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Hong Kong, August 13, 2008 -- Courtney King-Dye's big moment under the lights at the Olympics finally came tonight, and she wasn't as nervous as I was for her. In fact, she wasn't nervous at all. Courtney is not one to have clammy hands and a knotted stomach before going in the ring, wherever it is.
"I rarely suffer from nerves," she explained.
Oh, she did mention one exception. Her first time at the World Cup finals was a little intimidating because she was warming up in the same arena with her idols and was worried about getting in their way. But now she knows them and is comfortable in their presence. It certainly looked this evening as if she belonged in their company. Her first Olympic test, marked by composure and smooth transitions from Harmony's Mythilus, was only worth 70.458 percent to the judges, however. Actually, let me put it another way: Some judges, such as Denmark's Leif Tornblad at H, really liked her. In fact, Leif gave her a mark of 72.083, putting her in the lead for his rankings of everyone who rode today in the first part of the Grand Prix. This is the test that counts for the team medals, so it's all-important. The U.S. has had a bronze medal run, Olympics after Olympics, so we want to hold on to that medal. Unfortunately, Leif's opinion wasn't matched across the board by the other four judges.
Remember, all have a different viewpoint of the action, so they see things differently. That's probably why Germany's Gotthilf Riexinger at M had Courtney sixth in the line-up at 68.75. Not surprisingly, Gotthilf's number one was Heike Kemmer of Germany with the well-presented chestnut, Bonaparte. She got a 72.708 from him, and the other judges were close to that. The only one who didn't put Heike first was Leif. He had her third with 71.25.
Courtney felt she was judged fairly.
"I'm happy with that score," she said after dismounting, her face aglow with the perspiration that is endemic in a place where the heat and humidity make it feel as if you're operating under a warm, wet blanket.
"I'm actually quite disgusting and dripping," she laughed, but the horse was unaffected by the heat tonight. That gives her carte blanche to ask him to ratchet up his act.
"Of course, I'm going to be pushing for more," she said.
"But my horse had a couple of down days when I got here and I couldn't have asked for more than going in there and putting in a clean test. I know there's more in there."
Yet she felt her level of request to him was just right.
"He put in a stellar first test for the U.S. and I'm thrilled with him," she said.
"He was very lethargic when he came. I'm very particular and paranoid about the health of my horses. I'm glad I had such a fantastic team of vets here to encourage me and tell me the horse was totally fit and able to compete. It took me a while to build back up and ask him for more. It was just a little bit of loss of time. Every day, he's getting stronger and stronger. He needed a couple of more days to acclimate to the heat, and he's certainly gotten that. I plan on pushing it up a notch if we make it into the (Grand Prix) Special," she said.
That's the first test that counts for individual points, and the top 25 will make the cut-off. It seems very likely Courtney will have a shot at that.
"Everybody keeps asking what it's like to be here and if I'm riding on this cloud. There's no time to ride on a cloud. It's business. We're here to do the best we can for our country. I had a blast at the World Cup but that was all for me. This is for my team, for my country and I'm taking that part of it very seriously," she said.
Courtney has a huge cheering squad. She's got about 250 supporters who give everything from a small amount to a large amount. Without that backing, she never would have been able to hone her skills in Europe, she said. That has been a big help, since she noted Debbie and Steffen have so much more experience than she does, and getting mileage has been key to her success.
So who do we have to beat to get the bronze? Great Britain has been mentioned a lot, and indeed, that nation's Emma Hindle with Lancet was second on an impressive 71.125. But pair that with Jane Gregory's 63.374 percent ride on Lucky Star, and perhaps the Brits don't look like that much a threat. Denmark is another contender, but their first rider, Anne van Olst on Clearwater is sixth on 67.375.
Does politics play a part in judging? You know the answer to that one and I'm not going to go there, but let's just say judging, like being a Broadway critic, is a subjective art.
Though Courtney stands fourth at the moment, she will drop further when the second half of the class is run, since she will be up against such superstars as Anky van Grunsven of the Netherlands (Salinero) and Isabell Werth of Germany (Satchmo), as well as our own Debbie McDonald (Brentina) and Steffen Peters (Ravel.)
Our other riders had what Courtney referred to as a lucky draw. The Dutch did not. It's never good to go first, and that role fell to Hans Peter Minderhoud on Nadine. Judges can't give the first horse too many points (unless it's Anky or Isabell, I guess) because then they have nowhere to go with the entries they have yet to see. Hans stands fifth with 69.625, getting his lowest mark of 67.25 from Leif. I see a pattern here...
The other Dutch rider today, Imke Schellekens-Bartels, got 70.875 on her veteran, Sunrise, who looked good if not exceptional. The fate of the Dutch now rests with their Anky, who can elevate the others. The big question is, will her score be such that it lifts her teammates above the Germans? Everybody was talking about a possible upset of German dominance in the team dressage competition this year. I don't think it's going to happen, but we'll see. I think the Germans' equivalent of Anky, Isabell, likely will get an impressive score. But can it carry her team to gold again? The third member of the German troupe, Nadine Capellman with Elvis, also will have to do her part in order to keep going with the string of gold medals that has belonged to Germany since 1984.
The format of this Olympics in a way makes it easier to figure out what might happen as you go along, because for the first time in recent memory, there are only three members on a team, so every score counts. In previous Olympics, most teams had the luxury of a drop score (some smaller nations could only field three riders) so that often kept the suspense going until the very end.
And speaking of the end, our Steffen will ride last. At that point, the judges shouldn't fear giving high marks, so the placing could work to his advantage.
Let's see what happens tomorrow. I'm particularly looking forward to the medal ceremony, done with pomp and style. The eventing ceremony and the victory gallop left a real lump in my throat.
Award-winning equestrian journalist Nancy Jaffer is covering her eighth Olympics. Her columns, photos and articles appear regularly on EquiSearch.com.
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