Olympics: Anky Wins Third Consecutive Dressage Individual Gold

Dutch equestrian Anky Van Grunsven claimed her third consecutive individual gold medal in Hong Kong tonight (Tuesday). Lying second, but only 0.24% behind Germany's Isabell Werth after Saturday's Grand Prix Special, the Dutch star came into her own in the Freestyle to Music (Kur). As Salinero danced his way to victory, Werth had to settle for silver with Satchmo while fellow team gold medallist, Heike Kemmer, claimed third with Bonaparte.

It was a night filled with emotion, and the tension was palpable as Sweden's Jan Brink and Briar laid down the standard with a lovely performance as the first group got the competition started.

"I'm very happy with my horse," Brink said after recording a score of 73.450% which, when combined with his Grand Prix Special result, gave him an overall mark of 71.205%.


Brink was quickly overtaken by Great Britain's Emma Hindle as the second session got underway however, the British rider earning a mark of 74.250% to complete with a combined score of 72.345% with Lancet who showed great coordination and rhythm, particularly in passage, to the beat of the Bee Gees.

This was a colossal achievement for the 33-year old rider who revealed tonight that her Olympic appearance was little short of miraculous.

"Two weeks before I came here I had an operation for a tumor," she explained to the press. "I could only ride in walk when I arrived in Hong Kong and Lancet was brilliant--usually he's difficult when you are getting on and off him, but he seemed to know I wasn't well and he just stood there for me for a change."

Hindle's doctors discovered the presence of two ovarian cysts during a team check-up and required she undergo surgery right away. But with extraordinary support from the British team Hindle still made her Olympic appearance.

"I had lots of help with my horse--people kept saying 'we believe in you, you can do it'--but it took a huge effort from the team and a lot of physiotherapy and work in the gym to get me going again," Hindle said. "Everyone was so positive and so kind, I'm really proud of my horse and proud of my friends. When you are sick you find out who your real friends are, and many of my rivals turned into my best friends."

Hindle said one of her greatest supporters was Princess Nathalie Zu Sayn-Wittgenstein who helped Denmark to team bronze on Saturday.

"She rode Lancet every day, Hindle said."She lives four hours away from me and she's a really good friend."

One of Hindle's other great supporters was her Irish groom Niamh Meehan who stayed with her at the hospital and who was there when the rider was informed that she had been selected for the British team.

The Netherlands' Hans Peter Minderhoud was next in the arena with some lovely piaffe and passage from his 13-year old mare Nadine. But last to go in the second session, Mexico's Bernadette Pujals and Vincent couldn't touch the Dutch partnership. Pujals and Vincent provided an energetic display that was bursting with expression but which faltered due to several mistakes.


As the final session kicked off Russia's Alexandra Korelova and Balagur entertained the packed arena, as many observers sang their way through her Broadway score as she rose to the top, but she felt she could have done better with the former police horse.

"Balagur is very clever," said the 31-year old from Nizniy Novgorod, a large town in central Russia that lies 400km (about 250 miles) from Moscow.

This was her second Olympic Games with the amazing 18-year old who has known more career-changes than most throughout his interesting life. From Orlov Trotter breeding stock, and by one of Russia's most famous trotter breeding sires, he showed little interest in racing and so ended up for a year in a Russian circus before being sold on to work as a police horse in Korelova's town where she spotted him.

She took a video of him and sent it to German trainer George Theodorescu who advised her to buy him immediately and, although already 11 years of age, he was capable of Grand Prix Dressage work within five months of purchase. Another seven years later he has been to two Olympic Games.


The heat was turned up when Isabell Werth entered the ring with Satchmo. The four-time Olympian made a wonderful entrance and produced a fabulous passage to quickly rack up some big scores. But then the 14-year-old gelding had a difficult moment when asked for his second piaffe in an almost perfect repetition of the issue he experienced in the Grand Prix Special (the standardized test) last Saturday.

Werth said she knew she might have trouble long before she entered the arena.

"I hadn't forgotten what happened the other day but if I wanted to win I had to take the risk," she explained. "My horse is outstanding and my feelings for him don't change because of the mistakes he made--I just have to work to get his confidence back again."

She still earned 78.100%, and her combined total left her at 76.650% and well out in front.

Teammate Heike Kemmer and Bonaparte kept their rhythm to the sound of the Beach Boys "Good Vibrations" to score 75.950%, which gave them an overall total of 74.555% and put them in second place. They remained there despite a popular ride from America's Steffen Peters with the 10-year-old stallion Ravel. The team's ability to synchronize movement to music was exceptional, and the big horse, whose transitions were superb, seemed to feel the rhythm himself. However with a mark of 76.500% and a total of 74.150% he would have to settle for third spot as the reigning champion entered the ring.

Van Grunsven and Salinero

Anky Van Grunsven and Salinero

Big Entrance

Anky Van Grunsven made a big entrance and went into action right away to the romantic sound of her "Dance of Devotion" theme, which was created by Wibi Soerjadi, picking up big marks from the outset.

Salinero was responsive and keen but the Dutch rider didn't overdo it--after Werth's uncomfortable moment a good ride rather than a risky one would be enough to earn her third Olympic title, and so it did. Although she had to admit that her final halt didn't go quite as planned.

"I really like to ride to music and after I heard Isabell's score I knew I needed to do a good test but without risks," Van Grunsven said. "It went well except for the last halt today--it just didn't happen but I thought 'let's forget about it, it doesn't matter!'" Her score of 82.400% gave her a winning total of 78.680%.

"In Athens I had nothing to lose so I was more relaxed but this time I felt I have to have the gold medal to keep up the standard, and in the Grand Prix Salinero was tense," Van Grunsven said. "In the Special I tried more and then Isabell had her mistake, but today I was more relaxed--I decided to do as good as I can and I tried to stay calm during the warm-up. I decided that if I didn't feel safe in the ring I wouldn't do the changes on a curve but here I am now--I have won a third gold medal and I am the most spoiled person in the world because I have had two wonderful, wonderful horses!"

Bronze medalist Heike Kemmer said she was happy with her result.

"My horse did a super job over the three tests and today he was very fluent, I had a good connection to his mouth, his noseline was correct and we were working together--I was very pleased" she said.

Silver medallist Isabell Werth said she had no clear explanation for what it is that makes Satchmo sometimes object to certain movements but she is determined to work through and to bring him back to his best.

"We have been nearly too good for the last three years and it is a bit of a shame that this has happened at the Olympic Games, I was hoping it wouldn't happen here but we have team gold and it was very close between Anky and me--I really lost it in the Special," Werth said.

However now it's a case of putting it behind her and moving on. The London Olympic Games in 2012 are another target. "I'm going to work towards that, it's a new challenge and I think I'm the youngest rider here so I can go!" she said with a laugh, looking at her two rivals on the podium.

Will Anky be back in 2012? She doesn't really seem to think so. "I think there is maybe two more years left for Salinero and that will be it," she said tonight, "and all I want to do now is ask that Penfold Park can be opened up for me tomorrow so that I can give Salinero a nice hack out."

As Olympic champion, the rider who has dominated her sport now for many years will, no doubt, find those gates wide open.

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