August 8, 2016 -- Australia’s Christopher Burton surprised himself by finishing clear and within the time aboard an inexperienced horse to move up to Individual gold medal position going into tomorrow’s show jumping phase. Christopher was at the reins of Santano II, a 9-year-old Hannoverian gelding by Sandro Hit that he described as “Pre-Novice green.” Christopher’s ride helped Team Australia move into Team Gold medal position in Team standings.
New Zealand and France finished the day in Team Silver and Bronze position, and after several costly mistakes Germany lost their team lead to fall to 4th place. The Netherlands are in 6th, and Team Brazil moved up from 9th after dressage to a triumphant 5th place.
Australia saw three of their four riders come home with no jumping penalties, a fantastic day for the team of Sam Griffiths, Stuart Tinney and Burton. Shane Rose was eliminated on course for the drop score.
“For a horse with very little blood in his breeding, he is a rocket,” Christopher said of his horse. “I am delighted at this stage; I couldn’t be happier.”
However, it was the opposite story for Team USA: only half the team completed the cross-country phase, causing them to plummet down to 12th place in team standings. Their hopes for a team medal are now out of the question due to Clark Montgomery and Loughan Glen retiring on course and a fall from Lauren Kieffer and Veronica. However, both Phillip Dutton and Boyd Martin crossed the finish line in good form to finish in 5th and 6th place, respectively, with Mighty Nice and Blackfoot Mystery.
In total, 15 pairs were eliminated on course, with five falls, and two pairs retiring. No horse or rider injuries were reported and no holds on course were required. But trouble came early on course with a direct line from a drop to a skinny fish jump through water at fence 6 causing its fair share of runouts. From there the course was full of twists and turns and technical combinations that made it difficult to make up time in the gallops.
“It was a physically demanding course, you had to jump a jump, turn and accelerate. It was tiring, it was laboring and it was intense,” described Boyd. “It was question, after question, after question. You got through one tough jump and came to another tough jump. It was one of those courses where you can’t ease up for one second.”
Boyd was glad that he was mounted on the off-the-track Thoroughbred Blackfoot Mystery, a popular 12-year-old gelding by Out of Place, that proved his heart several times over on the world’s biggest stage.
“I am relieved!” Boyd said after finishing clear on just 3.20 time penalties. “My biggest fear is letting everyone down, especially the group that bought him and my teammates and my country. The biggest thing that motivates me is to not fail.”
While Team USA is unquestionably gutted to be out of Team medal contention, an Individual medal is not out of the question for Boyd or Phillip, depending on how the stadium jumping unfolds.
Phillip also finished clear on 3.20 time penalties; he rode second-last in the order and had all day to watch how the course, which is being called the toughest Olympic cross-country track since Sydney in 2000, demolished his team.
“I think everybody is pretty shocked,” Phillip said. “Most of the Olympics, cross country hasn’t been as advanced, but it is what it is and it’s probably not my favorite type of course, but it was the same for everybody.”
Horses were visibly tired as they made their way through the 43 jumping efforts that were meant to be completed within the 10 minute and 15 second time allowed. Thankfully, a thick cloud cover kept temperatures cool throughout the day, and the well-prepared footing, while slippery in a few places, was a smooth, rolling emerald track that popped against the otherwise arid Brazilian landscape.
“It was beautiful galloping through this, it was really beautiful,” said Germany’s Michael Jung, who finished clear and within the time to sit in Individual Silver position going into tomorrow. “With the help from the spectators, when you are galloping from fence to fence, that was an unbelievable feeling.”
While the crowds didn’t nearly number the massive throngs that packed into Greenwich Park for the London Olympics four years ago, the spectators who came to Deodoro today brought enthusiasm from around the world to cheer for their favorite riders. Anywhere else it would have been considered a light crowd, but for this competition that marks the first time an Olympics have been held in South America the atmosphere was strong and very positive.
Back to Christopher Burton, who was one of three riders to add nothing to their dressage score today (the third was France’s Nicolas Astier on Pief De B’Neville, who now sits in Individual Bronze medal position.) He hit the time allowed right on the mark, despite choosing a few long routes on course. Santano II was jumping his first four-star track at these Olympics and he came through the finish timers with all four shoes on and feeling to Christopher that he’ll be fit and ready for tomorrow’s stadium phase.
“He felt great. We have a great team, and we’re going to enjoy the rest of today and tomorrow,” Christopher said.
Nicolas was similarly thrilled to move up to 3rd place; he incurred no jumping penalties and finished with a second to spare inside the time allowed on Piaf De B’Neville. Mark Todd of New Zealand had a great day as well, picking up just 2 time penalties with Leonidas II to place 4th.
Brazil can be proud that it has this phase of the Olympics under its belt. Challenges and disappointed faces aside, the cross-country phase was safe, with no out-of-line questions, and all the horses that competed today walked off the course and are back in their stable eating their hay this evening. While the cross country tested these Olympic-caliber riders to their limits, that is what they came here for. Forty-eight horses will jog prior to the stadium jumping phase on Tuesday morning; tune in at 10am local time to find out who will claim Rio Olympic Team and Individual Gold.Save