Markoupolo, Greece, August 16, 2004 -- The U.S. now has the opportunity for a come-from-behind medal, after finishing fourth this evening in the dressage phase of Olympic eventing.
Hey, that's the only way I could put a positive spin on a downer. Even a solid test 36.2-penalty test by Kim Severson on Winsome Adante wasn't able to lift the team into the top three in the competition's first segment.
Great Britain leads the way, largely on a beautiful performance by Pippa Funnell, standing second individually with 31.4 penalties.
Pippa, the winner of last year's Grand Slam of Eventing (Rolex Kentucky, Badminton and Burghley) couldn't stop smiling and patting her horse, Primmore's Pride, after they took over first place. She got an awful lot out of the formidable looking bay gelding at the extended trot. It was a portrait of harmony, a joy to watch and a real improvement since he won Rolex last year.
But Pippa's edge lasted only part of the afternoon. European Champion Nicolas Touzaint on Galan de Sauvagere did just a little better, beating Pippa by two penalties. He and the steel-gray Selle Francais were a handsome picture in the arena. After his last halt, Nicolas added a dramatic finishing touch, raising his hands in triumph for a ride that felt awfully good to him.
"I was very satisfied with my horse, but I couldn't guess that I would win," he told me through a translator. France has 113.4 penalties, just 0.2 behind Great Britain.
And Germany, with 114.4, is on France's heels. Ingrid Klimke, the last to go today, might have changed the balance of things in Germany's favor with her ride on Sleep Late. But the light gray gelding resisted in the rein back and broke into the canter from the extended trot, putting her eighth overall with a score of 41 penalties.
America is much farther behind the leaders on 128.4 penalties, only one point ahead of Australia. The pressure was on Kim when she trotted Dan into the arena beneath a line of flags whose fluttering was probably doing a good imitation of her heart.
But she didn't show any nerves, realizing that her horse needed a steady force in the saddle.
"I knew he couldn't be feeding off me," she explained. That's why Kim is the team's anchor.
"She's our clutch rider," said Jim Wolf, the U.S. Equestrian Federation's director of eventing.
"I think she's a very cool customer," said Coach Mark Phillips, looking happier than I'd seen him in days as he put an arm around her shoulder. "She always produces her best work in the ring. That's a great skill."
Kim's teammate, John Williams, gave it his best this morning on Carrick, hoping the high-voltage atmosphere in the arena that had wreaked havoc with Julie Richards' test on Jacob Two Two Sunday would give a lift to his placid chestnut. But it wasn't enough, even with the Meltemi, the infamous Greek wind, blowing the flags around.
"Cold and snow would have done me a world of good," said John, whose score of 47.60 put him down in 23rd place. Kim is fourth and Darren Chiacchia is 15th on Windfall II. With Julie standing 58th on Jacob Two Two and Amy Tryon 29th on Poggio II, it's just lucky that under the new eventing format, only three of five scores count in the final tally for the medals.
But remember that dressage is just a promise of a final placing. It's Tuesday's cross-country that will really sort everything out, followed by another shake-up in show jumping as eventing wraps up on Wednesday.
The cross-country course plays a very big role in creating the final standings. Some feel it looks like it's going to be a shade too simple. But as Bettina Hoy, standing third for Germany, pointed out, it's better to go in that direction than making it too difficult.
"I don't think we can afford to have a bad picture here," she said. "This is the biggest shopping window for our sport."
A key factor that could make cross-country tougher is the heat. During the horse inspection on Saturday, it could only be described as wilting. That kind of weather takes a toll, despite the ranks of misting fans that stand ready to cool sweaty horses (and riders). The weather for tomorrow is predicted to be moderate like today, but you never know. I'd hate to be a course designer. You may do your best, but the weather can so quickly change whatever was intended.
The time always plays a big role, too, with the horses required to go 3.46 miles (much of it up and down hill) at a little over 21 mph. That's quite a pace to keep up over 45 jumping efforts. There's an interesting approach to the course, too, on a black rubber brick road that goes beneath a highway. I wonder if that will be unsettling to some of the horses.
We'll see how it goes Tuesday, when a far bigger crowd is expected than the thin ranks of spectators who watched the dressage phase.
I'm excited about cross-country and seeing the horses soaring (hopefully) over those beautiful jumps I described to you. I'll tell you how it all comes out Tuesday.