Aachen, Germany, August 30, 2006 -- Everyone with any insight in the show jumping world always knew that Beezie Madden has what it takes. In the years when she didn't make Olympic and World Championships teams, it was obvious her success in that area was only a matter of time.
And that's exactly how it worked out. She rode on the gold medal team at the Olympics two years ago, and today she turned in her second flawless performance at the World Equestrian Games, taking Authentic to a perfect trip in the first round of the Nations' Cup.
It's a cliche to say that Beezie makes it look easy, but she does. This is a woman who is a natural, a help to the horse, a female centaur who moves as one with her mount.
"Beezie's one of my heroes," chef d'equipe George Morris said after the class.
He admires the way she rides the classic forward seat.
"She exemplifies that done correctly, not as it's often done at home in a grotesque fashion," commented George, who doesn't like to mince words, as you may have noticed.
"Plus, she has great determination and great strength, but at the same time, great empathy for the horse. A very, very unusual horsewoman."
Beezie does not have a monopoly on consistency here, though. While she kept her lead from yesterday's speed class by virtue of having the fastest time there, Canada's Eric Lamaze remained in second place with Hickstead as his team self-destructed, while the Netherlands' Gerco Schroeder retained his hold on third place with the exciting gray stallion, Eurocommerce Berlin, leading the way to his nation's first-place standing.
The U.S., meanwhile, is third behind that great show jumping power, Ukraine, which is ranked second. Ukraine? Well, actually it's a squad composed of Belgian and German riders who were assured of a slot in the WEG if they rode for this new country. So the names of the riders are not Ukrainian and are quite familiar: Jean Claude Vangeenberghe, who got tired of the way his native Belgium picked its teams; his countryman, Gregory Wathelet; Bjorn Nagel, a veteran of a German team that is so deep he never would have had a chance to ride for it here; and Katharina Offel, who I don't know but am told is also German.
So the Dutch lead on 7.01 penalties, followed by Ukraine (did I mention it has a Swiss chef d'equipe, Phillippe Guerdat?) with 13.17; the U.S. with 14.85 and mighty Germany with 15.16. Though the Dutch have a little breathing room, Ukraine, the U.S. and Germany do not.
The second leg of the Cup will be run tomorrow night, but only the top 10 teams return over a similar course to tomorrow's lengthy test. The water jump is being excised because it would look different to horses who start in daylight than to those that start at night with the water reflecting off it.
The rest of the U.S. squad did not do as well as Beezie. Margie Engle and Quervo Gold improved on their inauspicious start in the speed round by toppling just one rail, while Laura Kraut (Miss Independent) and McLain Ward (Sapphire) did the same. That took McLain, who had been fourth, out of the top 10 down to 14th. Laura, meanwhile, is 42nd and unlikely to make Saturday's top 25, while Margie is 57th, better than her 88th place from Tuesday, but not good enough no matter how you look at it.
George is expecting more from his riders tomorrow. To hear what he has to say, click on the sound byte below.
One thing that should help the U.S. squad is the team spirit. Beezie will tell you how close this group is, a key factor when the chips are down. Just click on the audio link below to hear what she has to say.
I loved the jumps we saw today, especially the globe, rings of flags from all the countries participating, which you can see in the photo of Gerco Schroeder (and how do you like his jacket in that wild orange color I mentioned yesterday?). The flags are etched in metal, adjacent to a fence that give the longitude and latitude of Aachen. I wish my bus driver today had the latitude and longitude of Maastricht, the Netherlands, where I am staying. We took a tour of the countryside before I made it back to my hotel.
But I digress. Other cool fences include the Aachen Cathedral obstacle (wish I had time to see the famous cathedral, where I believe the bones of Charlemagne lie, but I don't). The cathedral arches is another jump that caught my eye. The arches supposedly inspired the producers of "Lord of the Rings" to replicate them in the Great Hall seen in the film.
Unemployment in Germany is high, about 8.2 percent in June, so maybe that explains why the stands were nearly full around the jumping arena on a Wednesday afternoon. No, seriously, I doubt the unemployed could afford a seat at the WEG, so the popularity of show jumping must have dictated that people take their days off during this competition. Of course, there's the whole overseas crowd, too, adding to the pastiche of languages you hear around the arena and in the shopping and dining area, though I must say the predominant tongue is German, asking for those foot-long sausages and potato pancakes with applesauce.
I'll be writing you again tomorrow with the final results of the Nations' Cup. Even if we don't win, as long as we're fifth or better, we're qualified for the 2008 Olympics, which will be a great achievement in everyone's mind, I'm sure.
P.S. The Russian Federation that I mentioned yesterday is the formal name of the country, like the United States of America. So now we know!
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