Aachen, Germany, September 2, 2006 -- After a great start, the U.S. four-in-hand driving team had a dismal finish, going from first to eighth in the course of three days.
Winning the dressage was exhilarating, but in combined driving, that's only one-third of the game. A weak marathon from all concerned on America's side meant today's cones phase was even more important than usual.
With strong teams such as Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands in the race (they finished 1, 2 and 3 by the way), the only hope America had of climbing up in the vicinity of the medals (please note I did not say INTO the medals) was to have super rounds in the cones.
The best American effort in the final phase belonged to Jimmy Fairclough, who had the original discard scores in both dressage and the marathon. I was really happy for Jimmy, who has been driving in the world championships for more than a quarter-century.
He was 10th in the cones to come in 20th overall, and is confident the young team he drives for sponsor Jane Clark is coming along. Listen to him talk about it in this sound byte.
Listen: Jimmy Fairclough on his young team and his experience today.
I thought Tucker Johnson, once known as "The King of Cones," would have a great showing in this phase, but it was not to be. Here he explains why he wound up 25th today, although with his dressage and marathon added in, he came in 14th overall.
Listen: Tucker Johnson comments on his cones experience.
But the real shocker was Chester Weber, winner of the dressage, who had a lapse and went off course. He was eliminated, which meant neither his winning dressage score nor his marathon mark could be counted in the team's total.
He'll tell you what happened.
Listen: Chester Weber explains why he went off course in the cones.
Unfortunately, the expense of four-in-hand driving means very few people can afford to do it at the international level, so that means the U.S. team will probably continue to be Tucker, Jimmy and Chester. They all have things to work on, and it's hard because to really hone their skills they have to come over here, where this type of driving is a big sport. There are precious few opportunities at home to drive an advanced four-in-hand in competition, and our guys are only driving against each other.
Experience in facing down the best drivers is what makes a cool competitor, and I watched with admiration as former world champion Felix Brasseur of Belgium became the new world champion with a drive that was calculated to the second and the millimeter.
He was right behind another former world champ, Ysbrand Chardon of the Netherlands in the order of go, and Felix's amazing drive put real pressure on the leader.
Ysbrand faltered, having one knockdown for three penalties and time faults as well, to finish 14th in the segment, but second overall. So even someone with loads of mileage and good competition nerves can have problems.
But I will always remember Felix's drive before a pro-German packed house, as he made admirers out of all of them.
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