Lexington, Ky., October 9, 2010 -- Crime overshadowed competition at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games (WEG) today, as Dutch world champion Ijsbrand Chardon discovered only hours before the marathon that his carriage had been vandalized.
Police are investigating how someone got into a secure area to slash the seats of the marathon vehicle and empty the brake fluid. As Chardon's crew worked feverishly to make repairs, the ground jury balked at giving him an extension of his starting time, but finally gave in and let him go last.
With such an awful start to his day, Ijsbrand could be forgiven for not being at his best in the marathon. But he went out and won three of the eight hazards while tying for first in a fourth. The result was an impressive victory in the phase with a score of 96.27, just ahead of the fleet Tomas Eriksson of Sweden, who had 99.52 penalties. Australian Boyd Exell, the dressage victor, was third in the marathon but kept his lead overall with a total of 130.52 penalties to 132.24 for Isjbrand and 147.06 for the USA's Tucker Johnson.
"It's the most bizarre marathon I've ever done. I'm so happy everything went well," said Ijsbrand, who did not blame anyone for the vandalism and thought it might have been a crazy person.
I asked Tucker, who is retiring from the sport after this competition, to express his feelings about what happened to Ijsbrand.
As for how he did today, Tucker said, "I think my last marathon may be my best," even with, as he put it, "the pressure of competing at home" in the U.S.
As he finished, he waved to the crowd, saying he wanted to thank them.
"It was a bittersweet moment for me," said Tucker, who has been understandably emotional here.
"I felt a little sadness that it was over, and happiness for my performance. Not much out there fooled me. After 25 years, it's pretty hard to fool an old guy like me," he smiled.
Although the U.S. team stands second to the Netherlands with 300.92 penalties, to 273.77 for the leader, the other two members of the squad had their problems. Chester Weber, an eight-time national champion, went fast but ran into trouble in two hazards, necessitating having grooms down twice. Jimmy Fairclough also had a groom fall from the carriage in one hazard. The penalties put them ninth and 13th respectively over all.
"I was a little bit disappointed," said Chester, who had hoped for both a team and individual medal, and tried to zip around accordingly.
"I like to win," he said, explaining his need for speed. "There's no sense in going out there to mess around."
Chester explained what happened to sink his marathon chances.
"I had a wheeler over the trace on the way out on number seven (hazard), the right leader backed up and the right wheeler was a bit too aggressive and stepped over his trace, so we had to stop. On number four, I had kind of an oddball deal. Going down the steep hills one of the wheelers got a trace over his hip. I didn't notice it until we got out."
Jimmy summed up his trip by saying, "I had moments of brilliance and moments of bad luck." His groom fell out of the vehicle at the third hazard, which added a penalty to Jimmy's score.
Two U.S. drivers competing as individuals, Bill Long and Casey Zubek were eliminated, but they weren't the only ones who had a tough time. Mike Mclennan, another U.S. individual competitor who stands 21st of the 23 remaining entries, called the route designed by Richard Nicoll, "The worst course I've ever driven in my life. All of us think we can drive through a hole 4 feet wide and sometimes we can't. You've got to maintain your forward momentum to make it work."
As the WEG winds down, I'm running like crazy in my own marathon. Tonight is the show jumping final four for the individual world championship, but it finishes late and by the time I write it, it's going to be even later. So we'll have that up first thing in the morning.
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