September 15, 2002 -- The USA is back on top of the eventing world again today
with a gold medal in the World Equestrian Games.
"We came here to try and win the team competition. We had brilliant riders
and a great group of horses," said coach Mark Phillips. Then he smiled and
announced: "Mission accomplished."
It was the first time the USA had won the world championship since 1974.
Hearing the Star-Spangled banner being played in a packed stadium was
wonderful. I know the riders on the podium, with the gold medals around their
necks, were thinking about our country and how great it was to add a little
more sporting glory to its history.
Their exhilaration showed after the anthem when they turned around, smiling,
as John Williams and David O'Connor thrust their hats skyward in triumph and
Standing first in both the team and individual rankings going into the final
phase of the event is no easy thing, believe me. The strain showed on the
faces of everyone associated with the U.S. Equestrian Team as the show
jumping got under way this morning.
The bravest round of the day was Amy Tryon's. She was hurt in a fall on
Saturday's cross-country segment, you'll remember, but remounted and finished
the course with Poggio II. Team doctor Craig Ferrell thought she might have a
cracked rib and the official diagnosis was separated cartilage in her chest,
but this firefighter is tough.
Though she was in such obvious pain it hurt me to watch her, Amy managed to
ride a tough course with only one knockdown.
"My goal was to be a good team member," she said afterward, moving painfully
before she held an ice pack to her chest. "You've got to finish for the team.
That's the goal of what we do."
And, she noted, Poggio II, a former mountain pack horse, cooperated with her.
"I'm thrilled with my horse," she said, giving him credit for her success in
negotiating a technical route that included bending lines and difficult
Next out for the USA was David. With the pressure on, the Olympic individual
gold medalist was in his element aboard Giltedge, a horse on which he has won
six medals from the Pan Ams to the Olympics.
As we held our breaths, David negotiated an elegant double-clear, but it
wasn't over yet.
Kim Vinoski, the heroine of Saturday's cross-country with a brilliant round
on Winsome Adante, wasn't able to deliver such a stellar performance twice in
a row, unfortunately. She had three rails down, and the pressure was on as
riders from other countries that threatened the U.S. gold took their turn in
the grass arena.
Stuart Tinney's 26 faults sank Australia's hopes, as it dropped from the
second position on Saturday to fourth. The Brits had one clear round, two
4-faulters and one 5-faulter (I should mention here that only the three best
scores count), but their show jumping prowess couldn't overcome the deficit
they rang up cross-country.
France's Jean-Luc Force helped the U.S. with a 13-penalty round on Crocus
Jacob, but gold still wasn't a sure thing. A horse can always refuse out, and
a rider can always fall off. Aside from that, John Williams could have had
eight fences down and still insured a U.S. win. He had no such luxury in his
individual medal race, though.
The margin there was 8.8 penalties, and he used nearly all of it up
immediately, knocking down the first two fences with Carrick. Halfway through
the course, he did it again, dropping him to silver. The coup de grace was
the last fence, a liverpool topped by red and white striped rails, When it
tumbled, so did his standing, putting him fourth individually -- just out of
But the USA had won the all-important team race, beating France by 17
penalties. Another 6.6 penalties back was Great Britain, which was favored
before the event started to win the gold.
John, riding in his first championship, showed remarkable poise for having
just let a second gold medal slip through his fingers.
"I knew going in that my horse wasn't as comfortable this morning as he
usually is at one of these, but other than the first two fences, he really
started to try hard," said John.
"The first two fences seemed to be bogey fences, and they got me as well. I'm
really quite happy with him, he tried very hard and he worked hard
yesterday." He said he wasn't disappointed about the individual medal; it's
obvious that the team came first for him, as it did for all the others.
"I'm delighted," he said. Asked if he "felt the occasion," John answered,
"less than many other times. I was quite relaxed about it all," and the smile
that broke through on his tanned face echoed the sentiment.
In John's absence, the individual gold went to France's Jean Teulere on
Espoir de la Mare. Jean appears to be a man of few words, and they were all
in French, but his stylish riding admirably controlled his hot-blooded horse,
enabling him to finish with just one knockdown. Jeannette Brakewell of Great
Britain took the silver with Over to You (that's one of my favorite horse
names, don't know why) and Piia Pantsu of Finland on Ypaja Karuso earned her
nation's first world championship eventing medal, a bronze. That was quite a
feat, since Finland isn't a country known for the sport. To say the least.
The golden glow surrounding the winning squad was shared with USET supporters
as they went to the organization's pavilion here for a champagne toast after
the medal ceremony.
"This is the best team I've ever been around, and I've been around a couple,"
said David. "Right from the start, when we all got together and started
training in England, there was a real camaraderie."
Then the only veteran on the squad added with a laugh reflecting his joy in a
long dreamed-of gold: "I've been waiting for this for 16 years, and these
guys go out and get it on the first try."