Aachen, Germany, August 25, 2006 -- Dreams came true for Steffen Peters (and almost for me) today when the cool-headed dressage rider wound up just out of the medals in the Grand Prix Special at the World Equestrian Games (WEG).
My dream, which I told you about last weekend, was that Steffen would win an individual medal here. When I woke up, I was puzzled. Although I admire Steffen's riding very much, we all thought Debbie McDonald would be the USA's medal candidate with Brentina.
But Debbie didn't even start in the Special because of Brentina's leg problem, which was the big news yesterday. Steffen and the graceful 16-year-old Floriano filled the gap admirably, earning fourth place with a test marked at 75.200 percent that had little to criticize. Oh, maybe an abrupt transition from piaffe to passage at one point, but the fact that Floriano was piaffing well, when it isn't his thing, made up for any shortcomings.
I don't know how Steffen handles it all as well as he does. You can see that he's focused when he's riding, but it's also evident that what he is doing is a pleasure, and he doesn't get jangled.
I asked if he ever has butterflies, and he told me, "Anybody who says they don't get a little bit nervous is probably lying; you always have that feeling that you're a little bit on the edge, but certainly never to the point where your nerves take over."
Steffen noted, "I had a great feeling from yesterday, and he handled the arena very well. Honestly, I get sometimes a little upset with myself if I get nervous because I have done this a little over 200 times now. After that many rides there's no need for that anymore."
Tomorrow's grand prix freestyle will be a real challenge under the lights in the cavernous stadium. But however it comes out, Steffen is satisfied.
"At this point," he said, "I'm already so excited...If it doesn't go well, it honestly is perfectly fine. The last two rides have done everything, and more than I expected. It's neat to dream about it, but when your dreams become reality, it's pretty special."
Debbie was on hand this afternoon to support Steffen (who was once her trainer) and she seemed fine, despite not being part of the competition. After marking her 52nd birthday August 27 (they had a cake for her earlier this week, since the dressage riders depart Sunday) Deb will begin thinking about her new position as the USA's developing dressage rider coach. She'll be great at the job; she's a terrific teacher with patience and an extreme dedication to doing things right--no shortcuts.
She's also loyal, being on hand not only for Steffen's preparation, but also helping out teammate Guenter Seidel, our other entry in the Special. He had a generally pleasant test with Aragon, in whom he is increasingly confident, and wound up 14th with 70.560 percent to just make the 15-rider list for the freestyle. It wraps up the Grand Prix dressage program here tonight.
But back to Steffen, I think he has cried a river of joy since he won the national championship in June with Floriano, and he was wiping the happy tears away again this afternoon, awed by his horse and the cheers of a stadium packed with 40,000 die-hard dressage fans. It is believed to be the biggest audience ever to witness a dressage competition, and the knowledgeable crowd--who followed every footfall--had a lot to cheer about as Germany's Isabell Werth took the gold with Satchmo, a one-time equine incorrigible who obviously has come around to this Olympic multi-gold medalist's way of thinking.
A quick aside here: There last time there were separate medals for the Special and freestyle was 12 years ago at the WEG in the Hague. At that juncture, you rode in one or the other, I believe. Anky van Grunsven of the Netherlands won there with her faithful Bonfire, marking her entry into the very highest ranks of the sport.
This time, Anky had to settle for second behind her old rival, from the era when Isabell rode Gigolo, but she certainly was pleased today because Salinero didn't bolt with her the way he did in the team medal ceremony on Wednesday. Her score was 77.8 percent, nearly two points back of Isabell's 79.48 and more than one point ahead of Denmark's Andreas Helgstrand, who took the bronze with 76.56 on the amazing Blue Hors Matine.
Well, I presume the mare is still amazing, as she was when Andreas competed in the Grand Prix. The WEG being the multi-tasking challenge that it is, I had to dash to eventing (making a serpentine around all those people eating the long sausages the food stands here favor), after Steffen's test to watch Kim Severson ride. So there wasn't any way to be on hand for the rest of the Special. That's the frustrating thing about the WEG; there's so much going on that no one person can ever see it all. But I give it my best shot.
Read Nancy's eventing coverage from today: Severson Sustains U.S. Eventing's Medal Hopes.
Plus, visit EquiSearch's WEG section for more stories, blogs and online diaries, and chat about the WEG with fellow fans in the EquiSearch Forum.