Team USA in the Medal Hunt as Fellers and Flexible Shine in London

[London, England] Day two of show jumping at the Olympic Games was full of drama and excitement, with controversy surfacing for the Canadian Team, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia stepping up to take the lead, and Rich Fellers and Flexible quickly becoming heroes for Team USA.

Fellers and Flexible clear the creative London Bus vertical. Photo ©StockImageServices.com

Seventy-one riders moved on after yesterday’s opening round to compete in today’s Second Individual Qualifier and First Team Final. Fifteen countries competed in a Nations Cup rotation format, with the 11 riders representing their countries as Individuals going first.

Surprisingly, the historically strong teams of Germany, France and Belgium failed to qualifiy for tomorrow's team final, dashing their hopes to medal in the team competition. Their best riders will still have the opportunity to ride for individual medals on Wednesday, however.

Team USA had to wait until early afternoon for their turn in the rotation, and once again it was McLain Ward with Antares F who led the way.

However, the course, themed with London landmarks at every jump, gave riders plenty of choices on a challenging track. Ward blamed himself for picking up four faults at the open water jump, which rode off a rollback right turn from a wide oxer at fence 6.

“I think I was overriding him today, making sure we had a good solid round because of the hiccup yesterday with Beezie,” Ward comented. “So I was a little bit at him, and I got there a bit too early. It wasn’t that we were too far away from the fence, we were too close.

“He’s a good water jumper,” Ward added. “It was rider error.”

And so, the pressure began to increase for Team USA, with Madden next in aboard Coral Reef Via Volo. The 14-year-old Belgian warmblood mare looked more like her usual self, jumping more consistently than yesterday’s uncharacteristic over jumping and shocking refusals.

However, Madden came in just a hair close to the triple combination at 5, and with Via Volo still galloping strongly on, they picked up a rail at the A element.

New Leaders

Meanwhile, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia stepped up in a big way, with three of their riders putting in clean rounds today and adding just one time fault to build on their single rail score from Abdullah Waleed Sharbatly and Sultan’s ride yesterday.

This ranks Saudi Arabia in first place going into tomorrow’s team competition.

“Everyone was really performing great today, everyone has his game face on,” said Ramzy Al Duhami of Saudi Arabia, who rode clear with one time fault on Bayard Van De Villathere. “To be among these teams is a real achievement for a new nation like Saudi. We’re taking it one day at a time, but we’re going to try to at least be up there among the best teams.”

“The have been really amazing. They are really fighting with us, and that’s important.”

A jubilant Al Duhami celebrates his round. 

Despite the pouring rain, HRH Prince Abdullah Al Saud and Davos jumped their second clear in as many days for Saudi Arabia. Photo ©StockImageServices.com

Speed is Costly for Kessler

As the third rider to go for the USA, Reed Kessler was excited, and entered the arena ready to be the first American to bring home a clear round today. But the time fault she picked up yesterday was still on her mind, and she blamed her desire to finish under the time today on the two rails that left her with an 8 fault score.

“I was desperate not to have time faults today,” she said. “I didn’t quite get the scope I wanted, and I got a little too flat.”

Kessler and her own Cylana picked up faults at the oxer of the triple combination at fence 8, and then at the Big Ben/London Eye oxer at fence 9.

“She jumped beautifully,” Kessler said of Cylana. “I’m mad at myself, because I can do so much better than that. It was good, but not good enough.”

Kessler and Cylana clear the open water. 

Fellers and Flexible Lift American Hopes

The American team’s hopes then turned toward West Coaster Rich Fellers and the amazing Flexible, who had already jumped clean in the First Individual Qualifier yesterday. A clean round suddenly became absolutely critical if the USA had any hope of qualifying for the Team Final tomorrow. Only the top 8 teams move on to compete for Team Medals, and the USA was wavering at the bottom of that pack.

Fellers and Flexible are both Olympic rookies, but with unshakable calm and focus, they trotted from the warm up ring to the main stadium ingate, paused for a moment to gaze out at the course, and proceeded to fly over the 16 jumping efforts as if they were no challenge at all.

As Fellers came out of the ring, Ward leaned over the fence and shouted his congratulations with a big thumbs up, and Madden and Kessler both wore huge smiles of relief. Amid the rush of officials and his team that surrounded, Flexible stood squarely while his boots were removed and his tack was checked. He almost seemed to be looking for more jumps.

