Madden Retains WEG Show Jumping Lead, Driving Gets Underway
It's double duty again at the 2006 World Equestrian Games in Aachen, Germany, as two disciplines play out simultaneously - one of them in the Main Stadium (show jumping) and the other having its first-day opener in Stadium 2 (four-in-hand driving). Both of the disciplines have fans running back and forth to take in the action.
In show jumping, it's day one of a two-day Nations' Cup that will decide the team medals. Some 114 riders went around the course today (August 30), with hopes of moving their teams along toward a medal. Some of these riders are classified as "individuals," thereby competing to make it to the top 25 who will ride in Saturday's third round of show jumping, which will decide the final four riders who will vie for the Gold on Sunday. Today, six more horses were eliminated, and one retired.
Some might wonder why the team medals are so important in a sport that seems highly geared to the individual rider. There's a good answer. Countries must excel and win at the team level to qualify for berths in Olympic competition in 2008, and the 2006 FEI World Equestrian Games are a qualifying event for the team competition in not only show jumping, but dressage and eventing, as well. With both the dressage and eventing competitions complete (and with the U.S. qualifying for Olympic competition in both disciplines), it's on to show jumping to make their claim to an Olympic invitation. (The full procedures for this are found on the FEI website at www.horsesport.org.
On Wednesday, the riders faced a new 17-effort course (14 obstacles) consisting of some very tricky spots, with higher fences, including a double and triple combination. As has been the norm, cool and windy conditions met the challengers.
Leading the pack going into today's round were Team USA's Beezie Madden and Authentic on a base score of 0.0. She repeated her performance and, again, stood in front of all the others with the end of round one of the Nations' Cup. Madden and Authentic still stand on a score of 0.0.
As the last of the Americans to compete (at 113th out of 114 riders), she had to wait a long time, but this gave her plenty of time to study the mistakes of those before her.
"I had the advantage that I can go at the end, so I had a lot to watch, and that's nice," she said. "But, there are a lot of riders, and it's a long time to wait around. Today, I have to say, was a little easier than yesterday because yesterday I knew my horse was good, and it's always nice to get the first day over with. I have a lot more confidence now after the first day."
Asked about today's course, Madden said, "It felt a little bit bigger. Technical, again, we had the plank at the end, we had the triple combination that was a little bit tricky, the short double in the beginning to the Liverpool. There was just a lot of test in there. I thought it was very good-- excellent."
Leading two days in a row, Madden was asked if she has a trick or method she uses to keep herself focused, to not lose her concentration.
"I try to take each class separately," she said. "Yesterday, I knew we needed a great score, so I just took it as a class that I wanted to try to win. Today and tomorrow, I look at it as one class with two clear rounds to win...what the team needs is for you to have a good score. You really have to look at it a little bit selfishly even though you are hoping for the team medal. That selfishness can help the team."
Of her teammates, she had high praise and said they have been enjoying each others company, dining together at night and psyching each other up for competition.
"This team has been fantastic," she said. "Any kind of good atmosphere is a help, so we end up doing things together, and we are behind each other 100% whether somebody has a little bad luck or little mistakes...we're all in it for the same reason, and we're all trying the hardest we can and we all respect each other for that, so it's a really good atmosphere."
The Team on Course
Chef d'equipe George Morris was candid about his team's work over the course.
"From our perspective, we really had three faults that were just blips, little mistakes. They were avoidable mistakes," he said. "We really could have, or should have, had four clears. I'm going to insist on that tomorrow [Thursday night, round two of the Nations' Cup under the lights].
First up for the Americans was yesterday's lowest-placed American rider, Margie Engle and Hidden Creek's Quervo Gold. Anyone that knows Engle can agree that posting 16 faults is uncharacteristic. She proved to have a much more satisfying round during the first of the two-day Nations' Cup downing only one rail.
"It was my rail, and not his," she said of the four-point penalty the pair picked up at an oxer (obstacle 10). "He felt great, but I got worried about the time. He almost got across it, but he got sprawled out."
She admitted that speed is not Quervo Gold's forte, rather the horse's scope and ability at clearing water jumps are his strong points.
"He's really not a speed horse," she continued. "But, he's one of the best water jumpers I've had. If I can get him into a rhythm, I could jump all day long," she said.
That downed rail left Engle with an adjusted score of 16.07 to seat her at 57th place going into day-two of the Nations' Cup.
Second for the Americans were Laura Kraut and Miss Independent, who downed a rail at 9c for four faults ending the day's work at 42nd place on an adjusted score of 9.98.
"She felt super, and I felt her hold her legs up and she was just squeezing every inch out of it," said Kraut regarding the downed rail and her mare's efforts on the triple combination at obstacle 9c. "She jumped in so big at A, she made the two strides very short, and so again, she jumped high over B and it was almost extra long in the one [stride to fence C]. I heard the crowd say, "Aww!" but I didn't even hear her really hit it."
Kraut slowed up just a bit after the ditch, knowing she was well ahead of her mark on course. She wanted to make certain that she downed no further rails, acknowledging the importance of every single point at this stage in the game.
"OK, it's the World Championships, the verticals are very big" she said, "I mean, the last plank is as big as I am! It's big." When told exactly how high the jump was (1.62 meters), Kraut said jokingly, "I'm glad I found that out now!"
