August 8, 2012--Dreams were both dashed and delivered on a day of surprises in the individual Olympic show jumping, where relative longshots prevailed in the medals and Britain's luck finally ran out.
Hometown favorite Nick Skelton had a clear trip on Big Star in the morning round, which included 37 starters drawn from the top ranks of those who had vied for victory in three previous competitions.
The horse, discovered as a 5-year-old by his partner, the USA's Laura Kraut, hadn't come close to touching a fence during his outings in Greenwich Park. But in the second round of 22 riders, it all went wrong. The capacity crowd of 23,000 was just waiting to cheer 54-year-old Nick (called a "golden oldie" by one of the city's papers) when he went through the finish line. Of course, that wouldn't have been the end of it, because in order to take the title, he would have had to win a jump-off against Switzerland's Steve Guerdat, the only double-clear to that point.
Three fences from the end of the course, however, at the Cutty Sark obstacle (named after the tea clipper ship that is an attraction nearby) a rail fell, making Steve the champion.
Remember I told you in a previous postcard that I wondered if going fast in the jump-off for the team gold two days ago would make Big Star jump flatter than usual? Was that it, or was it the fact that the one extra round in the team fray had tired the 9-year-old Dutchbred stallion, the youngest horse in the competition. We won't know, and Nick isn't analyzing it, at least not in public.
"I just touched the pole at the wrong time and that was it," said Nick.
Steve certainly was happy, tossing his helmet in joy as he delivered his exuberant victory gallop on the French-bred Nino des Buissonnets, but he was not overwhelmed by his achievement. In fact, his comments reminded me of those made by Michael Jung, who won the individual eventing gold last week, though it seems like 10 years ago because so much has happened here since (and when you're working hard at the Olympics, time is a relative thing).
Although naturally he is pleased with the gold medal around his neck, Steve explained, "I don't do it for this. I do it because I love it. I love riding. I love jumping. I love competing. But I had a goal to be here one day. It is a dream come true."
We did have a jump-off, however. It was for the silver, as Gerco Schroder of the Netherlands and Cian O'Connor of Ireland were tied with 1 time penalty each.
Let me interrupt my saga here to say that when I called Steve, Gerco and Cian "relative longshots" for the medals at the beginning of this piece, in no way did I mean to say that they weren't top riders. All have great credentials; it was just that their names weren't mentioned in the same breath as Nick, or world number one Rolf-Goran Bengtsson of Sweden, the 2008 silver medalist.
Okay, back to the postcard: Cian, who was penalized for being 0.02 seconds over the time allowed in the second round after jumping clear in the first, has quite a story. He won the gold in 2004 at the Athens Olympics, as you'll recall (your memory should be especially good if you've read my previous postcards, because I already have explained who he is.).
Short version: He lost his medal after his mount, Waterford Crystal, tested positive for a prohibited substance. The situation became a long, drawn-out saga because the horse's "B" sample was stolen and papers involving the case went missing.
Some people are tracked by danger, others are tracked by drama. Cian is among the latter. He originally wasn't chosen by the Irish to represent them at these Olympics. The man who was, Denis Lynch, got tagged when his horse tested for hypersensitivity (and it wasn't the first time that had happened). So Cian got called up with Blue Loyd, a horse he bought last year with hopes of making the Games.