WEG Medals Awarded in Vaulting and Eventing

It was years in the making, but it came down to one minute in Aachen, Germany, and when that one minute was over, 18-year-old Megan Benjamin of Saratoga, CA, was the first female American vaulter ever to take a world championship. For the past 20 years, a German woman has always held the title of World Champion, and Germany has also won 23 of the last 30 world championships. Today, Germany stepped aside while the U.S. made history.

Benjamin was the last vaulter of the day, so it all came down to a nail-biting finish for the Americans. Benjamin had a few hours to rest between her Team Silver performance with the F.A.M.E. team representing the U.S. Her Team Silver hadn't even sunk in when she had to vault aboard the horse she co-owns, Leonardo, with longeur Lasse Kristensen. Benjamin had been the leader through all three days of competition.

Benjamin again had the highest freestyle score of 8.720, taking the title with a competition total of 8.421. Benjamin took her victory gallop on foot with her United States flag in tow, along with longeur and co-owner of "Leo," Kristensen. Austrian Katharina Faltin earned the Silver medal with a score of 8.311, and fellow Austrian Sissi Jarz took Bronze with an 8.254.

"I've actually never done so well as this year," said Benjamin. "It's amazing. A lot of my success has to do with the fact that I am also on Devon Maitozo's team."

Since she is 18 and will next year have to choose between vaulting as an individual or on a team, the inevitable question came up. "Unless I am ever asked to be on a team this great, I plan to compete as an individual."

Today was full of firsts; it was also the first time in history an American vaulting team has won Silver in a world championship.

The top 12 teams were back today to perform their "kur" or freestyle. The U.S team vaulted third to last, in reverse order of go. The freestyle routine is made up of both static and dynamic exercises. Static exercises must be held for three strides, while dynamic exercises are ones in which the center of gravity moves from one point to another. Only the top 25 most difficult exercises performed over the four minutes were counted.

The real competition was between the U.S.A., Austria and Germany. The U.S.A's F.AM.E. team continued to climb after a somewhat disappointing freestyle, due to their horse being unsure of his surroundings. Their choreography again impressed the packed stadium, continuing their moves throughout the performance, even when not in contact with the horse. They scored even higher than yesterday--an 8.936, the highest again of the competition. Overall, they received an 8.152 for their outstanding effort, earning them a Team Silver, just barely out of reach of the Gold. This is the best an American team has ever done at a world championship, even more impressive since they've competed only seven times and have only been a team since October.

When asked what his words of advice were for his team going in today, team member and coach, Maitozo replied, "Today was just about looks and pats. We just looked at each other with that little twinkle in our eye knowing we could do it, and that's pretty much all we needed to say today. We really do trust each other, and we've learned to work together really well."

The Austrians entered the arena after the Americans and had huge shoes to fill. Despite their calm nerves and their fearless flyer, who could do just about anything with her little body, they ended their trip with an 8.161 overall and the Bronze medal.

The Germans were last to go and after part of their music spooked their horse and two vaulters fell, it appeared they left an opening for the U.S. to win a Gold. But it was not to be. Germany earned an 8.571 in their freestyle, which got them the Gold medal with a total score of 8.189.

When asked what felt different about today's performance, U.S team member Rosalind Ross responded, "This one felt like it was for the audience." The team was also very generous about thanking the horses that got them to this point, including their horses back home who endured endless hours of practice.

"Our goal is always to take what we've done before and make it better," said team member Blake Dahlgren. "That is what our whole goal was. We're always trying to push the sport to another level and show people how we think vaulting should be."

F.A.M.E. team members are Benjamin; Dahlgren, from Sun Valley, CA; Maitozo, from Simi Valley, CA; Ross, from Woodside, CA; Elizabeth Iaonnou, from Saratoga, CA; Annalise Van Vranken from Mays Landing, NJ; and alternate Katie Richie, from Santa Cruz, CA. F.A.M.E. vaulted again aboard their 12-year-old, 18.3-hand Hanoverian, Grand Gaudino, owned and longed by Dr. Silke Bartel.

The Brazilians, in their Peter Pan-like outfits, had a beautifully choreographed performance, including their entrance, right down to little Tinkerbelle, their flyer, in all white. The Slovakians also put in a strong performance, telling a story set deep in the jungle, with their three girls in tiger striped outfits, matching their horse's surcingle.

The Polish team were the third to go today and incurred some misfortune when two vaulters fell, pulling the surcingle off center. The bell rung, and they had to stop to tighten and readjust their surcingle. Another team who experienced misfortune today was the Italian team. Three members tumbled off toward the end of their program. One was able to get back on and properly dismount, but the other two appeared to be too sore to continue.

