The story after the dressage phase of eventing was all about Olympic and World Equestrian Games gold medalist, Germany’s Michael Jung on Chipmunk. After two days of dressage and as the next to last of a starting field of 63 starters, no one could beat the low score of 23.60 set by Great Britain’s Oliver Townend riding Ballaghmor Class. They were the second competitors to go on the first day.
Townend’s score held until Jung entered the arena as it was clear Jung’s winning pattern would continue. A smooth and accurate ride with no bobbles gave Jung the overall lead with penalty points of only 21.10. Not only did that put Jung in the lead but it moved the German team up to second (80.40), with Great Britain leading (78.30) and New Zealand in the bronze medal position (86.40) heading into the cross- country phase.
Another strong performance early on the first day was put in by China’s Alex Hua Tian aboard Don Geniro. Their penalty points of only 23.90 garnered them the bronze medal position when the dressage phase was concluded.
Team USA—It Will Be a Fight to the Finish
Team USA all put in stellar dressage performances with penalty points in the low 30s and while they stand 8th out of the 15 countries competing, their goal will be to avoid time penalties and to finish the course. Team USA includes Doug Payne on Vandiver (33 penalty points) third in the order to go. Phillip Dutton and Z (30.50) will be 27th in the order. Martin and Tsetserleg TSF (31.10), the horse he won gold on at the Pan Am Games in Peru in 2019, will head out on the course in the 51st position. Jung will be the next to last competitor in #62 who will face the challenge of the course.
After his test Phillip was not disappointed and said, “I couldn’t be more proud of him. Traditionally he gets a bit more revved up in the bigger stadiums and the big arenas and he was right on the money today. He was up there listening to me and really obedient. That was a pleasure to be a part of.”
Payne was equally happy noting, “I think this is as well as he’s ever done. I think it is a difficult test for him, everything comes up really quick and he was about as settled as he’s been in quite a long time. He’s got a massive heart and he always tries his bet and for that you have to be thankful and appreciative.”
Martin was a little disappointed noting, “We had great work in there,” but in between those great moments were a couple of transition bobbles where he misunderstood Martin. “It was some great moments and some disastrous. You come here wanting to give your personal best. The cross country is so difficult tomorrow. It’s so hard to get the time. I think we are in with a chance if we can deliver three good rounds.”
Team USA has done it before and with a tough road ahead for everyone and not just them, anything is possible, especially if they do deliver those three good rounds.
Jung and Chipmunk Are Ready
Always a straight shooter, Jung was clearly thrilled with their score and with the fact that it would help him to maintain his lead if all went well in the cross-country phase. The course is a bit shorter than most championship courses, with 23 jumps but will easily test the strength of those attempting to beat the course. Mother Nature in Japan means hot and humid weather and conditions that most of these horses are not used to, but Jung’s confidence shined when asked about his thoughts going into cross-country.
“I am very very happy,” commented Jung about his ride and Chipmunk. “He left me with a very good feeling. It was a very good partnership. Today it was a much better feeling than last year.”
Jung explained that part of his strategy was to better understand his horse and vice versa. “We work every day together and get information about each other. He’s very nice to ride.”
When asked about his plan for the cross-country Jung remarked, “You have to be very focused and concentrate and work with your partner. I think we have a very good starting position. Things like the weather you can’t control. You have to be sure you have a plan but decide what works for you.”
In a way, Jung is hoping that the birthday he couldn’t celebrate the day before will wait for a post celebration, if he should achieve his goal of winning a medal.
Overall, Jung concluded, “I am very happy and thankful for Chipmunk. He is a very powerful show jumper.”
Jung has done a bit of competing in the show jumping arena, but it’s not because he is tiring of eventing but rather that Germany doesn’t offer many eventing competitions, and this gives him more time to compete.
“When you get a new horse you find out what is favorite for that horse,” he explained noting that it gives him more options but also, “it’s a nice change.”
A Challenging Cross-Country Course
The competition ahead is not for the faint of heart. There have been a lot of decisions that were made to ensure that this cross-country course allows the riders to finish. Cooling fans, long straight gallops between fences rather than tiring loops, and care to keep an eye on the horses and be ready to cool them down when they finish, all have been at the top of the list of making sure this Olympic cross-country event is safe for both horse and rider.
The cross-country course will begin with 62 combinations from an initial group of 65. This combines both the team and individual riders. The cross-country start time is 7:45 and the riders will cover 4420 meters which would require a speed of 570 meters per minute in order not to end up with time penalties. The time allowed is 7:46 minutes, with an outside time limit of 15:30 minutes. To get all the horses through the course during the coolest part of the morning the interval between horses has been shortened to 3 minutes (it’s normally 5 minutes). As mentioned, there are 23 jumps in all but 36 jumping efforts, which will certainly test the endurance of the horses.
Course designer Derek di Grazia (USA) has been overseeing the construction of this course for close to five years and has done his best to create a course that will challenge the horses and riders while maintaining a safe environment to achieve that goal. If all goes well the last rider will cross the finish line just short of 11:00 and that’s assuming nothing unforeseen happens along the way.