Aachen, Germany, August 22, 2006 -- The U.S. is standing fourth in the team Grand Prix dressage rankings after the first day of competition at the World Equestrian Games (WEG), where Leslie Morse had some trouble in her one-tempi changes and pirouettes, while Guenter Seidel's horse gave him a bonus he didn't ask for in the one-tempis that hurt his score.
But with the team's top guns, national champ Steffen Peters (Floriano) and Debbie McDonald (Brentina) heading out on the field tomorrow, the U.S. is likely to rise to bronze status, since it is just 1.042 points behind third place Great Britain. Still, Steffen and Debbie will be under great pressure, because the team has less than a point lead over the threatening Swiss, and less than two over Denmark, considered the greatest challenger to the U.S. quest for bronze.
Guenter is fifth individually with Aragon and certain to make the cut for Friday's Grand Prix Special, which carries its own set of individual medals for the first time since 1994. Leslie stands 18th with Tip Top. That means she is unlikely to compete again at the WEG.
And here's a hot news flash for you--Germany is leading the standings, no surprise. But there is an interesting twist. The Dutch have a percentage of 134.917 after two riders competed, while the Germans have a percentage of 140.042. Okay, it's not REAL close yet, but it could be tomorrow, when the Netherlands' Anky van Grunsven, the Olympic champion, takes the stage with Keltec Salinero, and her student, Edward Gal, rides G4S Lingh.
At that time, what happened today to Dutch team member Laurens van Lieren might matter. Get this: Laurens was using a saddlepad emblazoned with a logo while he was warming up Hexagon's Ollright. A steward told him he had to change it, thinking--because of an apparent miscommunication--that it was the logo of his personal sponsor, not the team. Only the latter is allowed at the WEG. Why would anyone care in this day and age? It's not 1956, when professionals were barred from the Olympics.
Anyway, the 15 minutes it took to change the pad disturbed his warm-up routine, Laurens said, and he felt it was reflected in his test, for which he got 68.5 percent.
The whole situation exploded during a post-competition press conference, when it was intimated by some that Laurens would like a do-over tomorrow.
Wouldn't nearly everyone want a do-over, commented FEI Dressage Committee Chairman Mariette Withages, trying to move on. Then it got really ugly, when the citizenship of the steward was questioned. Turns out he was German; were the Dutch sensing a plot afoot? And you wonder why there are wars.
That gives you an idea of the tension level at these world championships. The Dutch certainly could threaten the Germans for the title, but even if Laurens had a better mark (and his would seem to be the drop score in any case) the odds would be with the reigning titleists on home turf. Heike Kemmer, their national champion, certainly made a statement with a score of 75.792 on Bonaparte to lead the individual rankings for Germany.
There were 29,500 people in the stands, not bad for a Tuesday, and most of them gave a full-throated roar when Heike finished her test, as one side of the ring broke out in a wave of red, yellow and black German flags.
The huge stadium seemed to be just the right forum for her 13-year-old chestnut Hanoverian.
"He doesn't like the crowd to be too close to the arena," Heike explained. "Then he can go forward and show his exciting extensions."
Leslie was first to go for the U.S., starting out with a bang. But Tip Top, who can be volatile, got distracted by the cameras, his rider contended, and things went south from there. He walked through part of his first pirouette and had trouble with the second one as well.
To say that her score of 64.250 percent was disappointing was an understatement. But Leslie looked on the bright side, grinning as she exited the ring, giving the thumbs up sign and later toasting her team championships debut with champagne.
"I rode my heart out...he was a super horse today," she said afterwards.
Guenter was going great guns with Aragon, who has never looked better, his signature piaffes even more impressive than usual; his extensions more flowing and expressive. Then in the one-tempis, Aragon gave him a lead change he didn't ask for at the end of the movement, and Guenter had to change again to get him back on the correct lead as he went around the corner. That left him a little unprepared for the pirouette that came up fast, and he lost points. I had been betting with the photographer next to me that Guenter would get a 70 percent at least, and he nearly made it, winding up with 69.792.
Understandably, he seemed a little disappointed and understandably slightly deflated afterwards, his smile not as bright as usual. Interestingly, Guenter warmed up next to the practice arena for the vaulters, where there were loud voices and music. Aragon, he said, seemed relieved to trot into the quiet of the dressage ring, which is in the middle of the arena that will be used for show jumping next week.
Listen: Guenter Seidel talks about his ride on Aragon
Steffen bats lead-off tomorrow, while Debbie goes last. It's not her favorite position, but as she told me, "Klaus was adamant," and when Coach Klaus Balkenhol speaks, she is not going to argue, she pointed out.
Klaus has pull. He found a lucky calk (that's what I was told, don't know why he thinks it's lucky) and said during the draw for order of go that he wanted the U.S. to be 13th. And that was just the way it happened.
Only four riders got over 70 percent today, and some folks guessed the judges were being a little tight with their marks so they wouldn't have to fly to the moon tomorrow when Anky goes, I guess, and give her 95 percent, or something like that.
This morning started out badly for me when the WEG bus that was supposed to take me to Aachen, a half-hour away, didn't arrive. Turned out later that it was caught in the traffic from a highway accident, but I didn't know what was up, so I ran across the street to the bus station and caught a ride there, worrying I wouldn't be in time for the dressage.
It's a little scary to do that in a foreign country when you're not 100 percent sure where you'll wind up. This trip took about an hour, because we stopped in every hamlet and town along the way, it seemed. It might have been charming to see the sights in those little villages under other circumstances, but I was just intent on getting to work.
The bus stopped in the middle of Aachen, a city with a Medieval feel, full of signs for the WEG, and I hopped on another bus, a free shuttle to the showgrounds. I met some fans at the bus stop--it was so good to hear an American accent--including a woman from Virginia who rides dressage locally and her friend, as well as a gal from Australia. We chatted away with that instant rapport horse people have and who gets on the bus at the next stop but Jack LeGoff. I introduced him to my new acquaintances as the legendary U.S. eventing coach, which he certainly was. He seemed so proud of his credential; it had a photo of him from the early 1980s, perhaps the 1982 world championships, and we had a good laugh over that. He hasn't changed a bit... Me either.
Jack has seen it all--11 Olympics, he told me--so he hasn't felt the need to go to the big competitions recently, but he thought this one was special enough to merit the trip.
So far, it's been quite a ride. Can't wait to see the competition tomorrow. Want to know how it all comes out? Stick with me and read my next article. Until then, I'm going to try to make a dent in my sleep deprivation.
Visit EquiSearch's WEG section for more stories and blogs from Debbie McDonald and Krista Freundlich. Chat about the WEG with fellow fans at forum.equisearch.com.