Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, July 30, 2007 -- It was a battle between host country Brazil and the teams from Canada and the United States for the team show jumping medals at Deodoro Stadium July 27.
The host country's most popular equestrian athlete, Rodrigo Pessoa, was the last to go in the two-round series of Nations' Cup jumping that sealed the deal for a team gold medal. Team Canada earned the silver medal, and the U.S. contingent was awarded with the bronze.
The Brazilian team finished its medal win on a combined score of 9.67, ahead of Canada's 14.72 and the 27.20 posted by the United States team comprised of Cara Raether aboard Ublesco, Lauren Hough aboard Casadora, Laura Chapot aboard Little Big Man and Todd Minikus aboard Pavarotti.
Nations' Cup Round One
The morning began with a handful of early eliminations, including several riders that looked completely out of their field.
Potential serious injury occurred when the sole rider from El Salvador, Alfredo Hernandez, tumbled over his horse on the last jump, an oxer. He was carried from the arena on a stretcher. Another rider, Ecuador's Rodrigo Bermeo Andrade, had stirrup problems and ended up being eliminated after a refusal at fence seven, a vertical. With his foot securely back in the stirrups, he re-approached the jump only to be tossed from his mount and nearly trampled.
Hough and Casadora led the American contingent after day one and came back to improve in the team's overall standing. They had one pole down and a time penalty to finish on a combined score of 6.29 on a time of 81.43. This put them in eighth place going into the afternoon.
"I'm still kicking myself for the time fault," said Hough. "That's inexcusable in a Nations' Cup... the time fault still has me angry."
Raether and Ublesco were next from Team USA and the first to post a clean-and-clear round of the day. It was one of the morning's highlights as they finished on a score of zero faults and a time of 78.72 seconds. When combined with their day-before score, they finished the morning with a score of 7.53 and sat in 10th place.
Following Raether, more clear rounds poppued up from Brazil's Pedro Veniss and Un Blancs de Blanc (sitting in fourth place after the morning) and then from the previous day's leader, Canadian Jill Henselwood. She went clear on a time of 76.72 and a two-day score of 0.00 to finish the morning in first place.
Chapot and Little Big Man were third to go from the U.S. After clearing the open water, the pair downed a rail at the vertical at fence seven. They finished with the sole fault on a time of 78.78 seconds and a two-day morning total of 5.38, sitting them in seventh place.
Team USA's final rider, Todd Minikus, came back on Friday aboard his Pavarotti determined to let the prior day's problems stay in the past. The beginning of the round looked controlled, but it did not last. There was something of a stutter-stride at the open water that landed the horse in the middle of the water. Minikus plummeted to the ground, rolling onto his side to avoid landing head-first. The pair was eliminated from the round.
"My horse is generally a good water jumper," said Minikus. "I had a problem with one stride, and then I legged him and he took one stride and left and 'stood on his head.'" Minkius "tweaked" his back a bit but said it would be fine.
Home-country favorite and Olympic gold medalist Rodrigo Pessoa, aboard Rufus, was one of the last to enter the ring in the morning. He rode the course clean-and-clear in 77.11 seconds with a two-day score of 1.74.
At the end of the first of the two Nations' Cup rounds, Team USA sat in a potential bronze-medal position on a team score of 19.20 (Minikus' score was dropped, as only the top three members' scores are used). In gold-medal contention were Brazil (5.67) and Canada (6.72). The team from Mexico sat in fourth at 25.89.
Nations' Cup Round Two
Hough took to the course and put in a clear round to keep the team score as-is.
"I came back in the second round, and she [Casadora] was great," said Hough. "In general, I'm very pleased... and I thought the course was excellent. It was a tough course, but I think very fair."
Next up were Raether and Ublesco who downed the second fence in the triple to take on four faults. Little Big Man and Chapot had another four-fault round when his hoof touched the water jump.
Minikus and Pavarotti did not jump. The team finished on a score of 27.20, posting a total of eight faults for the bronze medal.
In the end, it came down to Canada and Brazil for the gold.
Canada's Mac Cone and Melinda pulled down the first effort and then planted a foot in the water to take on eight points. The leaders, Jill Henselwood and Special Ed, narrowly cleared the triple, but their luck ran out at fence 11 as they caught the edge of the rail to take on four faults. Eric Lamaze and Hickstead posted a clear round to add nothing to their country's score. Ian Millar and In Style dropped the ninth obstacle to take on four faults. Team Canada finished with eight faults for round two and a silver medal.
But it was Brazil that would be keeping the gold medal on home turf. First to go for the team was Bernardo Alvarez and Chupa Chup 2 who dropped one rail. Pedro Veniss and Un Blancs de Blanc managed to go around clear, as did Cesar Almeida and Singular Joter II. Pessoa dropped the first rail in the triple combination to the crowd's shocked reaction. As flashbulbs popped, the pair continued through the course and cleared the remaining jumps. A four-fault finish guaranteed the gold medal for the home country.
In the individual show jumping competition, team USA's Cara Raether and Ublesco finished in eighth place, the highest spot earned by an American combination.
She was followed with clear rounds by Brazil's Bernardo Alves and Chupa Chup 2 and Canada's Eric Lamaze and Hickstead before the second U.S. rider entered the ring.
Hough and Casadora entered the final two rounds in fifth place. They downed three poles in the combinations to take on 12 faults and ninth place.
In round two, Lamaze and Hickstead took their turn and a fault-free round to jump to the front. They would end their work with a bronze medal.
Crowd-favorites Pessoa and Rufus sailed around the course fault-free to guarantee themselves a silver medal.
Two Canadians remained--veteran Ian Millar aboard In Style and leader Jill Henselwood aboard Special Ed.
Millar downed the rail at five and the Brazilian fans erupted in approval. He went on to complete the course with the sole four faults. However, it would leave him in fourth, just off the medal podium.
Henselwood went clear to bring home the individual gold medal, with only one rail down across the five rounds of jumping.