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Supreme Swedes secure the Olympic gold after cliffhanger competition in Tokyo

Saturday, 07 August 2021
Tokyo Olympic Games

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping The Swedish Olympic team gold medallists: Peder Fredricson, Malin Baryard-Johnsson and Henrik von Eckermann. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.


Text © World of Showjumping



It took a jump-off to decide the team gold medal in Tokyo on Saturday night, and after a cliffhanger of a competition the Swedish riders could finally step to the top of the podium as Olympic champions – following incredible performances from Henrik von Eckermann and King Edward (Edward 28 x Feo), Malin Baryard-Johnsson and Indiana (Kashmir van Schuttershof x Animo’s Hallo) as well as Peder Fredricson and All In (Kashmir van Schuttershof x Andiamo Z). The silver medal went to the USA, and the bronze to Belgium. 

“I think we have three really good riders and three outstanding horses, and we believed in it from the beginning. We all know how small the margins are and that things don’t work out, but still we really believed in it, so it is fantastic that it happened,” Henrik von Eckermann said about the Swedish gold medals. 

“Today was great sport, but not because of the format”

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping In Tokyo, the teams were down to three riders rather than four and USA's Mclain Ward said: "Today was great sport, but not because of the format – but because of the horses and the riders and the competition." Here Sweden, USA and Belgium on the podium celebrating their medals. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

The new Olympic format that has been introduced in Tokyo, has been heavily debated prior to these Games – much in large due to changes such as the individuals being staged before the team competitions where the teams were cut down from four to three members with no drop score, all starting on zero in the final – done by the FEI in the pursuit of opening for more flags competing at the Games. It is likely that the controversy of this format will continue in the aftermath of Tokyo. To illustrate the fairness and welfare concerns that have been voiced by many riders prior to the Games, the Swedes had ahead of tonight’s team final not made one single mistake over their four rounds of competition – which included a jump-off for the individual medals for all three of them. In comparison, the US team finished on a score of 13 in Friday’s qualifier and seeing that none of the American riders qualified for the individual final their horses had a maximum of two rounds in their legs ahead of Saturday’s battle for the medals. 

Mclain Ward – one of USA’s most decorated riders – spoke against the format after tonight’s final, and said: “Today was great sport, but not because of the format – but because of the horses and the riders and the competition. I am not a fan; I personally think the team competition should go first because then when you get to the individual medals it’s really a test of multiple rounds. Not having the drop-score in a sport where we have the variables of another living animal, I think that puts too much pressure on the situation. The idea that there are not drop-scores in other sports in the Olympics is not true, I was watching diving today and they get a certain amount of scores and drop some and keep some. I don’t think it works for our sport and I don’t think it has to be that way, and I hope they take a good look at it because it creates a lot of stress for the horses.”

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping "Not having the drop-score in a sport where we have the variables of another living animal, I think that puts too much pressure on the situation," Mclain Ward said after finishing with the team silver aboard Contagious. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

“Everybody knew the format coming in, so it was not something that was a surprise – we knew with me sitting out the individuals that we had a game plan. And again, it was incredible sport tonight but not because of the format,” Ward continued. 

Henrik von Eckermann was also not convinced about the new format: “We won it today, so of course we say ‘oh, great’ but it’s not great to be fair,” he said. “I think for the horses to have three, I think it was better before with four to be able to have a scratch – that’s my feeling.”

Whether the FEI will take the new format into consideration after these Olympics remains to be seen, although FEI President Ingmar De Vos back in 2019 promised changes if in the interest of the welfare of the horses, the sport and the riders. 

Unexpected twists and turns

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping Laura Kraut and Baloutinue set the standard for the American team with a clear round, helping USA to the silver medal. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

Ten teams had lined up for Saturday’s final, all of them started with a clean sheet – carrying no faults forward from the qualifier. While it all concluded in the spirit of fair play with the most consistent and overall best team winning the gold medal, the road to get there was a long one – and after some unexpected twists and turns, tonight’s final culminated in a jump-off between the Americans and the Swedes. Both teams kicked off the final with strong clear rounds, coming from USA’s Laura Kraut on Baloutinue (Balou du Rouet x Landor S) and Sweden’s Henrik von Eckermann on King Edward – a horse that has not made one single fault throughout the Olympic Games, despite jumping six rounds. France – who had quite a rocky start to the Olympics in the individuals – saw their original reserve rider Simon Delestre post another super round with Berlux Z (Berlin x Major de la Cour), finishing on only a time penalty, breathing the top two teams in their necks. 

When Mathieu Billot and Quel Filou 13 (Quidam's Rubin x Cascavelle) managed to keep all the fences intact to finish on a single time fault, it looked like the 2016 Olympic team champions could be on the way to another medal. For the US team, Jessica Springsteen and Don Juan van de Donkhoeve  (Bamako de Muze x Heartbreaker) – their second pair in the rotation – had an unlucky front pole on the oxer at no. four while Malin Baryard-Johnsson’s Indiana got the front pole of the middle-part of the tripe combination like so many others. This very much turned things around, with France taking the command ahead of Sweden, USA and Belgium – that thanks to a four-fault round from Pieter Devos on Claire Z (Clearway x Coronado) and a clear from the magnificent partnership of Jerome Guery and Quel Homme de Hus (Quidam de Revel x Candillo) was smelling the medals. 

