Okeydokey, the Games of the XXX Olympiad are underway and we’re in full Olympic mode here at HJU. As one of the ammie-bloggers-in-residence that competes in show jumping, I’ve been given the opportunity to look into my crystal ball and share my thoughts on who we might see standing atop the podium on Wednesday, August 8th.
I’m a bit blurry-eyed from getting up early to watch the eventing and dressage and staying up late for gymnastics and swimming, and there’s something funky stuck to my SmartPak Dressage is #1 foam finger (thanks to late night indiscriminate snacking – nacho cheese, maybe?) but I’ll do my best to give you the skinny.
This is going to be a difficult post to write, as really, as there are so many combinations that have a shot at this. Again, don’t go running to call your bookie based on anything you read here. Yes, there are those combinations that stand out as really strong potential medal winners, but there’s a reason why the phrase “that’s horses!” exists.
The riders qualify themselves for the individual medal round by virtue of their performance during the team competition. Then they all start over again with clean slates. So essentially, it’s just another grand prix competition, just on the biggest stage in the world with billions of people watching. No pressure.
Let’s take a good look-see at who makes sense on paper:
Eric Lamaze and Derly Chin de Muze / Canada: Eric is the defending Olympic champion, although he is without his 2008 partner, the wonderful stallion Hickstead, who sadly passed away last November while competing at the World Cup qualifier in Verona, Italy. Lamaze certainly has the skills to medal again, but does he have the horsepower? Derly is certainly capable, but she is young for this level, only a 9 year-old. She had a couple of rough trips during her recent time at Spruce Meadows; a fall and a refusal at a triple combination. However, she regrouped and the next week only had a time fault and one knock down, which boded well for Lamaze’s ability to get her back on form for London. If anyone can cajole a young horse through the biggest test of her young life and come out on the other end with a medal, it’s Eric Lamaze, but I think this year his expectations are realistically set on doing the best he can for a good team result.
Rolf-Göran Bengtsson and Casall La Silla /Sweden: Reigning world’s number one on the FEI Rolex rankings, current European Champion, and 2008 Olympic silver medalist. Rolf-Goran is chilly as a cucumber, and while Casall La Silla isn’t his 2008 Olympic partner Ninja, he’s a very capable deputy. Casall La Silla was ranked number one on the FEI/WBSFH ranking list until June of this year, and he is currently ranked number two. While the horse has jumped many grands prix, the is arguably the biggest stage he’ll have been on and it remains to be seen how the stallion will react. If this year’s FEI Rolex World Cup was an indication (the stallion placed 6th) he’ll be fine.Philipp Le Jeune and Vigo d’Arsouilles STX / Belgium: Le Jeune is the World Equestrian Games champion from Kentucky 2010. The 14 year-old stallion has been shown carefully this season, and has a team win in the Nation’s Cup at La Baule and a second in the Grand Prix of La Baule to his credit.
Rich Fellers and Flexible / USA: Rich and Flexible are fresh off their win at the 2012 FEI Rolex World Cup, and if that weren’t enough, they’ve been winning everything in sight this spring. The 16 year-old Cruising stallion is quite visibly adored by his rider, and has come back from several potentially career-ending injuries. These two are a feel-good story worthy of their own Disney movie. The pair, with their aggressive style and pedal-to-the-metal speed, make them a crowd favorite. No doubt we’ll have many opportunities to see why Rich is ranked #4 on Spruce Meadow’s Top Ten Speed Riders list.
Kevin Staut and Silvana HDC /France: Kevin is the 2009 European Champion and former world’s number one ranked rider, and the lovely grey Silvana, ranked #15 in the world, is his go-to ride. They were part of the silver medal French team at the 2010 WEG, and part of the team that took silver at the Europeans in 2011. I’m guessing he’d really like a taste of an individual medal, as he’s used her lightly this spring to keep her fresh for London.
Nick Skelton and Big Star /Great Britain: Skelton, one of British show jumping’s living legends, has been on fire this year. He enjoyed numerous successes over the winter season in Wellington, winning on his Olympic mount, Big Star, and his other champion, Carlo 273, as well as younger members of his string. He’s continued that winning form, winning in La Baule, Hamburg and most recently in Chantilly. Nick is currently ranked fifth on the Rolex rankings, and although Big Star is a 9 year-old Skelton likes his chances, as the stallion is quick, has a good brain, and clearly has all the scope in the world. Skelton has said of the Quick Star stallion, “I don’t think I have ever had one as good as this one.”
Marcus Ehning and Plot Blue / Germany: You certainly can’t have a discussion about Olympic equestrian sports and medals without factoring the Germans in. It’s a rule, or a commandment or something. You know, “Thou shalt always consider the Germans.” You look down the German roster and there’s 2011 FEI Rolex World Cup Champion Christian Ahlmann, three-time FEI Rolex World Cup Champion Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum, 2010 WEG team gold medalist Janne-Friederike Meyer , and, oh yeah, three-time FEI Rolex World Cup Champion Marcus Ehning. Ehning won his last World Cup on Plot Blue, and although the 15 year-old Mr. Blue stallions injured himself prior to last September’s European’s, he’s back in the groove, as he proved by winning the Göteborg Trophy, the Longines Grand Prix in St. Gallen, and the MVV Energi Grand Prix in Mannheim. Yep, although Germany is possibly fielding yet another dream team, Meredith’s horse is young, Christian’s had a bumpy run lately, and Janne-Friederike Meyer, while extremely talented, may just still be too green at this level. So even though you could probably grab a dart, throw it, and hit the winning German, I’m going with Marcus on this one.
Ian Millar and Star Power/ Canada: If there was a gold medal given for the sentimental favorite, Captain Canada would surely be on top of that podium. Millar first competed at the Olympics in 1972, and has pretty much done and won everything in the sport except for an individual Olympic medal. The 10-time Olympian and Canadian team stalwart is at the top of his game at age 65, but does his partner have what it takes to get him that coveted individual medal? Call me a sentimental fool, but my fingers are crossed that the 10 year-old Dutch gelding finds himself a pair of wings in London.
So there you have it. My two cents worth of discussion on the possible favorites for individual medals in London. I hope you enjoyed it. Let’s look forward to watching it all unfold!
Round 1 Qualifier starts today at 10:30 AM local time, 5:30 AM Eastern US.