Thursday, Sept. 12, 2002, 8 a.m.: Reporters from various countries have just piled on the bus for the hour's ride to the WEG show grounds. It's the second day of the dressage team competition. American riders Guenter Seidel and Lisa Wilcox are scheduled to ride today; Guenter rides at 12:55 p.m. and Lisa rides at 8 p.m. Germany's ace Ulla Salzgeber will ride just before Lisa at 7:50 p.m. with the team medal ceremony wrapping up the evening.
Before the competition started, the buzz was that the Americans were in line for a medal-Bronze or Silver-and that the competition was going to be tight. After Sue Blinks and Debbie McDonald rode yesterday, however, talk is that the American are strong for the silver. There's even the hushed talk of giving the Germans a run for gold!
Sue's ride yesterday was just beautiful. The first German rider, Ann-Kathrin Linsenhoff, rode before her on Renoir-UNICEF. In the warm-up area watching them prepare was a who's who of the riding world-Ulla Salzgeber, Nadine Appellant, Rudolf Zealander, Any van Groomsmen, Eric Letter, to name just a few. When Ann-Kathrin headed up about 12:45 p.m., a wave of people moved to the stands. You could feel the tension. But she rose to the occasion, giving a solid ride, and scored 70.32 percent, the highest of the first group of riders. Sue was finishing her warm-up. She headed across the diagonal in an extended trot and Flim broke to canter. She galloped him forward with a tap of the whip, then settled him. A few more piaffe steps, a thumbs-up from team coach Klaus Balkenhol and they headed for the stadium.
The crowd cheered as they entered. Waiting for the judge's bell, Sue asked Flim to piaffe, and he looked as if he was going to explode with energy and anticipation. Once in the ring, though, he settled. They proceeded to put in a mistake-free test, and when she finished, Guenter and Lisa stood up, clapping and cheering. Even the usually reserved Klaus threw his fist up in the air in celebration. Sue, who had looked sort of pale and gray going into the ring, emerged with rosy cheeks and a huge smile. The preliminary score came in: 72.24-the new leader.
After a three-and-a half-hour siesta-very important in Spain-the afternoon's riders started to warm up. In the arena, the Netherlands' Coby van Baalen on Olympic Ferro edged Sue out of the lead with 72.52 percent. Germany's Nadine Capellmann on Farbenfroh was set to go before Debbie, who had an 8 p.m. time. The team had decided Sue would ride first because Flim was OK in the heat of the day and Brentina was better when it was cooler and wasn't affected by the evening's lights.
Debbie, too, looked tense. She entered the stadium and as she did, Nadine's scores were announced-77.96. I had hoped hearing the crowd's cheer for that score wouldn't psyche out Debbie. Although I'm supposed to be objective, I found myself getting nervous for her. The mare, however, was beautiful. It was interesting to see her go right after Farbenfroh, who has magnificent gaits. I thought Brentina's gaits were even better. It just looked as if Debbie was riding her just a touch more conservatively.
They finished and Lisa stood up in the stand cheering. Debbie's husband threw his hands up in the air. Debbie dropped the reins and slapped Brentina on the neck; then bent over and hugged her. Brentina just stretched her neck out and strolled out of the ring. As Debbie came out, she waved to the crowd and gave a thumbs-up to Klaus, chef d'equipe Jessica Ransehousen and her husband, Bob, at the in-gate. Her score flashed on the screen--74.640. She was in second place behind Nadine.
Afterward, Debbie praised Brentina and the team. When asked if the other teams should fear the Americans, Debbie said: "We do have something to show off. We don't have just one or two strong horses. We have four. .. They should be a little worried!"
I think because I know the Americans better, I'm thrilled when they do well. But when I talk with the foreign riders, it's always fascinating to hear their stories. And I'm always amazed they're so approachable. Ulla Salzgeber told me that Rusty had been sick the past few days with shipping fever, and she hadn't been riding him. He was back to his typical self yesterday-a fighter--but it had thrown off Ulla's usual training plan. Usually she gives him a light workout the day before the competition, but she said she was going to have to school a little harder to make up for the lost riding time. "How he will be I don't really know," she said. "I'll know tomorrow night!"
I also caught up with Germany's Ann-Kathrin Linsenhoff. I had never spoken with her, yet she was so polite. She's tall and willowy, with these big eyes and soft smile. She said she was just thrilled to be here because she'd had a 12-year hiatus from the team. During that time, she had had her son and just couldn't find a suitable horse. Two years ago, she bought Renoir and had another child. "No one had thought I would come back, but I have done it," she said with pride.
Well, we've arrived at the press center and are heading off the bus. I peak out into the stadium and the organizers are doing a dress rehearsal for this evening's medal ceremony. Time will tell who will be on the top of the podium.