It was a thriller in Rio today where 58 year-old British rider Nick Skelton bested 35 of the world’s best horse and rider combinations to secure an individual gold in the 2016 Olympic games.
The morning started at 10am Rio time with round A of the show jumping final. Perhaps the most technical yet, there were tricky related distances and, as has been the case throughout, maxed out fences. Despite the nature of the course, a lucky 13 riders managed clear rounds with another 2 combinations picking up a single pesky time penalty.
Fences fell throughout the first round – a few horses dipped their toes in the water, while others, including McLain Ward’s Azur, had fence 7C down, the final element of a very colorful – and very big – triple combination.
The final fence, a 1.60m vertical, posed problems as well, as horses were tempted to get flat to the final element of the oxer-vertical-vertical line. Luciana Diniz, Tiffany Foster, and Maikel van der Vleuten saw their Olympic dreams shattered as the last rail tumbled following their otherwise clear rounds.
26 of the 27 riders invited back for round B returned for their shot at a medal – just The Netherlands’ Harrie Smolders opting out with the realization that 4 faults wouldn’t land him on the podium today.
Round B consisted of just 10 fences but it was go big or go home. Less technical than round A, the fences remained large and, jumping a second time under Rio’s hot sun, appeared to take the edge off a few horses. Fences 9a and b - A triple bar to vertical combination - had more than a few victims, as did the time allowed which played a much larger role in the day’s second round.
Nick Skelton was the first to register double 0’s after 2 rounds, but a few rides later defending champion Steve Guerdat and Nino would guarantee a jump-off. Surprise rails by German superstars Christian Ahlmann and Daniel Deusser proved just how tough a test course designer Giulherme Jorge had given the world’s best today.
Four riders joined Skelton and Guerdat with double clears: Qatari Sheikh Ali Al Thani, USA’s Kent Farrington, Sweden’s Peder Fredricson, and Canada’s Eric Lamaze.
Skelton and Big Star had the unenviable task of going first in the line-up but rose to the occasion brilliantly, jumping clear and in a time of 42.82. Hearts broke as next up, Guerdat and Nino, had the first rail down and with those 4 faults, no hope of defending their title.
Al Thani followed with 8 faults, and Farrington – another many considered a favorite for gold – had the first and last fences down, finishing on 8 penalties.
Sweden’s Peder Fredricson rose to the occasion, leaving the rails up but clocking in half second slower than Skelton.
Skelton was surely nervous as veteran Eric Lamaze trotted into the ring. Lamaze and Fine Lady 5 – who has been in top form all week - flew around the course in 42.09. They were faster than Skelton – but a rail at the 6th fence landed them a bronze medal.
1. Nick Skelton (GBR) & Big Star
2. Peder Fredricson (SWE) & All In
3. Eric Lamaze (CAN) & Fine Lady 5
4. Steve Guerdat (SUI) & Nino des Buissonnets
5. Kent Farrington (USA) & Voyeur
6. Sheikh Ali Al Thani (QAT) & First Devision
7. Jeroen Dubbeldam (NED) & Zenith
8. Matias Albaraccin (ARG) & Cannavaro 9
9. Luciana Diniz (POR) & Fit for Fun 13
9. McLain Ward (USA) & Azur