For the first time in her Olympic career, Charlotte Dujardin felt the rattle of nerves when she rode down centerline to perform her individual freestyle with Valegro, Monday, August 15 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
The British rider was defending her 2012 Olympic gold-medal title, and for a short moment, the expectation and the pressure to deliver felt heavy.
“But as soon as I got inside that arena and trotted around the outside, I put a smile on my face because I knew it was all going to be ok,” she said.
And ok it was, as she picked up the reins and delivered a test that was, in many ways, Valegro’s swan song. The pair successfully defended their title, capturing individual gold at the 2016 Rio Olympics with a freestyle score of 93.85 percent.
“I just felt that nothing was going to break, and everything just happened,” Dujardin added. “The last centerline was really emotional for me because I thought, he couldn’t have done anything more if he had tried.”
Dujardin rode a new Rio-themed freestyle put together by Tom Hunt specifically for these Games. She’d ridden it in competition just once before, at Hartbury in July. The judges at H and C awarded 99 percent in artistic marks, pushing her overall artistic score to an unbeatable 97.71 percent.
A Positive Rivalry
Individual silver-medal winner Isabell Werth of Germany rode a test with 9s across the board in artistic marks Weihegold OLD, but even so, her cumulative score of 89.07 percent was a distant second to the dominating pair from Great Britain. That’s how it’s been in the age of Valegro, and Werth for one, isn’t sorry that she’ll no longer have to face him in a championship.
“To have top sport, it’s always necessary to have positive fights and rivalry,” Werth said. “I really enjoy competing against the best combinations. It’s a shame Valegro will retire but me, I will not retire!”
Isabell’s teammate Kristina Broring-Sprehe put a German rider on Dujardin’s other side by earning individual Bronze with Desperado FRH. “I’m always squeezed in between Germans, always!” Dujardin joked.
The United States just missed out on the individual podium—Laura Graves and Verdades had the ride of their life, performing a fluid, harmonious test that featured highly-technical two tempis on a circle, in both directions.
“With this horse, because he is very honest, I feel like I can play with those things, things that other people can’t,” Graves said of her choice to perform the two tempis on a circle. “You have to highlight them. We do it twice, showing it’s not just luck. They obviously rewarded us for it today.”
Graves’s partnership with Verdades is the stuff of fairytales, and she’s brought attention to U.S. dressage not seen since the days of Debbie McDonald and Brentina. Her Grand Prix Special and Freestyle scores at Rio were both personal bests.
“I'm just happy. I believe in the system,” Graves said. “I believe in following a routine and I believe in finding a trainer you trust and staying with them. I am so blessed that both Robert [Dover] and my personal trainer Debbie McDonald have sacrificed so much of their time this summer to be over in Europe with us. It really has made a difference. I feel not that the tests are very easy, but that this was fun. If I had a little more horse I think I could have snuck in a few more percentage points.”
Graves noted that the U.S. team has been at the Deodoro Equestrian Center for a little more than two weeks. Keeping their horses going for that long, compounded with the day’s heat, with temperatures that soared into the 90s, had a slight affect on Verdades.
But her fourth-place finish doesn’t diminish the triumphant week in Rio for U.S. dressage. Coming away with the first Olympic team medal in a dozen years, a bronze that the U.S. earned in the Dressage Team Medal and with three American riders in the individual Freestyle, coach Robert Dover can consider the last three years’ efforts mission accomplished, and look toward the future.
Graves’s teammate Steffen Peters rode first in the morning’s order with Legolas 92. His freestyle scored 79.39 percent and put him in a temporary lead before the afternoon’s powerhouse pairs rode. Peters and Legolas finished in twelfth place. Allison Brock and Rosevelt scored 76.16 percent to finish in fifteenth place.
Even with temperatures and a cloudless sky that made for a toasty afternoon, a crowd of dedicated fans filled up parts of the spectator seating. It was clear whom a large contingent of Spanish-Brazilian-South American fans were behind when the Spanish rider Severo Jesus Jurado Lopez passaged up centerline at the end of his test. Loud cheers went up to support the rider and his horse, Lorenzo, and the boos were just as loud when his score of 83.62 percent flashed on the screen. Their final placing was a strong fifth.
With that, two Olympic equestrian disciplines are a wrap. Show jumping now takes center stage for the remainder of the week, with the second individual qualifier/second team qualifier taking place at 10:00 a.m. local time Tuesday, August 16. The top 60 show jumping riders return to earn a place in Wednesday’s team final.
For more stories about dressage at this year's Olympic Games, check out the following articles:
- Debbie McDonald reflects on U.S Dressage's performance at Rio -->http://www.equisearch.com/article/debbie-mcdonald-talks-rio-53795
- Laura Graves Clinches Olympic Team Bronze at Rio; Germany Capture Dressage Team Gold --> http://www.equisearch.com/article/laura-graves-clinches-olympic-team-bronze-rio-germany-captures-dressage-team-gold-53793
- Dujardin and Valegro Lead Rio Dressage But Germany Remains Team Favorite --> http://www.equisearch.com/article/dujardin-valegro-lead-rio-dressage-germany-remains-team-favorite-53786
- Germany Leads in Team and Individual Competition After Day 1 of Olympic Dressage --> http://www.equisearch.com/article/results-from-day-one-of-olympic-dressage-in-rio-53773