October 3, 2010 -- The U.S. eventing team, which had the silver medal within its grasp last night, loosened its grip this afternoon and fell to fourth, just missing the medals as Great Britain won, followed unexpectedly by Canada and New Zealand.
As was the case with the U.S. dressage team, which also finished fourth at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games last week, the happy news of the day was that America is now qualified for eventing in the 2012 London Olympics by virtue of its finish in the top five. That had been one of the goals in coming here.
Tension was in the air for the final phase, show jumping, in the big stadium. It was full of atmosphere and a fabulous course laid out by Richard Jeffery, who also designed the fences around a Kentucky theme that included Churchill Downs (you can see the twin spires in my photo of Michael Jung) and the Daniel Boone National Forest (you can see it in my photo of Andrew Nicholson).
Problems started for the U.S. when it lost one of the original team after Kim Severson's mount, Tipperary Liadhnan, developed cellulitis just before the Games got under way. Karen O'Connor, slated to ride as an individual, filled in with Mandiba. She was the highest-placed American after Saturday's cross-country, enjoying that status until fence seven of the 14-obstacle course, when Mandiba put on the brakes at the Kentucky Fence Line, a brown gate. He knocked it down as he stopped, and then knocked it down again when he finally cleared it, and the medal hunt was over. The U.S., which came into the show jumping with a mere 143.3 penalties, wound up with 160.3.
Meanwhile, Becky Holder, riding Courageous Comet as an individual, was looking at a medal yesterday after moving up to third following cross-country. However, the gray ex-racehorse had lost a front shoe on course and overcompensated with his other leg. He was held during the horse inspection and the decision finally was made to just withdraw and take him back to the stables to recuperate.
Buck Davidson, the lead-off rider for the U.S. as the lowest-placed of the country's competitors (riders go in reverse order of penalties) had a rail down with Ballynoe Castle RM. It wasn't a good weekend for the horse, who stopped on cross-country.
"The bottom line is he just needs to ride nicer. He's a little strong and a little green still and he's so careful. I just have to get him a little more confident and a little more rideable," Buck said. "It's still a great horse and he'll have another day."
The next U.S. rider to go, new American citizen Boyd Martin, a native of Australia, was saluted with deafening cheers by the crowd when he jumped a clear round on Neville Bardos. That boded well for the team, but Phillip Dutton had a rail and a time fault with Woodburn, and Karen's mishap sealed the deal: No medal.
As the U.S. fortunes fell, Canada's rose. Ninth after dressage, the Canadians moved up to third following cross-country and two clean rounds today from Selena O'Hanlon (Colombo) and Hawley Bennett-Awad (Gin & Juice) clinched the silver. Their 151.5 penalties was far behind Great Britain's 139.4, with three of their riders going clean. One of them was William Fox-Pitt, the Rolex Kentucky 4-star event winner this year with Cool Mountain, who returned with the horse for another moment of glory in Kentucky as he got the individual silver.
New Zealand, which went from sixth to fourth to third during the course of the event, finished on 154.8 penalties by virtue of two clean show jumping rounds. One was from Andrew Nicholson on Nereo, the Aachen winner this year, who earned the bronze.
As he trotted into the ring, I kept thinking of the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, where Andrew was leading for the individual gold and New Zealand was leading for the team gold. He had seven fences in hand aboard Spinning Rhombus (I don't remember what I did this morning, but I'll never forget that name!) and then proceeded to drop nine rails, along with many jaws in the stands. Andrew finished 16th and New Zealand wound up second to Australia. This time, however, Andrew made it through the finish line with all the fences intact.