Aachen, Germany, August 31, 2006 -- In an evening full of the unexpected, the U.S. show jumping team emerged with a silver medal that all too easily could have gone elsewhere, were it not for thrilling clutch performances by McLain Ward and the totally amazing Beezie Madden.
Since it's 3 a.m. on Sept. 1 here (but I'm using a stateside date), I'll have to make this short and sweet, and maybe fill you in a bit more tomorrow. Or today. Or whenever, right after I get three hours of sleep and get up a little after the crack of dawn to go to the four-in-hand driving marathon.
The Dutch surprised everyone (and, I think, themselves) by taking the show jumping gold medal with 11.01 faults. Gerco Schroeder, who is nearly as amazing as Beezie, clinched the world championship title for his side with his third perfect trip on the magnificent gray Holsteiner stallion, Eurocommerce Berlin.
The U.S. wasn't going to catch the Netherlands, but it could have been passed by Germany were it not for something in the unexpected category. Marcus Ehning, whose credits include the World Cup championship and being ranked No. 1 in the world, had a catastrophe of a stop at a jump that looked like a giant postage stamp.
We were just wondering why no horse had refused this odd fence when his not-so-experienced mount, Noltes Kuchengirl, put on the brakes and demolished the obstacle. That was the end of the German attempt to climb beyond bronze.
A clear from Marcus (who also had a knockdown at an oxer before the refusal) would have enabled Germany to drop Christian Ahlmann's 4-fault score and finish on 15.16 faults, beating the U.S. mark of 18.85. But that was not to be, and the Germans wound up with bronze and 19.16 faults.
"Overall, we can be very happy to finish third," said Ludger Beerbaum, noting his highly touted nation was only 0.01 faults ahead of Ukraine in fourth.
"When you see the performance of the Dutch and also the Americans, they were not lucky to win, they were far better than we are," Ludger commented. It was a gracious remark, and I hope it soothed some of the German/Dutch enmity that surfaced during the dressage competition.
The U.S. had some bad moments early in the evening over essentially the same course as everyone jumped in the Cup's first round on Wednesday. (The only differences were the lack of the water jump, the substitution of the postage stamp and elimination of one other fence.)
Margie Engle dropped a rail at the second fence with Quervo Gold, but held on to make that her only fault of the night. Then Laura Kraut had two knockdowns--including the first fence--with Miss Independent, which turned up the heat on McLain, with Sapphire, and Beezie, aboard Authentic.
They each came through with style, showing the same kind of ability they demonstrated when they were half of the 2004 Olympic gold medal team.
Beezie leads the individual standings, with Gerco second and Ludger third on L'Espoir. McLain is fifth, behind the Netherlands' Jeroen Dubbeldam, who was part of another surprise six years ago when he won the Olympic individual gold medal.
The top 25 go on Saturday, and from that group, the best four ride each others' horses for the title of world champion. I didn't think it could get more exciting than tonight, but that might do it!
Between rounds tonight, I was trying to plow my way through the massive crowd, which seemed to spread and block my progress like silly putty. I finally gave up and leaned against a fence, where I found U.S. reiner Matt Mills doing the same, taking a break from looking for his family.
Reining starts tomorrow, and Matt seemed to be in awe of all he is seeing here. I asked him for his impressions, and you can hear them if you click on the sound byte below.