Fellers is congratulated by Kessler (foreground) after giving the USA its only clean round of the day. Photo ©ProEquest

“He feels real fresh,” Fellers said of Flexible. “It was a super course, I think there wasn’t one or two bogey fences, and that makes for a great course.”

About the team’s precarious standing, Rich commented that “we only have 8 faults, and tomorrow it’s going to be a different course, a different day. But that’s sport, that’s what’s great about sports, anything can happen.”

Canadian Heartbreak

The Canadian team immediately lodged a protest against a decision made today against Tiffany Foster’s horse Victor, who was ruled to be hypersensitive on his left front leg by FEI officials during a morning barn check. Foster was disqualified from the competition and did not start in today’s competition.

According to the Canadian chef d’equipe Torchy Millar, Victor has a small cut near his coronary band, which was as sensitive as any small cut would be, but not to any degree that would make the horse sore or unsound.

The FEI stated that “there is no accusation of malpractice, but the horse has been deemed unfit to compete by the Ground Jury.”

“It was a blind application of the rules made without any common sense,” said Millar. “They wouldn’t jog the horse or anything. They’ve destroyed a girl’s Olympic dream.”

After jumping a clear round with Star Power, Canadian rider Ian Millar concurred. “There was no attempt to gain an unfair advantage,” he said. “The veterinary committee of the FEI needs to look at this rule. They have no idea the potential for collatoral damage to the sport for Canada.”

Millar and Star Power are in the hunt for team and individual medals. Photo ©StockImageServices.com

Ian Millar talks to the press about teammate Foster's disqualification. Photo ©ProEquest

However, the appeal of the Canadian team to revoke the decision was denied by the FEI, which released an official statement soon after the day’s competition ended. A heated press conference on the matter was held late in the day.

Rain plagued the morning rounds, but riders from Great Britain performed well for their home crowd, with Nick Skelton and Ben Maher both completing solid clears in the pouring rain. Twelve riders total have ridden double clears after these first two round of competition at the 2012 Olympic Games.

Tomorrow, Monday, August 5th, the second round of the Nations Cup competition will be held. This round will determine Olympic Team Show Jumping Medals, and will also count towards Individual rankings for those riders who are qualified. The top 8 countries, and top 35 Individuals will compete. 

Be sure to follow ProEquest on Twitter for updates and behind the scenes photos during the competition. Full Individual results can be found here.

Top 8 - Ranking By Teams After First and Second Individual Qualifiers/First Team Final

Nation | Total Penalties | Riders | Horses |

1 KSA – Saudi Arabia | 1
Al Saud HRH Prince Abdullah | Davos
Kamal Bahamdan | Noblesse Des Tess
Ramzy Al Duhami | Bayard Van De Villa There
Abdullah Waleed Sharbatly | Sultan

2 – GBR – Great Britain | 4
Nick Skelton | Big Star
Ben Maher | Tripple X
Scott Brash | Hello Sanctos
Peter Charles | Vindicat

2 – NED – Netherlands | 4
Jur Vrieling | Bubalu
Maikel van der Vleuten | Verdi
Marc Houtzager | Tamino
Gerco Schroder | London

2 – SWE – Sweden | 4
Jens Fredricson | Lunatic
Lisen Fredricson | Matrix
Henrik von Eckermann | Allerdings
Rolf-Goran Bengtsson | Casall

2 – SUI – Switzerland | 4
Steve Guerdat | Nino des Buissonnets
Paul Estermann | Castlefield Eclipse
Werner Muff | Kiamon
Pius Scwizer | Carlina IV

6 – CAN – Canada | 5
Jill Henselwood | George
Tiffany Foster | Victor (DSQ)
Eric Lamaze | Derly Chin de Muze
Ian Millar | Star Power

7 – BRA – Brazil | 8
Alvaro Affonso de Mir Neto | Rahmannshof’s Bogeno
Carlos Motta Ribas | Wilexo (WD)
Jose R Reynoso Fernandez Filho | Maestro St Louis
Rodrigo Pessoa | HH Rebozo

7 – USA – United States | 8
McLain Ward | Antares F
Beezie Madden | Coral Reef Via Volo
Reed Kessler | Cylana
Rich Fellers | Flexible