Great Britain made history and took home the Olympic gold in London in the team competition. This was Great Britain’s first Olympic jumping gold since 1952, and the first Olympic jumping team medal in 28 years – the last came in Los Angeles in 1984. Not only was the gold historic, it was also much longed for – not to forget extremely deserved after amazing performances from Nick Skelton and Big Star (Quick Star x Nimmerdor), Ben Maher and Tripple X (Namelus R x Cantango), Scott Brash and Hello Sanctos (Quasimodo VD Molendreef x Nabab de Reve) and Peter Charles aboard Vindicat (Guidam x Libero H) through what ended up to be three rounds of team competition. After a thrilling jump-off – almost too much to bear – between Great Britain and The Netherlands, the latter had to settle for silver as three of the British riders rode clears and two of the Dutch had poles down. The bronze went to Saudi Arabia, after great performances from the entire team.
After yesterday’s first round of the team competition, Saudi Arabia was in the lead on a single time fault. They were followed by four teams on four faults; Great Britain, The Netherlands, Sweden and Switzerland. Canada trailed just behind on five penalties. It was to be a close battle between Great Britain, The Netherlands and Saudi Arabia though – and the rest of the teams could not quite follow, although Switzerland came close.
Home hero Nick Skelton opened up today’s competition for the British team with an amazing clear round on Big Star. The stallion looked better than ever and made light work of the very technical thirteen fence track build by Bob Ellis, causing the crowds to explode as they crossed the finish line on a clean sheet. Nick will definitely have to live with being a favorite for the individual medals after the three days of competition so far.
Unlike Great Britain, the Dutch team did not have the best start when Jur Vrieling and Bubalu (Baloubet du Rouet x Nimmerdor) had a foot in the water and the first element of the triple combination down and ended on eight faults. Jur was certainly not the only one that had to see poles fall though; only five of the thirty team riders managed to leave the fences intact. Favorites such as Rich Fellers and Rolf-Göran Bengtsson were among those who had fences down.
The neatly designed track was very demanding, and consisted of an open water at fence four followed by a line to a vertical, then there was a huge triple combination at 7a, b and c before the trickiest line of the day arrived with an oxer at fence eight on a distance to a vertical-oxer combination at 9a and b, the second element being 1.70 wide, again followed by an either four or five stride distance to a vertical before a gigantic oxer awaited at fence eleven with its 155 x 180 before the last line with a huge 1.60 gate at fence twelve on a line to the final oxer.
Saudi Arabia’s first rider HRH Prince Abdullah Al Saud opened up well on Davos (Carthago Z x Pericles XX). After being clear throughout the two first days in London, the prince had to see the b-element of the combination fall to the ground though – and the excitement started to build up. It got no less exciting by the end of the time that all the second riders had been in the arena in Greenwich Park. Ben Maher and Tripple X certainly build up the tension when the vertical at fence ten fell to the ground, and then had to see Maikel van der Vleuten on Verdi (Quidam de Revel x Landgraf) ride a fantastic clear for the Dutch team. When Kamal Bahamdan and the wonderful mare Noblesse des Tess (Cumano x Irak E) had 9b down and a time penalty, it all became a very close race.
Scott Brash must have had the best feeling in the world today, when he crossed the finish line on a zero penalty score on Hello Sanctos. Yesterday the last fence fell for Scott, but today a determined Brash kept it together all the way and redeemed himself – helping Britain one step closer to the gold. Brash was followed by Marc Houtzager – who like Nick – posted his third clear of the Olympics on Tamino (Numero Uno x Farmer), putting pressure on Saudi Arabia’s third rider Ramzy Al Duhami on Bayard van de Villa Theresa (Kashmir van Schuttershof x Camus) to produce a clear to keep the Saudis’ in the fight for the gold. Unfortunately for Ramzy, he came on a far too big stride into the combination and the oxer at the b-element could not be cleared – leaving him with four faults.
At the best, with the last riders to come, the Saudi Arabian team could be left at nine penalties – while the Dutch and the British team could reach a jump-off at four penalties if both last riders were clear. But in showjumping, nothing is settled until the last fence has been jumped – and today was no exception and there were to be no more clears in this round from the riders of the teams fighting for the medals.
As Peter Charles and Vindicat entered the packed arena – flooded in sunlight and Jacks for the occasion – one could hear a pin drop. How one rider can stand such pressure, is almost impossible to understand – but Charles did a great round and it looked like another clear would be posted until the big white gate at fence twelve fell. With a time penalty as well, Charles’ score was discharged and Britain ended on an eight penalty score.
Then it was Gerco and London’s (Nabab de Reve x Chin Chin) turn. A clear and the gold would go to The Netherlands. But Gerco made it all the more exciting, and took the middle element of the triple combination with him. With Jur’s result discharged, it was tied between Great Britain and Holland. Although Pius Schwizer and Carlina (Carvallo x Landgraf I) did a great effort for Switzerland as last to go for their team with a clear round, there was nothing to do about the Saudis and the Swiss team had to settle for fourth on sixteen penalties. When Abdullah Sharbatly had one down and two time penalties, his score was discharged and the bronze went to Saudi Arabia on fourteen penalties.
So, the Olympic gold was to be determined by a jump-off. All riders had to go for both teams, with three of four results counting – forcing time to separate if the teams ended on the same score. The track was shortened to eight fences, and included a combination as the penultimate challenge before a stretch to the final Tower Bridge-fence.
Nick and Big Star opened the jump-off, and yet again this amazing pair posted a clear round. Nick was fast as well, using Big Star’s ground-covering canter to his advantage. When Nick crossed the finish line on 47.27, the stands literary exploded. The pressure was on, and the Dutch had to deliver. Jur did exactly that, and redeemed himself after his eight faults with a great clear on Bubalu stopping the clock at 48.54.
The game was on when Ben Maher entered the arena, and this time around Tripple X left all the fences intact celebrating a clear round surrounded by the patriotic British supporters in an ocean of Jacks. It was a relieved Ben that left the arena, knowing that he had done his job. Then came Maikel and Verdi, but the pair had an unfortunate two fences down on their way around giving the Brits an advantage. When Scott Brash and Hello Sanctos had the vertical at fence two down, and Marc and Tamino saw the b-element of the combination fall it was all down to Peter Charles. A clear from him would mean that Britain had won the gold. The 52 year old rider kept it together and rode a beautiful clear on Vindicat, and whatever disappointment Charles must have felt on Wednesday when he had two down was now replaced by Olympic gold fever! An amazing performance from Charles secured the gold, and the crowds went off the hooks along with it – celebrating the home heroes who all entered the arena to embrace Peter. It was a fairytale ending in London and a great day for the sport!
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