New Zealand is still in the hunt for an Olympic eventing medal after an eventful day of cross country at Sea Forest in Tokyo.
While the Brits are in a class of their own at the top of both the team and individual leaderboards, there is some heated competition for silver and bronze, with New Zealand sitting in fourth place on 104 penalty points, with Australia in second on 96.2 and France in third on 97.1.
Oliver Townend (GBR) and Ballaghmor Class lead the individual stakes too on 23.6, with Julia Krajewski (GER) aboard Amande de B’Neville on 25.6, Laura Collett (GBR) with London 52 on 25.8 and Tim Price on Vitali sitting on 26.8.
Derek di Grazia’s cross country course lived up to the hype with just seven combinations coming home clear and inside time. The course had been shortened to 7.45 minutes due to the heat, which was a crucial factor for many, with a number nursing home very tired horses. The new format of just three riders and no drop scores put the pressure on all to make it home safely, however, there were two retirements and 10 eliminations on course. It was a beautifully presented and very compact cross country.
Olympic chef d’equipe Graeme Thom said it had been a good day for the Kiwis. “We jumped all three horses clear with a little bit of extra time on one but still stuck to the plan,” he said.
“We are still in the hunt, in fourth place. The trepidation around Derek’s course was well-founded. He produced a fantastic day of sport and true competition. We take our hats off to the Brits for being so strong, but everybody else is in a real battle for silver and bronze and hopefully things will go our way tomorrow.”
Graeme heaped praise on the support team who had been working tirelessly over the past 24 hours and he was proud too of the riders who had stepped up and done exactly what was asked of them.
World no.2 Tim Price said it was a full on cross country, and particularly for his young horse Vitali. “It felt fast and furious with lots of big jobs just around the corner,” he said. “It hits them in the face which is always a little bit of a risk for a young horse because they come up the hill and even though you have warmed up over some fences, it sort of dawns on them that this is actually a cross country day – not another training day – and it looks like it is a pretty serious day at the office so they have to absorb all that in two minutes before you start.”
But Vitali had coped extremely well and Tim said he couldn’t have been prouder. The combination added just 1.2 time penalties to their dressage score, to finish the day on 26.8.
“Out here you just had to keep squeezing because with 7.45 minutes, you haven’t got time to give them an easy couple of minutes. I had to ask quite a lot of a young horse in the first couple of minutes it felt like. He coped with it remarkably well – that is why I had the faith in him and the confidence in him too. He is an athlete . . . it is his athleticism that keeps coming to the fore.”
The much talked about and anticipated heat continued to be a big factor at the Games but Tim said it had been amazingly managed by all the teams as well as at the facilities at the equestrian centre.
Anchor Tim said all the Kiwi horses had pulled up well and he praised teammate Jesse Campbell who he said had nursed Diachello home “beautifully”. “He showed a true masterclass on how to bring a tired horse home and safely – these horses should all recover well in the night and we just want them to come out and jump well tomorrow.”
His plan was to “go and have a good jump for the team”. “Anything on top would be an absolute bonus.”
Jonelle felt Grovine de Reve had given her a lovely ride en route to a clear round with just two penalty points added to the score to finish in 12th place on 32.7. “He is quite experienced now. I have had him for two years. We have formed a really good partnership over that time,” she said.
“He perhaps wasn’t the fastest horse when I first got him but he has done nothing but improve and while I thought we weren’t going to be the fastest of the day I was hoping we would be close or thereabouts. I would have liked to have been five seconds faster but I am happy with that.”
She had team orders to take the long route at the coffin but says she would have had happily “popped through”. “There is so much at stake now with three on a team and it is all about consistency as we showed in the dressage. If we can have three rounds like that today, then hopefully we will be there or thereabouts still.” Jonelle felt the course had ridden as the team had expected.
Jesse was grateful he had done plenty of gym training in the build-up to the Games as he needed “every bit of stamina” to get his horse home. “It is a lot hotter than we have encountered in the days leading up to this. It is really hot out there. It is tough.”
“Up to about five minutes, the ride was exactly how I planned it,” he said. “We all knew we would be down on time but would have some galloping stretches. I nearly got onto my five minute marker and then the heat just hit my horse and we went from full tank to not much.
With the three in the team it was really important to finish. I just had to nurse him as best I could to get home and keep the jumping as could as I could.”
He had always planned to take the long option at the coffin but said his focus was to give Diachello as much support as possible. “It wasn’t the prettiest round that I wanted to have but I just had to get the job done.” Jesse added 14.4 time penalties to his score for a final tally of 44.5 in 27th spot.
Defending Olympic champ Michael Jung (GER) and Chipmunk FRH picked up a surprising 11 penalties for a pin which dropped them individually from first to 10th and the team from second to sixth.
Tomorrow’s second horse inspection could be very interesting, given the challenge today presented them all.
By Diana Dobson – HP Media Liaison
Photos by Libby Law/ESNZ