Daniel Meech has made it through to the individual jumping final at the Tokyo Olympic Games after a nail-biting wait to see if he would make the top 30 of the 73-strong class tonight. Daniel and Cinca 3 rode a beautiful clear, picking up two time penalties to qualify at number 30 on a balmy summer evening at the stunning Equestrian Park . Twenty-five combinations were clear, with four on one time fault and Daniel on two.
The Santiago Varela (ESP) designed course looked stunning with jumps honouring the 2016 Rio Games and included a tip of the hat to sumo wrestling, Japanese cherry blossoms and more.
Combinations jumped in team groups, with just four clears coming in the first 18 starters. But then, people started to find a rhythm – the good made it look easy, while others highlighted the technicality of a big course. Clears started to flow from the next 20, with 11 leaving all the rails up and coming home inside time. It started to look as though time was going to be the decider from an over-subscribed crew of jumpers. In the end though, it worked out fine.
Daniel, who is New Zealand’s best-placed individual showjumper to date with his 12th place finish at the Athens Games in 2004, was ecstatic with his princess-like grey mare. “It is really exciting,” he said. “I can’t wait for tomorrow (night’s final). Hopefully Cinca comes out raring to go and then we can go for it.”
The course, when walked, had not seemed particularly tricky but Daniel said that certainly changed when in the arena. “It was a real gutsy course. Already number one is quite a bold jump and the horses are really looking at the lights and everything – it is a big event. Then the treble, they really have to fight in there to come out. The triple bar away from the gate is a huge jump away from the gate and is about 1.65m I think. It just keeps coming. It is a real gutsy fighter course. You have to be very on it – it is not just a matter of going out there and riding around nice!”
But he couldn’t be prouder of Cinca. “This is the biggest occasion she has ever done for sure – she has never seen anything like this.” He knew time could be a slight issue because she was spending so much time on the jump, so when I was landing I was starting again all the time.”
He felt the course was fitting for the Olympic Games. “I wouldn’t expect anything less and you see the top horses and riders are making it look pretty straight forward. It is a real good rider horse test – there is no give out there, and this is what we are here for.”
The evening didn’t go so well for New Zealand’s other two combinations, with Bruce Goodin and Backatorps Danny picking up 13 faults and debutant Uma O’Neill, with her stallion Clockwise of Greenhill Z finishing on 17.
Bruce felt Danny had started well with the first half of the course going to plan, but then coming around to the plank before the water, things went a little haywire. “The distance went away from me and I had to either go for the big one or try and make one up and I figured it was too short to try and make one up to a 1.6m vertical so I went for the big one, he wasn’t quite there with me and we chipped and that really screwed up the rhythm for the rest of the round.”
Bruce said he was happy to come home with just one more down when it could have really “fallen apart”. “I am not happy with the round , especially because he was jumping so great. He really felt like he was going to jump a clean round today.”
He was impressed with the course. “It is not a killer, but it is big and testing and there are a lot of tricks to it. There is certainly a lot of technical aspects to the course that need precise riding and there are a lot of great riders and horses here, as you would expect. The course has to be tough.
“Danny was really jumping out of his skin today and that is what makes it even more annoying because it really felt like the preparation coming into here and the warmup had all been good. At this level this is the fine line between good and not.”
Uma also had a tough round. “It is a big track tonight. It is my first Olympic Games. I felt quite good warming up and had a good start but was a little bit deep to number three and he had it down. He jumped beautifully some of the hardest parts of the course, through the triple combination and felt great over the triple bar,” she said.
“It is hot out here and he naturally sweats a lot and my reins got extremely slick at the end and I had some unfortunate faults, just not able to keep my reins up and stay in position. That was really unfortunate and disappointing but it is part of the sport.”
However, she heaped praise on the stallion. “He is an incredible horse. I have had him seven years now and it has been an amazing partnership.”
The Individual Final gets underway tonight (Wednesday 4th August) at 9.55pm NZ time on Sky Sport chanel 58.
By Diana Dobson – HP Media Liaison
Photos by Libby Law/ESNZ