Although there were no American men left in the individual competition, it was still the place to be with the most intricate moves, the most colorful costumes and the most heart-pounding music. The Germans easily hung on to their reign in men's individual vaulting. Kai Vorberg, defending his title and dressed as Mozart, he performed to 'Rock Me Amadeus' and took another Gold medal with a score of 8.524. Vorberg was so excited after winning that he sprinted around the stadium, taking off his vaulting shoes, one by one, and threw them into the audience to the delight of two lucky ladies.

"Vaulting is especially for the audience, then for the judges," Vorberg said. "It is fun to show what you practiced and are able to do. It is great to show you enjoy it." As far as why he picked Mozart..."There is some genius mixed with madness and you put it all together and that may be me."

The Silver medal went to the statuesque Gero Meyer, of Germany, who earned a score of 8.161. Not far behind with an 8.150 was Ladislav Majdlen, of Slovakia, with the Bronze medal.

"The theme of my kur is jump high and try to grab the stars," said Meyer. "You might fall deep. I've fallen deep but I am here and happy to be here. This is an awesome success."

Eventing: Tryon Brings Home a Bronze

Medals were handed out in no short supply today with no less than five Gold medals up for grabs between vaulting and eventing, and the United States did its bidding to claim their share. The final phase of eventing was contested in the Main Stadium, where the show jumping phase played out. And, in vaulting, three separate titles were decided in a packed and extremely energetic Stadium 3.

In, the eventing final, it was Britain's own royal subject, Zara Phillips, to lead the pack of 56 into show jumping, and that's how it ended. Phillips, the daughter of HRH The Princess Anne and Team U.S.A.'s chef d'equipe Captain Mark Phillips, took her dressage score of 41.7 aboard Toy Town straight through cross-country and show jumping and onto the medal podium to claim the Gold medal in eventing. Australia's Clayton Fredericks and Ben Along Time snagged the Silver medal after having cleared the course in 92.71 seconds (they added 4.4 time penalties in cross-country).

"He felt great, and he's been jumping well. He [Toy Town] loves crowds, and he likes to perform. He thinks they're all there to watch him," she said in regards to the packed crowds and whether her horse could cope with the course like the one in the final. I thought, in front of a crowd like that, it would probably help him."

It was Washington's Amy Tryon and her Olympic horse Poggio II that saw America bring home its one eventing medal from these Games. The pair laid down a dressage score of 50.7, and it stuck, adding no cross-country penalties, nor any show jumping rails. She stood in seventh place coming into the final phase of today's event. Her clean and clear round in 89.44 seconds was enough to secure her the honor and it was bestowed atop a rain-soaked medal podium. Ironically, the threatening skies held off pretty much right until the awarding of the medals.

Coming into show jumping in seventh place, Tryon said it was a big surprise to be sitting where she was.

"It's a huge surprise...my goal this week was to be a good pathfinder for my team, and I never considered this particular horse to be an individual-medal type horse," she said. "He came off the racetrack and was a pack horse for a couple of years. I'm lucky to ride him. He's a horse that has stepped outside of his class a little bit with what he's done. I've had him for a lot of years now, and I'm lucky to be able to sit on him."

She said she was pleased overall with her efforts this week, having started in a dressage downpour and making it through the cross-country under time and with no penalties. "He has a unique way of going, and I've learned through the years to keep my hands down and let him do his thing."

Tryon and Poggio were the only Americans to post a clean and clear show jumping round.

In the team standings, it was a fourth-place finish for Team U.S.A., just eight-tenths of one point off the medal podium on a score of 198.1. Germany won the Gold (156.0), Great Britain took the Silver team medal (180.0) and Australia goes home with the Team Bronze (197.3). Tryon, Will Faudree, Kim Severson and Heidi White competed in the team competition, while Jan Byyny and Karen O'Connor competed as individual members of the U.S. squad.

At the end of the day, the Americans finished as follows: Kim Severson and Winsome Adante at 17th on a score of 71.7; Will Faudree and Antigua at 19th on a score of 75.7; Heidi White and Northern Spy at 27th on a score of 89.2; Karen O'Connor and Upstage at 42nd on a score of 127.8; and, Jan Byyny and Task Force at 45th on a score of 132.5.

Break in Competition

Competition will take a one-day break at the 2006 World Equestrian Games on Monday. It will resume on Tuesday, August 29 with the first rounds of show jumping.

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