In the end, she said she couldn't have been more pleased with her horse's round and heads into Thursday's round two of the Nations' Cup, which takes place at night (from 7:30 to 11:30 p.m. German time). In fact, Kraut took her horse to San Patrigiano just a month ago where both nights of the competition were under lights to get a feeling of how she would react.
"I'm really glad I did," said Kraut. "She was really good, so I have a lot of confidence going in to tomorrow night."
Up third and ready to duplicate the beautiful round from yesterday was McLain Ward and Sapphire. In fact, chef d'equipe George Morris gave Ward a glowing review for his initial efforts. Today, Ward downed his first WEG rail and accumulated four faults. At the end of the day, he moved down 10 places to finish his work on day one of the two-day Nations' Cup at 14th place with an adjusted score of 4.87.
The Team Competition
In the team competition, the United States sits at third going into the last day of the Nations' Cup. Chef d'equipe Morris had some thoughts on the team sitting at second - the Ukraine.
"It's not so surprising, because they have a couple of riders that are from Belgium that are outstanding, and a couple from Germany that are outstanding," he said candidly. He also said he had expected a better showing from the French team and was surprised they were not nearer the top of the placings.
The Netherlands remains in the top team spot on a score of 7.01, with the Ukraine behind them with 13.17 points. Team USA stands third with 14.85, just ahead of Germany with 15.16.
There were some other interesting developments over the day at Aachen.
Rodrigo Pessoa chose to withdraw from competition due to an injury sustained to his horse while they were jumping a one-meter schooling fence. The horse tore its meniscus in his stifle.
Also, there were some late changes to Thursday night's show jumping course. Previously, there had been plans for a Liverpool on course. But, that has been removed as there was some speculation that the bright lights of the Main Stadium might cause distracting glares that would distract the horses on course. Thankfully, to not take unnecessary risks, the organizers decided to remove the water jump in favor of another option.
Half-way through the Nations' Cup, and with only three more days of show jumping to contest, it's America's Beezie Madden aboard Authentic leading the pack at the 2006 FEI World Equestrian Games. It is interesting to note that there has only been one woman to take show jumping's Rolex World Championship - ever. Some 20 years ago, in 1986, it was Canada's Gail Greenough who took the honors aboard Mr. T.
Driving: Opening Day
If you hear a series of strange sounds, clucks and shouts, you must be near the driving competition. Drivers are known for their voice cues, though frowned upon in most disciplines, drivers are unable to use their seats, legs or weight as aids, so the voice commands are relied upon heavily and commonly heard. Today was day one of a two-day driving dressage phase.
The driving competition will take place over the next four days. Wednesday and Thursday will test the drivers in the dressage competition, 11 minutes that could make or break them. Friday, the drivers will participate in the marathon competition which will take place over a 17-kilometer course, consisting of eight marathon obstacles grouped closely together. Saturday will decide the team and individual honors after the 600-meter-long obstacle course, consisting of 20 obstacles and 26 passages.
There are currently 49 drivers from 19 countries taking place in the driving competition. The U.S. has a full team of three drivers competing: Chester Weber of Ocala, Florida; Tucker Johnson of Hobe Sound, Florida; and James Fairclough of Newton, New Jersey. The best two scores from the three team members will count toward the combined team score for the event. This team earned a Bronze medal in Spain at the 2002 FEI World Equestrian Games in addition to an individual Bronze for Weber.
Today's dressage competition saw only one American--Fairclough--who drove his team to a score of 61.44 or 61.6% overall. These penalty points are carried over to the next competition. Fairclough commented on the condition of the arena after sand had to be placed in the grass to keep horses from slipping and tearing up the grass further.
"For your leaders to be able to show off, your wheelers have to do the majority of the work and pull the carriage," said Fairclough. "You're asking them to move, stay round and help create your impulsion and the forward part of the test, and with them struggling with pulling the carriage through the heavy footing it makes it difficult. When the leaders start helping to pull, then you lose the movement. I think you'll see that the older type horses, the bigger/heavier horses--the seasoned type horses are going to be used to the heavy footing and do a little better here."
Fairclough plans to change his team around a bit for the next phase, putting the two young horses in the lead, bringing one of today's leaders into the wheel, and putting the fifth horse in.
Thinking ahead to the marathon competition on Friday, Fairclough said, "It'll be very challenging. If the weather stays like this, it's going to be a true endurance test because it's going to be very heavy for them pulling that marathon carriage around. The marathon carriage weighs 1,320 pounds without anybody on it. So, now you have that cutting through the sod then it's going to be heavy."
Aachen has the honor of being the official home of combined driving so this World Equestrian Games, which is also the 2006 World Four-in-Hand Driving Championship, has special meaning to all involved. In addition, there will be no fewer than six previous individual Gold medalists present to contest the medals. Driving is a very traditional sport and may also see the most mature athletes. Representing Great Britain will be a 22-year-old Trakhener and a 73-year-old driver.
The countries that will be competing against the U.S. in the team competing are The Netherlands Antilles, Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Spain, France, Great Britain, Hungary, Italy, The Netherlands, Portugal, Sweden, Switzerland and Germany. Additionally, the countries of Ireland, Poland and Australia are represented by one driver each.
Today's leader, with the other half of drivers competing tomorrow, was Gert Schrijvers of Belgium with a score of penalty points of 46.21 and a score of 71.1%.
POLL: Horse Height