September 3, 2014 -- The glitter of medals tantalized, as the WEG team show jumping ran all morning and afternoon at d'Ornano stadium, sorting out hopefuls and also-rans, famous names and those you never heard of, in a field of 144 horses.
In keeping with efforts to make horse sport more universal, there were riders from a variety of countries -- often newcomers to the game -- who made it over only a few fences before refusing out or retiring. And then there were the professionals from traditional show jumping nations. Is it any surprise that the Netherlands is in the lead with 4.83 penalties, followed by the U.S. (8.72) and that perennial winner, Germany (8.82)? France, meanwhile, is within striking distance in fourth place (10.08) and who can rule out the moral support its riders will get from the extremely vocal folks in the stands?
Individually, first place belongs (at the moment) to France's Patrice Delaveau (0.08 penalties, whose legion of hysterically screaming fans have nearly caused me to become deaf. The USA's Beezie Madden is second (0.16) after putting in her second fault-free round of the competition as the team anchor. Rolf-Goran Bengtsson (0.34) of Sweden stands third, and there are plenty of stars on the ladder below those three, clamoring to get to the top and make the "final four" test for the individual medals.
That's the one where each rider takes their own horse over a short course, then switches horses with all the other riders. Some say it's really the world catch-riding championship and needs to be changed -- particularly since horses of final four caliber are worth millions of dollars today -- but it's staying in place for this games at least.
Nearly as interesting as the competition were the fences, which continue to tell the tale of Normandy, the host of these Games.
McLain Ward was the first rider to tour the course, and as I followed him and Rothchild around with my camera, my eyes focused on an impressive wall bearing the image of the Bayeaux Tapestry. It's a famous artifact, located about a half-hour's train ride from here. But the way the pattern was reproduced on the wall was so interesting that I think it might warrant artifact status itself. You can see it in this postcard; that's what Beezie Madden is jumping on Cortes C. The rearing horse beside it is ridden by William the Conqueror, not to be confused with any of the equestrians trying their own brand of conquest here.
Actually, my favorite obstacle was the triple combination that started off with the fence symbolizing Lexington, Ky., home of the 2010 WEG. The middle element had the Normandy half-timbered houses to signify this WEG, and the final jump said Bromont 2018, with a (fake) mountie standing by. That's for Bromont, Canada, home of the 2018 WEG.
My second favorite obstacle was quite a production, a tribute to impressionist painters. There were giant paintbrushes for rails, an equally large palette splashed with colors, and a manequin dressed as an artist to complete the picture. (You can see it at www.facebook.com/equisearch.)
McLain, usually the pathfinder for the U.S. team, was the pathfinder for the entire competition, but he handled it with his usual aplomb on the clever and determined Rothchild. Unlike yesterday, when he had a rail down, he was fault-free and set a good example for his teammates.
Going first, though, is a little stressful, and hitting a rail (that thankfully didn't come down) added a bit more pressure. Here's what McLain had to say about his round.
Kent Farrington, known for his many great performances with Voyeur, was disappointed by a knockdown in the combination that was the next-to-last element of Frederic Cottier's ambitious route. So what did he think happened there?
The rider for whom I was most anxious was 21-year-old Lucy Davis, who had an encounter with a wall on course yesterday and was still feeling the effects today. It was another wall that caused her grief this afternoon, as a tile fell off the Bayeux Tapestry wall with a flick of Barron's hoof. She felt the roots of the problem were in her previous wall encounter.
So it was all up to Beezie, last to go as usual, and she was outstanding with Cortes C, who goes from strength to strength, as they say. His black coat gleamed, his eyes were aglow and he didn't let down his rider. I think big things are ahead for her this weekend.
The comeback story of the day was Brazil's Doda de Miranda, who had quite a fall yesterday (A photo was on www.facebook.com/equisearch). Doda rode at his considerable best today, and his fault-free score reflected that, as Brazil moved into the fifth place slot here.
The worst moment of the day was the fall of Chilean rider Tomas Couve Correa, who was trampled (not on purpose, of course) by his horse, Underwraps. While the horse was all right, it was scary to see Tomas lying completely still. They put big black screens up around him, as they do for a stricken horse, and all we could do was wonder and fear the worst. The last word was that Tomas was conscious and taken to the hospital for evaluation. I'll fill you in more tomorrow.
When I referred to medals and more in our subhead up above, I was referring to the other big prize, a slot in the 2016 Rio Olympics. Brazil doesn't have to worry. As the host country, it's in automatically, no matter where it finishes, even though it is in fifth at the moment.
But vying for that last spot will be Canada, Sweden, Ireland, Colombia and Ukraine.
Darragh Kenny, a popular American-based Irish rider, was kicking himself for having four faults with Imothep on his first championship team.
"It's really disappointing for me and the team," he said.
"I felt the horse jumped absolutely incredible. I was a little too deep to A of the triple (combination) and he barely touched it. I was very confident the horse would be very, very good and the horse was very,very good. I just needed to be better."Of his team, he said, "We all have one mission on our mind: to qualify for the Olympics."
Tomorrow will be a shorter day, but even more intense than today. The U.S. is looking toward getting its first major global team championship medal since the 2008 Olympics, so you know those riders will be trying hard to stay on track.
I'll keep you informed in my postcard tomorrow night.