From start to finish they were the best combination in the individual final at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio: Nick Skelton and Big Star posted the first double clear of the day, and as pathfinders in the jump-off they were not to be caught. The 58-year-old British rider, that has struggled with the 13-year-old stallion’s fitness since the British team gold at the 2012 Olympic Games, showed everybody how the oldest are the wisest today when he left no room for error for those to come in the six-horse jump-off that unfolded after the two individual rounds.
After a week where the margins have not been on their side, Skelton and Big Star (Quick Star x Nimmerdor) posted the first clear in round one of the individual final – and it was a picture perfect one. However, Skelton pointed out after his round that the stallion has been feeling somehow rusty during the Games: "He is coming into his comfort zone now, hopefully. But he has been rusty. He has not really jumped a course as big as the other day since he won the Grand Prix in Aachen, Germany in 2013. So he has been off for two years and I think he was a bit rusty.”
As many would do after him, Nick opted for seven strides from the third last oxer to the penultimate vertical and then four short to the final upright. “I looked at it last night - just saw it, did not actually walk it - and I thought it looked very big. And then, when I did walk it, I did not think it was so bad. But then, having ridden it now, I think it rode bigger than it walked," said Skelton after about the first round track set by Guilherme Jorge – who has received much praise for his clever course building in Rio.
In addition to the water jump at fence five, the upright that followed after at fence six as well as the triple combination at seven with an oxer, oxer, vertical – it was the last line that caused the most trouble in round one. Riders had to chose between either six forward or seven short strides from a 1.80m wide oxer to a 1.60m vertical followed by four very tight strides to the final and very optically neutral upright measuring 1.62m. Those who could not get their horses on the hind end here or just got a bit out of balance, paid the cost to see the last vertical fall to the ground. Among it’s victims was Luciana Diniz (POR), who rode an otherwise picture perfect round on Fit For Fun (For Pleasure x Fabriano), Tiffany Foster (CAN) on Tripple X III (Namelus R x Cantango Z), Ali Yousef Al Rumaihi (QAT) on Gunder (Thunder van de Zuuthoeve x Randel Z) as well as Maikel van der Vleuten (NED) on Verdi (Quidam de Revel x Landgraf I).
Among others that were extremely unlucky was Harrie Smolders (NED), who rode a fantastic round on Emerald (Diamant de Semilly x Carthago) – but that had to see the back pole on the first oxer falling to the ground. Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum (GER) did not have her best of days, and paddled through the very same fence on Fibonacci (For Feeling x Corland) to jump one more and then retire the white gelding.
In the end, thirteen riders and horses jumped clear rounds: Eric Lamaze (CAN) and Fine Lady 5 (Forsyth x Drosselklang II) continued their flawless performing, as did Peder Fredricson (SWE) and All In (Kashmir van Schuttershof x Fortune), Kent Farrington (USA) and Voyeur (Tolano Van´t Riethof x Goodwill) as well as Roger Yves Bost (FRA) and Sydney Une Prince (Baloubet du Rouet x Alfa d’Elle). Also keeping all the fences in tact were Daniel Deusser (GER) and First Class van Eeckelghem (Balou du Rouet x Feinschnitt I van de Richter), Christian Ahlmann (GER) and Taloubet Z (Galoubet A x Polydor) – that showed off with a picture perfect round making the final line look easy, Sheikh Ali Al Thani (QAT) and First Devision (Andiamo x Perhaps vh Molenvondel), Sergio Alvarez Moya (ESP) on a very well jumping Carlo (Contender x Cascavelle), reigning Olympic Champions Steve Guerdat (SUI) on a sky high Nino des Buissonnets (Kannan x Narcos II), Martin Fuchs (SUI) and Clooney (Cornet Obolensky x Ferragamo), double World and European Champions Jeroen Dubbeldam (NED) and Zenith (Rash R x Fuego du Prelet), Edwina Tops-Alexander (AUS) and Lintea Tequila (Campbell x Corrado II) in addition to Skelton and Big Star. It was quality through and through with world class-combinations showing off their skills.
With two riders on a time penalty and twelve on four faults also in for round two it was bound to get tight and anything could happen.
The first to post a clear over the second round track would be Luciana Diniz, who with her performance finished on a four fault score overall. Pedro Veniss (BRA) recorded just a time fault, to end on five points which was also the case for Ali Yousef Al Rumaihi. McLain Ward did a superb clear, and finished on four – equal to Diniz, as did Doda de Miranda (BRA). When Matias Albarracin (ARG) and Cannavaro 9 (Cornet Obolensky x Florestan I) did their second round with only a time penalty however, they took over the lead and the pressure was on – there was no room for error in any way for those to come.
Just one rider later however, the first double clear was posted – courtesy of Nick Skelton and Big Star. It looked like double World and European Champion Jeroen Dubbeldam would join in on Zenith, but the time allowed was to be in their way by a tiny 0.02 seconds – leaving the Dutch rider out of the eventual medal-battle.
Many of the horses ran empty in round two, over the huge ten fence track. Nino des Buissonnets was not one of them, and he bounced around with Guerdat to go double clear – securing a jump-off and a possibility to defend their 2012 individual gold. One rider later, Qatar’s Sheikh Ali Al Thani made history for his country to join Skelton and Guerdat after some impressive riding that visualized in a double clear round.
The two German candidates fell out of medal contention after a pole down each, as did French team champion Bosty – but America’s Kent Farrington showed he was up for one more medal after Wednesday’s team silver and jumped another impressive round on Voyeur that brought his number of clear rounds in Rio up to five. As did Peder Fredricson, who again displayed his amazing light and horse-friendly riding on All In – bringing the jump-off number to five riders. And, when 2008 Olympic Champion Eric Lamaze went clear again on Fine Lady 5 to join in – everybody knew that this was going to be very, very fast.
Already at the second oxer in the jump-off, Big Star showed that he was far from tired – jumping sky high. With a great turn to the third vertical, and an inside turn to the combination formerly set as 9ab and again flying over the gigantic 1.80m wide oxer at the former number ten it looked like the pair was about to set a clear. Skelton then got a fantastic angle to the penultimate vertical – just leaving it intact, before clearing the final oxer to stop the clock at 42.82 seconds.
“He is a quick horse anyway. I definitely had to go clear to add a bit of pressure on everybody else. Today luck was on my side," said Skelton afterwards about his jump-off tactics.
Disbelief followed when reigning Olympic Champions Steve Guerdat and Nino des Buissonnets had the rail on the first vertical down after a light touch, leaving them on four faults and a time of 43.08 seconds. Sheikh Ali Al Thani gave it a go, but had two down on his way and Kent Farrington suffered the same faith as Guerdat when Voyeur touched the top rail on number one and then had a pole on the last oxer as well.
Peder Fredricson and All In have impressed everybody during these Games, and today was no different as the two went clear again slotting in 0.53 seconds behind Nick to occupy the silver medal position. As the only pair during the Games the two have been clear in every single round in Rio, a fantastic achievement.
As last to go, Eric Lamaze gave it his all on Fine Lady 5 – but although blistering fast the mare caught the penultimate 1.60 upright with her hind legs and when the two crossed the finish line it was on four faults and the fantastic time of 42.09 seconds which was good enough for bronze leaving Nick Skelton and Big Star to celebrate the first ever individual showjumping gold for Great Britain.
"I have always wanted to do this. I nearly did it in London. To actually win this and be lucky enough to get this horse here is pretty emotional for everyone in my team," commented Nick.
Text © World of Showjumping // Pictures © Jenny Abrahamsson
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