Hong Kong Tuesday 13th August. Eventing Showjumping
Story and Pictures by Berni Saunders
Following four days of superb competition in all three phases, the 2008 Olympic Eventing competition came to nail biting end with less than a rail between the top 8 riders as they went into the final round of Showjumping in order to decide the individual Gold medal. It has been acknowledged by most, that this has been the best eventing competition ever witnessed and certainly, "the one we had to have" if the sport is to survive the mounting pressure from those opposing the risks to horses and riders.
Course Designer Mike Etherington-Smith has been the toast of Hong Kong as eventing enthusiasts from all over the world unite to appreciate his beautiful and challenging, yet safe course. It is a credit to Mike's experience ... and three years work in Hong Kong on this project, that no horses or riders were hurt and the sport can enjoy the glory of what has been hailed as -"the best exhibition of horsemanship and riding" by HRH H.B. Al Hussein (UAE), the President of the FEI and fondly called "the Princess" who spoke of the success of the event at a press conference. She went on to say how delighted she was with the safety and success of the event, which was witnessed by 10,000 people, the largest crowd to ever gather in Hong Kong for an equestrian competition.
The efforts of Professor Leo Jeffcott who is well known to Australians, as he was involved for many years at the University of Melbourne Veterinary Clinic at Werribee and was, for these Olympics, head of the Veterinary support team in Hong Kong. Professor Jeffcott has worked for two years to research and develop horse health and welfare strategies which specifically address the issues which the riders faced with the hot and humid conditions. The facilities and features employed to ensure the best conditions and opportunity to recover are said to be the best in the world.
We all agreed that the 'weather gods' smiled favourably on the riders and horses on cross country day, as it was much cooler and a pleasant breeze that kept the humidity at bay. The threatened rains held off until the last 5 or so rides and so the potentially slippery conditions were only encountered by a few.
The evening time slot for showjumping final was a highlight and the overhead lights gave a better view for spectators and photographers than the hazy daytime light which is part of the stormy typhoon season. The Hong Kong weather does not seem to ease and cool very much in the evening, but at least the sun does not come out and turn up the heat! The conditions are quite oppressive and yet the horses and riders seem to be coping - thanks to the state of the art stabling and exercise areas which are all air conditioned.
With the team medals decided in this evenings jump off, the placings could have gone any way, but good riding and good luck saw the Germans come out the victors.
The Aussie riders showed the courage and talent that has earned our nation great respect and admiration in this Olympic discipline and the Team showjumping saw Shane Rose first to go for the land down-under. Shane acquitted a disappointing dressage round by producing the fastest cross country time. Showjumping was a little disappointing with 2 jumping penalties and final penalty points of 70.50 which saw a finish to his first Olympic Games with 27th placing. Shane is sure to take his experience into the future for bigger and better things.
Next for the Aussies is Sonja Johnson on Ringwould Jaguar and they do a brilliant clear round which takes Sonja right up the leader board in a commendable strike back from a mid field dressage result result and Sonja earns the right to ride off in the final later on this evening.
Australia's next team jumping representative is Headley Britannia and Lucinda Fredericks. Lucinda rides a secure round with no jumping penalties and just two time penalties and they finish their 2008 Olympic campaign with 59.60 penalty points and 26th place.
Clayton Fredericks riding Ben Along Time was looking to hang on to his improvement in the rankings after a sensational cross country ride.. Unfortunately, a fence down was not what they were looking for and they move back to 6th - the same as their dressage day finish. They went into the individual round later in the evening.
Megan Jones riding for Australia came into the Olympic Eventing as an 'odds-on" favourite for many ... and she certainly could have done just that. She rode a splendid round and looked to have the all clear, when the rail from the final obstacle fell and probably took with it Megan's chance for Gold. She will ride off in the final but will have a big task ahead of her now.
After this round, the Olympic Eventing Team medals were decided and the Germans were victors.
Australia had three riders through to the final of the eventing showjumping and so it was quite a tense time for everyone with a soft spot for the Aussie team.
Sonja Johnson on Ringwould Jaguar in the second round of competition
Clayton Fredericks and Ben Along Time riding the technical final round.
Megan Jones and Irish Jester going for Gold
Henrich Romeike and Marius Gold Medal winners
Gina Miles from the USA on her long term partner McInlaigh
Silver Medallists at the 2008 Olympic Games.
Hinrich Romeike riding Marius and Ingrid Klimke riding Abraxxxus both accrued 1 jumping penalty but rode faultless all clear rounds for the individual jump off.
Germany were able to put their plans to avenge their Athens Gold medal loss in Germany and they relegated the Aussies to the Silver medal spot. The Brits showed that they are well up to the task and from an almost impossible position after the Dressage they fought back and proved their strength in the sport.
In the round which would determined the individual medals, Megan & Clayton both had jumping faults and Sonja's horse took two rails, so luck was not really with us. Germany's Henrich Romeika and Marius performed faultlessly to become the new Olympic Individual Gold medallists.
Gina Miles from the USA continued the success of her first round ride and put in another clear round to move up into the Silver medal position. She rode the beautiful liver chestnut McKinlaigh who she has partnered right from the time he was purchased in Ireland as a youngster. They have had an inspirational journey up the ranks to reach the top - together. It was fortunate for Gina that when the horse was re-presented at the second vet inspection, the Ground Jury passed him as fit.
British rider Kristina Cook worked consistently and did not let a 13th place after the dressage, shake her confidence in her horse or the excellent preparation she had for this event. Kristina just kept getting better and worked her way up into the Bronze medal place ... with the help of her outstanding horse Miners Frolic.
As mentioned earlier, it was unanimously felt that these Games marked a new era in the standard of eventing dressage and an overall improvement in riding and horsemanship. Everyone in this magnificent, purpose built stadium, enjoyed the spectacle and we appreciated the superb efforts of all of the riders.
At the press conference following the medal ceremony, the Individual Gold medallist Hinrich Romeike acknowledged that had the rules been different - the top 5 riders rather than the top 3 - Australia would have won. He said, "Marius is my life and every time he goes out, he gives his best performance" Henrich said, "I am not a professional rider, I work as a dentist and ride my 2 or 3 horses in the afternoon or evening. Right now it is afternoon in Germany and they have set up a big screen in my dental surgery and are watching this competition. They are drinking champagne and I am drinking water!" Henrich reflected.
A delighted Henrich Romeike acknowledges his victory
The medal winning teams
In the press conference following the medal ceremony, the respect and genuine feelings of flowed strongly and Henrich was a popular and gracious winner. Over a hundred media representatives, officials and the medal winning teams were hearty in their acknowledgement of Australia's fine record in the sport and excellent result at the 2008 Olympic Games. Team Silver medallist - I understand that the rider's party went all night and there were a few headaches in the morning.
© Cyberhorse 2008 Berni Saunders