Japan's Oiwa Takes the Lead in Olympic Eventing Competition

Japan’s Yoshiaki Oiwa and Noonday de Conde produced a sensational test to take the individual lead in the closing stages of eventing dressage at the London 2012 Olympic Games in Greenwich Park (GBR) today. The quiet-spoken 36-year-old admitted afterwards that he could hardly believe it.

"I’m a bit shocked," he said at the post-competition press conference. "Nobody expected it--as you can see there are not many Japanese media here."

The pair earned a score of 38.10 which took the individual lead and rocketed Japan up into fifth place in the teams. (See the full individual leaderboard here and the full team leaderboard here.)

Elsewhere, Italy’s Stefano Brecciaroli and Apollo WD Wendi Kurt Hoev slotted into second place while New Zealand’s Mark Todd, aboard Campino moved into third. Both Oiwa and Todd’s results proved pivotal for their teams, with Japan rising to fill sixth place in the team rankings behind the Kiwis, who go into tomorrow’s cross-country phase in joint-fourth along with Sweden.

As it stands tonight, the host nation (Great Britain) lies third behind Australia in second while the defending champions from Germany are already out in front. But with just three penalty points separating the first two, and the British less than five points adrift, stalked by the Swedes and Kiwis just 1.2 points further behind, there is very little in it. As German Chef d’Equipe and Coach, Hans Melzer, said today, "the four top riders are just one point away from each other and the teams are so close. They might as well start tomorrow on a zero score. Psychologically today’s result is good and our team did a super job and I’m happy for that, but tomorrow is another day."

The second day of Dressage was a thrill a minute from the outset. There was intense excitement ahead of the arrival of Team Great Britain’s Zara Phillips (Queen Elizabeth's granddaughter) and High Kingdom, third into the arena this morning. The pair earned a score of 46.10 despite a serious mix-up over the first flying-change in canter. 

She was immediately upstaged however by the pure accuracy of Sweden’s Sara Algotsson Ostholt and Wega, who powered through their test to join first-day leaders Ingrid Klimke (GER) and Butts Abraxxas in temporary pole position on a score of 39.30.

"We started very tense in trot and I thought, 'how is this going to turn out?' But after the walk, which was good, she relaxed a bit and the canter was very nice," Algotsson Ostholt said afterwards. Wega was bred by the rider’s mother, and it’s quite a family affair for the Algotssons at London 2012 as Sara’s sister, Linda, was first in for the Swedish team yesterday riding Wega’s half-sister, La Fair. Algotsson Ostholt said she knew her short-limbed but big-bodied mare was ready for the Olympics when finishing second at the German Championships recently, where the pair picked up a dressage mark of 34.

New Zealand’s Caroline Powell was "disappointed" with her performance with Lenamore, who belied his 19 years of age when nearly galloping out of the main arena after posting a score of 52.2. The crowd had exploded with excitement after the previous score was announced, and Lenamore lit up when he heard the roars. "He’d been doing so well outside," Powell said afterwards. But the popular Kiwi duo also got a huge reception at the end of their test which included some lovely extended trot work. "You can feel the affection people have for him (Lenamore)--he has a big fan-base," said the Scottish-based rider whose mother died just a few weeks ago after a long battle with cancer. 

The Australians continued to build on their position with a mark of 40.00 from Lucinda Fredericks and Flying Finish. Tina Cook’s (GBR) rain-drenched but happy ride with Miners Frolic, rewarded with 42.00, did British chances no harm. But then suddenly the Swedes sprang into contention when Niklas Lindback and Mister Pooh posted 45.20 following a short break while a thunderstorm rolled across the park. When New Zealand’s Andrew Nicholson, the man much-fancied to take individual eventing gold at these Games, posted precisely the same score with Nereo there was some surprise. His 12-year-old gelding didn’t settle to his job, and Nicholson blamed the halt in proceedings.

"There were two serious riders about to go in. I had seven minutes to go and he (Nereo) was starting to find his best work when they decided to stop," Nicholson said. "He didn’t mind the thunder and lightning, but during the 10-minute hold I had to just walk him around and he thought he was in a training session. He got really quiet and confused, he switched off."

There was nothing switched off about Italy’s Brecciaroli and Apollo WD Wendi Kurt Hoev, who burst into the lead with a fabulous test that put 38.50 on the board.

"I am so happy, but most of all for my beautiful horse," he said. "I made one mistake and I am sorry for him that I did that. He is good at dressage," the rider pointed out in somewhat of an understatement. “He got 35.00 at the World Equestrian Games in Kentucky where we were second after dressage, but the cross-country will be difficult”, he added wisely.

Another great score--40.40--from Clayton Fredericks (AUS) and Bendigo further cemented the Australian position, but the Germans couldn’t be surpassed when Sandra Auffarth’s (with Opgun Louvo) mark of 40.00 was added to the 39.30 and 39.80 registered yesterday by Ingrid Klimke and Dirk Schrade respectively. The final German partnership of Michael Jung and Sam found their 40.60 surplus to requirements in the team calculation, but good enough for 11th place individually at this early stage.

The competition resumes tomorrow with cross-country. Boyd Martin (USA) and Otis Barbarotier will be the first pair out of the start box at 12:30 London time (7:30 a.m. EDT).

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