Throughout the Games, Santiago Varela has built tracks that have contributed to exhilarating competitions – and all the medallists were full of praise for the Spanish course designer. Saturday’s 1.65m track for the team final was no exception, and the tricky line from the massive triple bar at fence no. five on six strides to a delicate upright-oxer-upright triple combination proved to be a game changer. The triple bar had a 190cm spread, the middle part of the combination was a Liverpool with a 160cm spread and coming out the vertical was set at 160cm. The last part of the course caused problems too, especially the Japanese Fan combination at 12ab. 

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping Sweden's Malin Baryard-Johnsson and Indiana have been incredible throughout six rounds of competition in Tokyo. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

Another new twist to this final, was the intermediate classification of the teams after the two first riders had jumped – which determined the starting order of each nation’s third athlete. After a break of 20 minutes the anchor riders entered the ring at the Baji Koen stadium, with the team in command – France – going last. 

It all came down to the teams that were sitting in medal position and following an exit from Germany’s Daniel Deusser, who decided to withdraw Killer Queen (Eldorado vd Zeshoek x For Pleasure) after a misunderstanding in the triple combination, as well as two down for Dutch rider Maikel van der Vleuten and Beauville Z (Bustique x Jumpy des Fontaines), it was left to the four top ranked nations to battle it out. 

Belgium’s Gregory Wathelet and Nevados S (Calvados Z x Romualdo) disappointingly had to see two poles fall to the ground, which dropped his team down to twelve faults in total – but the competition was still wide open. Next to go, Mclain Ward delivered another great round on Contagious (Contagio Z x For Keeps) only to see the front pole on the oxer at 11 hit the ground – leaving the US team on a score of eight. That gave both Sweden and France some leverage, but as drama would have it the top pole on the very last Paris 2024 upright fell for Peder Fredricson and All In and suddenly the Swedes were tied with the Americans. It all came down to Penelope Leprevost and Vancouver de Lanlore (Toulon x Le Tot de Semilly), who as last to go were given the ungrateful job of defending the French gold from Rio. It was not to be however as the stallion slammed on the breaks inside the combination at 3b and then once again on 3a on the second try – which meant game over for France and a jump-off between Sweden and USA that would decide the gold medal. 

“The best team won tonight”

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping "Since I got a silver medal individually, I was quite determined to try to take the time and luckily the poles stayed up today,” Peder Fredricson said about his pursuit of the gold with All In. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

Laura Kraut was first to go in the jump-off, delivering another clear for USA in 41.33 seconds – and the pressure was on. Henrik von Eckermann was next to go for the Swedish team and produced his 6th clear round of the Games in 42 seconds. Jessica Springsteen was slightly slower than the two first in 42.95 seconds but kept the clear – and the heat was on Malin Baryard-Johnsson as next to go. Indiana is a handful, but yet again Baryard-Johnsson piloted the mare masterfully around the shortened track to stop the clock at 41.89 seconds and the Swedes had a tiny time advantage on the Americans as the last riders were about to enter the ring. 

Mclain Ward is one of the fastest riders in the world and illustrated this today with an incredible round on Contagious with a fantastic turn from the first to the second fence in the jump-off – bringing the time down to 39.92 seconds and leaving no room for error for Peder Fredricson. Words fall short of describing the partnership between Fredricson and his 15-year-old gelding All In, and today the two yet again showed why they belong in the history books of showjumping when keeping it all together with an unbelievable round in 39.01 seconds – putting Sweden ahead of the States by a total of 1.3 seconds and securing the gold medal for the Swedish team. 

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping Clear in six out of six rounds: Henrik von Eckermann and King Edward. “I think we have three really good riders and three outstanding horses, and we believed in it from the beginning," the Swedish rider said after the gold was secured. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

“I saw Mclain’s round and I also did not have so much time in between my first round and the jump-off so I wanted to stay calm as long as possible,” Peder Fredricson told about how he got ready for the jump-off. “I did only one small oxer, then walked a bit and saw Mclain’s round. I made sure not to be in a rush but take a bit of time for All In and collect my thoughts. And since I got a silver medal individually, I was quite determined to try to take the time and luckily the poles stayed up today.”

The Americans were perhaps beaten, but not at all disappointed. “I mean, what an incredible battle, my battle with Sweden goes back to Athens – I jumped off against Sweden, and again in Tryon – luck of the draw I went last there and was able to see Peder and now it was the reversed situation,” Mclain Ward said. “What great sport, what a great battle – I am proud to be a part of that. I take my hat off to them, they were unbeatable!” Ward continued with his compatriot Laura Kraut adding: “I think the best team won tonight!”

“Like Mclain said, we have been against each other, but they have beaten us the other two times, so we said before this that no chance they were going to be faster than us,” Malin Baryard-Johnsson laughed. “Rather a pole on the ground than too slow,” Henrik von Eckermann added. 

On the question of how the Swedes plan to celebrate their gold, seeing that they are located in different parts of Europe, Henrik von Eckermann replied: “I am sure we are going to find a way to celebrate, that’s the easy part!”

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