July 12, 2015 -- It was close, closer than many expected. In the end, the U.S. edged Canada for Pan American Games team gold today, and with it, a coveted qualifying spot for the Olympics next year.
But the Canadians put up an impressive fight and there were only 5.568 points separating the two nations by the time the last rider performed his final salute.
The format involved having mixed Small Tour and Big Tour riders make up a team, and Canada's Small Tour contingent was very strong. What made the difference was the fact that their Big Tour riders were a bit weaker than the USA's Big Tour riders -- for the most part, I'll get to that in a minute -- and a 1.5 percent coefficient added for the Big Tour participants was important.
The U.S led after yesterday's Prix St. Georges/Grand Prix competition. The agenda today was Intermediaire I and Grand Prix Special.
The Canadian Small Tour riders started off strong again today -- both Chris von Martels (Zilverstar) and Brittany Fraser (All In) set personal bests for the second day in a row, with scores over 76 percent.
For the U.S., Sabine Schut-Kery enjoyed a better ride than yesterday with the powerful stallion Sanceo, finishing on 73.553 percent.
Kimberly Herslow, like Sabine, was appearing on a championship team for the first time. But she was ready to make some personal history. A fantastic performance with Rosmarin, earning 77.158 percent, had her in the lead for most of the day, and left her second at the end of it.
She has a great relationship with the horse she has owned for seven years, since he was a 3-year-old, and today they moved as one. An elated Kimberly revealed that she knew as her test ended it was going to be something she'd remember all her life.
To hear what she was thinking as she came down centerline, listen to this soundbyte.
Everyone was waiting for Laura Graves' test with Verdades, and they weren't disappointed. The horse has benefited so much from Laura's two months working with USA developing coach Debbie McDonald in Idaho. But Debbie, who gets very invested in her favorite students (especially when what they do counts for team points), couldn't relax and just enjoy watching Laura's ride. She had her hands on her head, on her face, in front of her. I was waiting for her to run into the arena and get up there and ride with Laura. Actually, I think that's what she was doing mentally.
Laura wound up with the high score of the day, 77.177, just a little bit over Kim's mark. Think back to 13 months ago. Had you ever heard of Laura? Probably not. But she won her way onto the 2014 World Equestrian Games Team with wonderful tests at the selection trials, and she just kept on going.
Today, she's one of the most admired women in the discipline, and her life is nothing like it was at the beginning of June 2014. Hear what she has to say about that, and listen to how well she says it. I very much admire her poise.
As usual, Steffen Peters was the anchor man for the U.S., but things started going wrong early in his test, and then went from bad to worse.
Legolas took some canter steps during the transition from the passage to extended trot, and that was just the beginning. In his first piaffe, he stopped briefly before continuing. He had mistakes in both the two-tempis and one-tempis.
Unbelievably, Legolas' mark of 72.667 percent was the lowest of anyone on the team today, save for the 1.5 percent coefficient.
Steffen knew he was in trouble after the horse broke during the transition, noting he felt Legolas' back was very tight, a sign he would have trouble with the tempi changes.
"All I can say is thank God for his performance yesterday and thank God for my teammates. who did a fantastic job," said Steffen.
He noted he was worried yesterday when he saw how strong the Canadians were, and he hoped that in the future, there would be a different Pan Am format, one that would have enabled Canada to qualify this year. A number of people, including U.S. coach Robert Dover, felt that two teams should have been able to qualify for Rio at the Pan Ams.
Brazil, which came in third, 40.043 percent behind Canada, is already qualified for Rio because they are the host country.
The Canadians obviously were disappointed, but they kept smiles on their faces. They are very good sports.
Grand prix rider Belinda Trussell, who earned a 75.078 percent mark on Anton, had a lot to say about what she and her compatriots achieved on their home turf.
So what now for Canada? The next step for Olympic participation is a composite team, with riders qualifying based upon their international ranking list standing. But they have to be high enough on the list to get the nod, and that likely involves competing in Europe.
The mechanics of what comes next are a secret, according to Canada's technical advisor, Volker Moritz.
Desi Dillingham, the team's special advisor, wasn't the least bit deterred by the results.
"We couldn't have asked for anything more. Every horse rode its heart out, every rider gave its absolute best,'' she said.
"We had the most wonderful team. Just watch this space; we've got a lot more to come. We'll make the Olympics, you watch. We've got Plan B and Plan C. Be in Rio and we'll see you.
For full results, go to http://results.toronto2015.org
Oh, in case you were wondering why the medalists in the lead photo were holding up stuffed animals instead of the traditional flowers, the medal winners were given Pachi dolls.
is the porcupine that is the Pan Am mascot. He was designed by three 13-year-olds and a 14-year-old. Actually, he’s kind of cute. And he’ll last longer than flowers.
Tomorrow is a day off, and we all need some R&R. The heat of the last two days has been wearing on both horses and riders, not to mention the rest of us.
Tuesday is the individual medal finals, the freestyle. Robert Dover's ambition was not only to take team gold, but also all the individual medals. Judging by the way the Canadian Small Tour riders have been going, I'd say that particular ambition might be unfulfilled, especially since there is no coefficient to benefit the Grand Prix riders on the final day of their competition.