Sarah Carless reports ..
In an exciting finale to the Eventing competition France took team honours whilst Germany’s Michael
Jung took his second successive individual title.
In winning individual Gold, Jung matched the achievements of New Zealand’s Mark Todd who won with Charisma at Los Angeles in 1984 and Seoul in 1988 and Dutchman Pahud de Mortanges who won the title with Marcroix 1928 and 1932 when making it a back-to-back individual Olympic Eventing golds.
After the final horse inspection, forty-six horses came forward to contest the third and final phase. With two show jumping rounds at an Olympic Games deciding first the team, and then the individual medals.
In a cliff-hanger of a contest it came down to the last four into the arena to decide the team result, and it was the defending champions from Germany who claimed silver with Australia slipping from the overnight lead to take the bronze.
The Australians were in charge as the day began, but with only a 4.5 point advantage over New Zealand while the French were just 6.2 further adrift and the Germans stalking the leading pack the pressure was on. France was the only one of the leading sides to go into the closing phase with a four-member team and in the end that proved the clincher.
Australia’s grip on the lead was severely undermined by a cricket score for their opener, Stuart Tinney, whose horse Pluto Mio knocked down four fences and also went over the time allowed to collect a very expensive 17 faults. This dropped them into bronze medal spot, and left New Zealand out in front despite a single mistake from opener Jonelle Price with Faerie Dianimo. The French were already looking very comfortable after fabulous rounds from both Karim Laghouag with Entebbe and Thibaut Vallette riding Qing de Briot, but they began to look vulnerable when Mathieu Lemoine’s Bart L got tired towards the end of the track and left two fences on the floor for eight faults.
The Kiwis lead meanwhile was further enhanced by a great clear from Clarke Johnstone and Balmoral Sensation, while the Australians held their ground when Sam Griffiths returned on a zero score with Paulank Brockagh. Their chance of gold was gone, but they would hold onto bronze if the man who has led the individual standings throughout the competition so far, Christopher Burton, could bring Santano II home without incident.
However, the Germans loomed large on the horizon when Sandra Auffarth (Opgun Louvo), Ingrid Klimke (Bob) and Michael Jung (Sam) posted three superb clears to pile the pressure on the three teams ahead of them. The French didn’t flinch, and a foot-perfect run from their fourth rider, Astier Nicolas with Piaf de B’Neville, meant they posted a finishing score of 169.0 penalties.
It was still all to play for as legendary double Olympic gold medallist Mark Todd came in as anchorman for New Zealand, but a heart-wrenching 16 faults with Leonidas ll sent Kiwi chances crashing down. Their finishing score of 178.80 left them almost three penalty points behind the Germans and now only an Australian meltdown could keep them on the podium.
The drama lasted to the very end as Australia’s Burton and Santano II picked up eight faults to round up the Aussie finishing score to 175.30 for bronze, relegating New Zealand to fourth.
“This is fantastic,” a clearly thrilled Astier Nicolas said afterwards. “There was a lot of pressure going into this, and really I just had to do what I could for the team. But even though there was a lot of pressure, I didn’t let it bother me. I really enjoyed my round and I am very happy. It’s just fantastic. It is an immense pleasure to be part of this team that has won gold for France. It is something we have waited for a long time, and it’s amazing!”
After the disappointment of the cross country phase, the British team were looking to deliver some good performances, and they did just that finishing with a display of class in the show jumping arena to finish fifth in the team standings.
Gemma Tattersall with Quicklook V got Team GB off to a great start, as the duo produced a lovely clear round, but were unfortunate to pick up just four time penalties as they crossed the line. Commenting afterwards Gemma said; “I’m so pleased with that. She came out really well this morning and jumped a beautiful clear round. She really tried and I am really happy with her.”
Next up for the British team were Kitty King and Ceylor LAN, who came out with a skip in their step and produced a stunning round, recording a clear inside the time. Kitty said; “It has been a wonderful experience. I have learnt an incredible amount and so has my horse. Not everything went according to plan but that is something which we will learn from, and move on and not dwell on too much. There are a lot of positives to take from this.”
