August 9, 2012--Fate struck one last cruel blow to the medal-less U.S. team today, as normally rock-solid Steffen Peters and his equally steady partner, Ravel, finished 17th, next-to-last, in the individual dressage competition. While most folks in the know, including Steffen, didn't expect him to medal, they felt assured he would be high in the standings—though likely not in fourth place, as he was in the 2008 Hong Kong Olympics.
But Ravel just wasn't in the mood today, and made several mistakes in his freestyle to music from the movie "Avatar," ending up with a score of 77.286 percent. Steffen felt the horse was "a bit distracted."
Unfortunately, it was the last time Ravel will compete before going into retirement.
"That's why it was so sad it didn't work out today," said a downcast Steffen.
"There's no way of sweet-talking this; it just wasn't a good freestyle. This is not the way I wanted to finish. There were some wonderful things in it, but you can't look past the mistakes. This one will leave a scar, for sure."
He would like to see Ravel, the most decorated dressage horse in U.S. history, have a big retirement party, where he could "hopefully ride the freestyle once more and do it a little bit better than here."
Putting it all in perspective, Steffen said, "I'll remember Ravel for his career and if you put it all together, then this was just a little glitch today, but certainly very sad it happened at the end of his career. But I still love him, and he's given us so much; just not quite today."
Steffen's appearance marked the end of the least-successful Olympics for U.S. equestrians since 1956, the last time they came home without any medals. There are plenty of questions to be asked and answered in that regard.
"We are going to have a long, hard, honest assessment of our programs and how they need to change to target medals in Rio (site of the 2016 Olympics)," said Jim Wolf, the U.S. Equestrian Federation's executive director of sport programs.
"We have new coaching staff in at least two of the three disciplines and I am sure they have a lot of ideas about what we need to do to get back on the medal stand. I plan to have in-depth discussions with all of the stakeholders when we return from London to obtain the basis for a four-year high performance plan."
The freestyle, which again drew a capacity audience of 23,000 to Greenwich Park, was a new way to end the equestrian portion of the Olympics. In the old days, show jumping was always the last event in the main stadium. In more recent years, as equestrian facilities tended to be outside the host city limits, show jumping was still the last event for horse sports.
This was a refreshing change of pace for the Games program. Spectators got what they came for, more than just British gold and bronze, courtesy of stars Charlotte Dujardin with Valegro, who took top honors, and her teammate from the country's gold medal squad, Laura Bechtolsheimer, who rode to the bronze on the imposing Mistral Hojris. The silver medal was taken by the Netherlands' Adelinde Cornelissen on Parzival, who is ranked number one in the world. Each combination who entered the arena had something exciting to offer the appreciative crowd.
No matter who you were rooting for, the whole event was amazing. I recall the 1984 Olympics, and how we all were awed by Germany's Reiner Klimke with Ahlerich. Very few horses in those days had that kind of stature. Today's horses, however, are in a different league, with more finesse and style. Of course, they didn't do the freestyle in the Olympics then, and it has added a whole new dimension to the sport. Without the freestyle, it never would have reached the popularity it has achieved.
Charlotte rode to a perfectly choreographed melange of "The Great Escape," "Pomp and Circumstance," the James Bond theme, "Live and Let Die," an Olympic fanfare and the chimes of Big Ben, beautifully woven into the score. She earned 90.089 percent (just missing her British freestyle record of 90.65 percent) to 88.196 for Adelinde and 84.339 for Laura.
Understandably emotional, Charlotte kept wiping away tears with her white gloves (I felt like offering her a handkerchief) as she waited for the medal presentation.
"I just wanted to go out there today and enjoy it and not regret anything," she said. Although Valegro was tired, "he went out there and gave it his all," she said. Charlotte and her horse are quite a young combination. Valegro is 10 years old; she is only 26.
Her only major mishap, which she said was the result of "greenness and tiredness" came at the end of her performance, when Valegro had a mix-up about when he was supposed to canter and then do a piaffe pirouette.