Aachen, Germany, August 29, 2006 -- Maybe, just maybe, the Germans won't win this one.
Let's see: They've already taken the team gold in the dressage, vaulting and eventing at the World Equestrian Games (WEG) here. And they've also snatched the individual golds in the Grand Prix Special and male vaulting.
But they are, get this, SIXTH in show jumping at the moment. That's at the moment, however.
Today's one-round speed course with lots of options, designed by Frank Rothenberger from guess where, Germany, was the easiest route the jumpers will have to face this week. Tomorrow, the Nations' Cup begins in the new two-day format, and my guess is that when they make the second round a little more stringent on Thursday, the standings will change.
But at the moment the Netherlands (in their frighteningly electric orange riding jackets) is leading on a total of 6.01 faults. We're in second, just 0.84 faults behind, with Brazil in third, 0.14 back of us.
As for the Germans, they are sixth, 4.15 behind the Dutch, who have been dying to beat their neighboring country through the whole Games. (I'm referring to the whining in dressage; go back and look at my story U.S. Stands Fourth After First Day of Dressage if you want to know what I mean.)
Anyway, it was interesting to see how the U.S. team did. Beezie Madden (Authentic) and McLain Ward (Sapphire) were the stars coach George Morris thought they would be when he gave them a bye from the selection trials.
Beezie won the speed in a time of 77.62, bettering the wildly fast Hickstead, ridden by Canada's Eric Lamaze, who clocked in 78.4 to be second. He was her target.
Beezie Madden on how the pressure at WEG is different than at the Olympics, where she was on the 2004 gold medal team
Hey, can I change my medal picks? I thought Canada would be the dark horse. No way. Aside from Eric, "fuggedaboutit," as we say in New Jersey.
Gerco Schroder of the Netherlands finished third on Eurocommerce Berlin in 78.47 to put his squad (temporarily) in the lead, while our McLain Ward did the consummate professional's job to come in fourth in 79.35.
Okay, so I've praised half our team. Now for the other half. Laura Kraut was (gulp) 48th on Miss Indpendent, with one fence down totally messing her up since she's not a real fast horse. Our drop score was Margie Engle, whose Hidden Creek's Quervo Gold toppled (gasp) four fences to wind up 88th.
Here's how George explained it: "At a double, Quervo Gold twisted, and she (Margie) got shook loose and I think that distracted them, the horse and rider. The next fence, that was what we call a chip, where she went long and the horse went short. I think they got unraveled after that. It was very unexpected."
"I put her first with a strategy with that horse, I didn't want him to go super fast, because tomorrow he'd be above himself. I put her first because he's a very good jumper," George continued. "I was hoping for a very solid clear or 4-fault round. I was very surprised. It was just one of those things."
George Morris on today and tomorrow's courses
Let me segue here to talk about the local color and say it's sort of been like the ghost of world championship show jumping past here. I ran into Greg Best, who was fourth with Gem Twist in the first WEG 16 years ago (seems like one year, that's what happens when you get old). Greg, who now lives in New Zealand, is managing their team, but he hinted he might be doing some riding again soon--maybe, however, it will be endurance riding, he told me. I'm not sure if he was joking or not. Probably he's not sure if he was joking or not.
Peter Wylde, who won the individual bronze in Jerez four years ago, wishes he were riding, and admitted with a smile to eating his heart out that he's not. But the next-best thing to competing is being a spectator, he contended.
"I would not miss this for the world," he said. "It doesn't get any better than this. Even though I'm not riding, I'm loving every second of it."
Rodrigo Pessoa, who won the world championship in Rome eight years ago, was supposed to ride with the Brazilian team here, but his horse, Baloubet du Rouet, got hurt. He told me the horse will recover, though I wonder how many more years that great campaigner has in the show ring. Can you imagine, however, how the Brazilian team would be doing if Rodrigo were riding with them? They are a big surprise in third place. Oh, and wait--they only have three riders, so no drop score. Are these guys good or what?
You know what's really neat is that so many more countries are competing than took part the last time I was here, 20 years ago for the final stand-alone show jumping world championships (before they invented the WEG.)
Get this: 25 nations fielded teams here, including the Czech Republic, Saudi Arabia, the Russian Federation (not sure what that is, though I know what Russia is, maybe I'll research it; maybe not) and Ukraine (though at least 3/4 of that team involves riders I know who have changed their citizenship, or at least their riding passports).
Individually, we have even more exotic nations, including Malaysia, Jordan, the Republic of South Africa and the United Arab Emirates.
I know the goal of Princess Haya of Jordan, the new president of the FEI, is to make this sport more universal (the International Olympic Committee likes that) and it certainly seems to be going in that direction.
But as I said, everything can change tomorrow, and I'll be around to tell you if it does. Also, we have the start of driving dressage tomorrow. I love the WEG, but I'm pooped. How will I cover both? Believe me, I'll figure it out. Talk to you then!
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