Germany wins sixth straight team dressage gold

Led by McDonald, Dover, U.S. takes bronze again

By Joseph Schwerdt, 

ATHENS -- Led by perennial world and European medalist Ulla Salzgeber, Germany captured its sixth straight gold medal in team dressage Saturday.

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The United States, behind the strong riding of Debbie McDonald and Robert Dover, won its fourth straight bronze medal in the event. Spain captured silver.

Salzgeber rode her 16-year-old Chestnut Gelding Rusty to a score of 78.292, which leads all riders in the individual standings. The top three German riders -- Salzgeber, Martin Schaudt (73.417) and Hubertus Schmidt (72.333) -- averaged 74.681 to win the gold.

"I had a super feeling from the moment I got in," said Salzgeber, the world's No. 1-ranked rider. She won a team gold and individual bronze in Sydney.

"Rusty knows when the ride counts," she said.

With 13 medals, Germany has dominated team dressage since it debuted at the Games in 1928. The Germans -- representing either East, West or a unified nation -- have won gold medals in every Games but three in which the event was held.

Earlier this year, it appeared doubtful Salzgeber would even compete. The German Equestrian Federation banned her for two months in February after Rusty tested positive for testosterone at the World Cup event in Gothenburg. It was later claimed that a veterinarian had treated Rusty for a skin irritation without Salzgeber's knowledge.

Salzgeber and Rusty needed special permission by her federation to appear in the German qualifier.

On Brentina, McDonald had what Dover described as "the ride of her life." McDonald led all Americans with a score of 73.375. But a bobble by Brentina on the chestnut mare's first pirouette prevented a higher result, she said.

"I was hoping for a better score," McDonald said. "But I am quite happy with my performance. I felt very good out there and kept the energy going. But I feel a lot of pressure."

The American trio of McDonald, Dover and Guenter Seidel averaged 71.5.

McDonald sits in third place entering the dressage individual phase, which concludes Wednesday. A delighted Dover -- on Kennedy -- is in 12th with a score of 71.625, one spot ahead of Seidel and Aragon with 69.5. Lisa Wilcox, riding Relevant 5, scored 68.792.

"This is one of the highlights, if not the highlight of my career," said Dover, who is in his sixth Olympics. "I wanted to enjoy it and that is what I did. I just wish I had a few more points."

In dressage, riders and their mounts are judged through a series of predetermined movements at specific points in the arena. Scores are based on a horse's precision and obedience and a rider's form and position.

The winning team is determined by averaging the scores of a nation's top three riders. The top 25 riders -- no more than three from each nation -- move on to the individual competition.

Germany, the Netherlands and the U.S. have finished 1-2-3 in the last three Olympic Games. Spain (72.917) spoiled the reunion this year with strong riding from Beatriz Salat-Ferrer (74.667) and Rafael Soto (72.792). Salat-Ferrer is in fourth place entering the individual phase.

"We had a fantastic ride," said Salat-Ferrer, who rode Beauvalais.

The Dutch needed a score of at least 70.55 from Sven Rothenberger, the second to last rider of the day, to bump the Americans from the medal podium. But Rothenberger, on Barclay II, scored 69.833, keeping the Netherlands in fourth.

Still, Dutch rider Anky Van Grunsven, who won gold in Sydney, sits in second place among individual riders. On Salinero, Van Grunsven clearly stumbled on a pirouette, but still scored 74.208 Saturday.

"I am generally happy," she said after her ride. "My horse got frightened, that is the reason we did not have good pirouettes."

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