September 4, 2014 -- Without checking a computer, it was tough to keep track of who was in line for which medals on the third day of WEG show jumping, which was limited to the top 10 teams.
Those of us following along this afternoon knew the U.S. had slipped from the silver medal position it held after the first round of team competition yesterday, but where we stood, even coach Robert Ridland didn't know when I asked him.
Suddenly, it all came into focus with a clean round by the amazing Beezie Madden, who saved the day for the USA and gave her teammates a leg up onto the podium, where they collected the bronze.
If you're looking for someone cool in a clutch position, look no farther than Beezie.
The day started with McLain Ward and Rothchild having a surprising knockdown, the front rail at the second fence, a wide oxer. It was hard to see what happened, but McLain explained it well. I always like to get insight on these things -- it makes you realize the amount of thought and effort that go into producing a clean round.
Then it seemed surreal when world ranked number three Kent Farrington (Voyeur) and Lucy Davis (Barron) each had a rail down for 4 faults apiece, and the U.S. had sunk to fourth. That was when Beezie came through on Cortes C. This amazing black horse, who likes to cross his front legs when he jumps (what's that about?) was so cool handling Frederic Cottier's course that I almost expected him to shrug and say, "Aw shucks, that was nothing" after turning in a perfect trip.
Such clean rounds were in short supply along a route that included a model of the Eiffel Tower, a spotted cow jump (Normandy is big cheese country) and a schooner. Beezie now leads the league, courtesy of three clean rounds over three days, accompanied by a good pace in the first speed class. By that, I mean she's number one on the list of 30 who will try on Saturday to make it through to the "Final Four" for the individual medals on Sunday.
The door was opened to elevate the U.S. back into medal territory when Germany's Ludger Beerbaum had a rail down with Chiara 222.
Beezie, next to go, was informed the U.S. could medal if she was free of jumping and time penalties. No pressure.
But she did it in style to clinch the bronze, and the whole team was riding with her.
Here's what she had to say about how she handled the situation.
The Dutch won on 12.83 penalties, while France -- to the delight of the crowd jamming the stadium -- was second on 14.08.
Kevin Staut spoke for the French team when he said, "I am really, really happy, a fantastic moment to spend with my colleagues.
"We have had some good days on the first day and some bad ones like yesterday, we were fourth before this final round and then it was completely magic on this journey and was really, really amazing to ride in front of all the French people, our owners, our partners and a lot of people from our families supporting us. I have no words to describe what we are feeling now. Its a silver medal, but we are so proud of it."
The U.S. total was 16.72, with Germany just 0.10 behind. Those of us who are up to doing simple addition (without a computer) realized that had the U.S. been burdened with one less 4-fault round, it would have taken the gold.
But the bronze is a bright enough spot when you remember that not since the team gold at the 2008 Olympics has the U.S. won a medal at a global championship -- ie, the 2010 WEG and the 2012 Olympics. Anyway, it seems like a long time since I've taken a podium photo of American riders beaming and showing off their medals.
I kept an eye on coach Robert Ridland throughout the day, as he intently watched each trip, and I felt the pressure with him. When it was all over, I wondered, "What's the condition of your heart at this point?
He laughed and replied, "All we said to each other right now is, `Thank goodness we only have to do this every two years.' I don't know if I can take it."
He expanded on what it felt like to be one rider away from a medal -- or nothing.
But now a big worry is out of the way. By finishing in the top five, the show jumpers are qualified to compete in the next Olympics, Rio 2016, unlike the dressage and eventing teams, which will try to qualify next year at the Pan American Games in Toronto after leaving here without medals, or, in the case of eventing, without finishing the competition as a team.
Luckily, medals are not given on how horses behave in the awards ceremony, or the U.S. would have been out of luck. The most disobedient was Voyeur, who was leaping, stretching and pawing so much I was wondering why Kent didn't get off immediately. Rothchild picked up on that and so did Barron. But Cortes was unflappable, so he was the only one who got to participate in the victory lap. And hey, he was the hero, so I hope he enjoyed the well-deserved applause.
I just want to remind you how fast fortunes change in show jumping. Two years ago, the British were golden at their London Olympics. This time, the team was 18th without Ben Maher after Cella had an injury in training, and two riders inexperienced at this level were named to the squad. Nick Skelton, who contributed to the gold in London, has had Big Star sidelined for most of the year.
So it was no surprise that Scott Brash, number one in the world, decided not to compete today as an individual. Great Britain finished 18th, so the team wasn't on the roster for the third leg of the competition, and he was so far back in the rankings he had no chance to make up ground.
That was a wise decision; why not save Hello Sanctos for another day. There are so many show jumping competitions now that there's always another opportunity to try for something else not very far down the road.
The jumpers have a rest day tomorrow, so I'll be writing about something else. Come back and read my next postcard, and don't forget to check www.facebook.com/equisearch and www.facebook.com/practicalhorseman.