Pippa Funnell and Billy The Biz were the third into the arena and produced some brilliant jumping from the start, producing the second clear round of the day. “It has been disappointing overall but I’m really pleased for the young riders Gemma and Kitty who have performed so well. The way they rode on this stage is really exciting for the future. I was really impressed with them,” commented Pippa.
Highest placed British rider after the cross-country phase, William Fox-Pitt was the final combination to
go for Team GB. With Chilli Morning, the pair showed their quality as they recorded yet another clear round, to move Britain up the team standings from eighth to fifth.
With only the top twenty-five combinations going forward to contest the individual final, it was William
Fox-Pitt who was the sole British representative. William and Chilli again produced a stunning clear round inside the time, to finish their Olympics on a high.
Commenting after, William spoke about his eventing companion; “I think it will be the last time I ride him [at a Championship]. He has been fantastic here; he’s sixteen and he’s done everything I’ve asked of him. It was really great to finish on a good note after the disappointment of cross country. We just didn’t have that luck with us; it was a very strong team and we’ve a fantastic team behind us. We’re very lucky in the UK to have some great support. I think today was rewarding for our whole team.”
Jung came to Rio as the man to beat, with not just team and individual gold from London 2012 on his career record but also the individual world title from 2010 and team gold in 2014 along with three consecutive double-European titles.
But the defence of his London 2012 title didn’t get off to the perfect start as he and Sam FBW had to settle for fifth place after the opening dressage phase, but a sensational cross-country run with the 16-year-old Sam moved him up into second.
Having contributed to his country’s team silver medal winning performance in the first show jumping sessions, Jung moved into pole position and couldn’t be toppled. And in a nail-biting finale, it was French team gold medallist Nicolas Astier who took the silver with Piaf de B’Neville, while America’s Philip Dutton and Mighty Nice moved up from fourth to take the bronze.
Australia’s Burton had already dropped to third as the individual final action began with the top 25 jumping in reverse order of merit, and two fences down cost him a podium placing, allowing Dutton to move up the order. The 52-year-old American made just one mistake with the aptly-named Mighty Nice to post a final score of 51.8.
Frenchman Astier Nicolas was lying in silver medal spot having helped secure team gold for his country. An uncharacteristically wild jump at the third fence added four jumping penalties and two time faults, but even though that moved their score line up to 48.0 they still held the lead as Jung returned to the arena.
The German made nothing of the pressure to add no penalties to his first day dressage score of 40.9 to reclaim his Olympic title with a winning margin of 7.1 penalties – the biggest winning margin in Eventing since the Barcelona 1992 Olympics when Australia’s Matt Ryan and Kibah Tic Toc won by a margin of 11.2.
Of his win Jung said: “It was an awesome day – it could not have gone better. I am very proud that we were able to bring these first medals for the German sport. It’s the second time to win with Sam and that makes it even more special, I couldn’t be more proud of him. He is so strong, on the cross-country he can run every hill, jump every fence but in show jumping he’s very nervous and it’s hard for him to concentrate. He jumped better in the second round than in the first.”
With two medals from the Eventing competition Nicolas commented: “It’s been a long wait to bring team gold back to France and victory tastes good today. I was lucky my horse felt very good even if he was tired after the cross-country. In the first round I knew I had to jump clear for us to win, and that’s why I was not so good in the second round – it was just bad riding! My horse has been bought by a good owner of mine who then built a syndicate for him, with family and friends, so it’s amazing to have an owner as a team-mate. We have only nice people around him and he is the horse of my life, a good friend for me and a very nice person!”
Bronze medal winner Dutton commented: “I wasn’t actually expecting medal today. I was pretty happy with fourth. But now I’m pretty ecstatic about third. It’s been a great weekend for the horse. It’s a great achievement for him. The guy who owned him, Bruce Duchossois, would be proud of him.
So pleased with the horse, I don’t think I’ve had a horse with a bigger heart. He genuinely loves the sport.”