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Well, what a day. I am an optimist, and while I hoped, prayed, bit my nails and held my breath, a medal for the USA show jumping team wasn't to be this time around. As a journalist, I've covered our nation's top show jumpers intensely all year long. As a show jumping fan, I've ridden the extreme highs and lows of the road to these Olympic Games right along with our fantastic Team USA.
It's been thrilling, it's been amazing, and yes, it's also been heartbreaking. But, the world is much bigger than our team, as evidenced by the many storylines that developed as the Show Jumping Individual Final played out today. Let's start at the beginning:
Standing next to an Olympic jump is enough to make a normal person's heart skip a beat. The riders who galloped up to these fences today were not normal, they all had nerves of steel. Not one of the fences was under 1.52 meters, with spreads wider than your wingspan. The horses that cleared them were one step away from flying.
Before the jumping began, there was lots of time for ultra-serious war room type discussions and tense horse inspections. One wonders what George Morris was telling McLain Ward here. Might it have been along the lines of 'hey buddy, this is my last hurrah, send me out with a medal to my credit'? Sorry George.
Every horse qualified for the Individual Final had to jog for soundness early this morning in order to jump for medals. McLain, still being mindful of that bum knee, had Lee McKeever jog Antares again. I love this shot of him gripping the fence as he watched. McLain is always a study in calm confidence, but in this shot his knuckles give him away a bit.
You'll remember that in the First Horse Inspection, dear Rich showed up late and breaking the dress code. Today he'd mended his ways, appearing fully turned out along with the diminutive, wonderful Flexible.
The scene at the jog was a busy one. As per usual, Flexible was above it all, and looking like a million bucks.
Team Canada was also out en masse. Here Ian Millar and co. wait for his turn to jog.
I had to include another photo of Ian and Star Power jogging because they both just looked so fantastic! And yes, quite spry!
Eric Lamaze's Derly Chin de Muze looks like a girl half-dressed here - she had to jog with her braids only partly done. She had rails today, but jumped with an improved confidence all week.
Marc Houtzager of The Netherlands also gets points for being sharply turned out.
Rodrigo, I love you, truly, but I was not loving the metal ring that made another appearance around Rebozo's nose this morning. Is that really what it takes to trot your horse up and down a rubber strip?
Prince Abdullah and Davos provided the comic relief of the day. Davos just did. not. want. to. trot. The Prince dragged him up and down the jog lane for awhile, before the groom finally intervened and easily jogged an obviously tired Davos. However they finished on a respectable 9 fault score for the day.
And thing, things took a turn for the more interesting. Current FEI World Number One ranked rider Rolf-Goran Bengtsson jogged the gorgeous Silla. Rolf had jumped lovely rounds all week and a medal was not outside his grasp.
However, the Stewards did not like what they saw, determinging Casall to be a little off. He was then held in the inspection box for reinspection while the jog went on.
The Swedish team held their own pow wow to discuss the matter while they waited for news of a reinspection. A rabid member of the Swedish press jumped in my line of sight. Curses!
Casall was then represented, and everyone watched silently with very serious faces.
And this is where things got fortuitous. Cian O'Connor, seen here keeping an eye on things at the jog was in 36th place after yesterday's competition. This morning he knew that should one horse withdraw, he would be called up to compete. . .
And guess what. Ok you already know. Casall was withdrawn from competition, supposedly for an overreach that had gotten sore, giving Cian the last minute spot in the Final. In this photo, Blue Lloyd looks like a raring to go racehorse.
And so, it was on to the coursewalk and all business. Even the statue with naked breasts couldn't distratct him as he made his plan.
Let's face it, the jumps were enourmous. This open water from Round A was more than 4 meters wide. Can you image???
The ring before Round A was full of serious chats and concentrated faces. Here's Ben Maher talking shop with GBR team chef Rob Hoekstra.
Edwina Alexander, the Global Champions Tour number one, discussed an indepth plan for her ride.
As did Kamal Bahamdan of Saudi Arabia. Kamal would end the day in 4th place, a mighty accomplishment for his nation. Many people predicted that the Saudi riders would crack under pressure and fall in rankings. Kamal thumbed his nose at the naysayers by having one rail the entire week, adding only time faults to his rounds.
Taizo Sugitani of Japan struck an epic pose as he studied the course. He would have 12 faults and fail to make it to Round B, but he was an admirable competitor from beginning to end.
And then, it began. Canada made a strong show of support for their Individual riders.
Eric and Derly battled, but ended the day on 12 faults.
Ben Maher and Tripple X were gorgeous as always, but visibly more tired than the previous days, pulling a rail in each round. They finished in the top ten but off the medal podium.
Scott Brash of Great Britain is quickly learning what it means to be a rising show jumping star. He is quite young, but had no problems meeting the press to discuss his rounds.
And then, it all came down to this. The final jump in a two man jumpoff to determine the Silver medal. It was an incredibly nervewracking moment as Gerco and London cleared the final fence - clear!
Blue Lloyd and Cian were a full two seconds faster then Gerco as they jumped the final oxer at the Olympics, but as you can see, Blue Lloyd tapped that front rail, sending it to the ground.
It was ok though. Cian was beyond thrilled to claim the bronze medal, and I loved his groom, who entered the ring for the awards ceremony wrapped in Ireland's flag.
And so, against a threatening sky that never made good on its promise of rain, the Swiss flag took its spot at the top.
The jubilant winners took their places on the podium. You could tell that the party was already starting!
Blue Lloyd was ready to party - or ecape the deafening crowd. Either or.
Gerco Schroder, ladies and gentlemen
And Steve Guerdat. Thrilled with his horse, thrilled with the day, thrilled to be an Olympic Champion.
The press conference after the class was fun for many reasons, cheif among them being Steve happily indulging the many requests to bite his gold medal. This shot is fuzzy because I was laughing about as hard as Cian is here.
Cian wins the prize for most photogenic, most joyful medalists. The Irish press (ok, all the press) couldn't get enough of him. Congratulations!!