardly rolled it. As disappointed as I am…I can’t be disappointed in her because I think she did just a great job,” said Laura. “The show jumping gods just weren’t with her today.”
Interestingly, over the years we have seen only a few women, such as Meredith Michaels Beerbaum, on the German squad. Today, however, women made the difference in their country’s fortunes. Simone Blum, riding DSP Alice, had the first fault-free trip. Hers was one of only five zero-penalty performances in a field of 119 starters. Her teammate, Laura Klaphake (almost a dead ringer for U.S. dressage rider Laura Graves, by the way) had just a single time penalty while the squad’s usual strongman, Marcus Ehning, toppled two rails with Pret a Tout.
“I feel very honored to be part of the German team, especially to be on the team with Marcus,” said Laura, 24, who has never been on a global championship squad before.
“When I was a child, I was watching him always on television, and now I can say I’m on the same team, so I’m very pleased about it.”
Back to Lorenzo de Luca. I watched him finish third on Irenice in the Longines International Grand Prix of Dublin last month, and was really impressed at the partnership, though it’s fairly new.
The three-member Italian team was not a threat, because one member was eliminated, so the Lorenzo goes on without the squad. The rider, who competes in the stylish uniform of the Italian Air Force (of course it’s stylish; what else would you expect from the Italians?) got the horse from Zoe Conter. She’s the daughter of the owner of Stephex Stables, for which he rides, but when she fell off in Rome, they handed the horse over to the pro.
This is only his fifth show with the mare, but since Alan Wade also designed in Dublin, Lorenzo said, “I had a feeling I could do it here."
Medals will be awarded after tomorrow’s competition, and then there is a rest day Saturday before the final individual competition on Sunday—being done for the first time without the Final Four in which riders changed horses. “The sport has changed,” said McLain, and objections to the concept included having someone who doesn’t know an extremely expensive horse riding it, as well as the fact that it’s too much jumping for the horses after their previous difficult rounds.
Visit this link for the individual standings.
Visit this link for the team standings