Day one of the Olympic dressage competition went to script for Britainís riders. Danish rider Anne van Olst had the honour of being the first pure dressage rider to canter up the meridian line in the Greenwich Arena to get the competition underway with Clearwater and the combination set a good benchmark of 71.322%. The British Team was drawn fifth of ten teams on Tuesday which meant team pathfinder Carl Hester, competing in his fourth Olympics, was relatively early in the running order at seventh to go.
He entered the arena on his own and Sasha Stewartís dark bay stallion Uthopia to rapturous applause, countless waving Union Flags and an electric atmosphere and got off to a breath taking start with the horseís trademark extended trot. The test flowed with Carl riding with his own light and sympathetic style. An expensive mistake came when Uthopia changed in the extended canter across the diagonal but this was the only major error in an otherwise fabulous performance for a score of 77.72% to take the lead. A measured Carl commented; ďThatís my second international show of the year so Iím very happy, it felt like a good performance; I know itís not the highest mark Iíve had but I have to take into account itís the Olympics, itís the toughest standard, and Iím obviously in the first group.
Iím delighted, we had one mistake where he changed in the extended canter which was costly, that took me down under the 78% which would have been my ideal score I think to start with but hey, 77% is still great. The horse felt good, heís moving well and you canít prepare a horse for what weíve just done. Thereís nowhere in the world that Iíve been on a young horse that could prepare for the noise and the feeling and the atmosphere, so all that taken into account Iíve had a great ride and itís a good start for us.Ē
The second Danish rider suffered the worst of the showery conditions when Anna Kasprzak performed in a monsoon with Donnperignon but they still managed 75.289%.
The tension rose the turn of the first team riders from the Netherlands and Germany came around. Dutch rider Anky van Grunsven made history by becoming the first dressage rider to compete in seven Olympics and is the defending Champion. With Salinero she put in a strong performance for 73.343% which was not enough to take the lead but certainly a good start for the Netherlands. On to Dorothee Schneider and Diva Royal for our biggest team challengers, Germany. The combination was strong throughout but a combination of small mistakes made an impact to give them a final score of 76.277%.
It was then the turn of Laura Bechtolsheimer and Mistral Hojris, who certainly belied his 17 years in looking better than ever, to a great British reception. The pair certainly projected a different picture to that four years ago in Hong Kong as they were a picture of true harmony. Ironically, as eventers Mary King and Tina Cook had done in having the same two fences down in the individual show jumping round, ĎAlfí also threw in a change in the extended canter as Uthopia had done but at the end of the test Laura looked overjoyed with her test. As she left the arena the score sat at 71% but with final marks and collectives, the final total was 76.839% which gave them second overall.
A smiley Laura said; ďAmazing, the crowd are very, very supportive and itís unbelievable to ride in front of a home crowd like that - I felt very much carried by that the whole way through. I felt Alf put in a really solid performance as usual, I had one little mistake at the end of the extended canter - I copied my team mate Carl Hester we seemed to have made exactly the same mistake.
In parts he got a little bit strong but I was always able to bring him back, he never got away from me. He concentrated and focussed the whole way through the test and Iím pretty gutted for my team that the mark didnít reflect what we thought it would be.
Some days [the draw] turns out to be a great advantage, other times a disadvantage, at the end of the day itís one of those things you canít control as a rider and you just have to focus on your performance and give your best in the ring and forget about the rest of that stuff as its really not something you can influence.Ē
Only five teams have had two riders go today so itís early days for honours in the team results.
1st - Carl Hester, Uthopia - GBR - 77.720%
2nd - Laura Bechtolsheimer, Mistral Hojris - GBR - 76.839%
3rd - Dorothee Schneider, Diva Royal - GER - 76.277%
4th - Anna Kasprzak, Donnperignon - DEN - 75.289%
5th - Anky van Grunsven, Salinero - NED - 73.343%
We start again tomorrow morning at 11am with the first British rider, Richard Davison, on at 12:15 with Artemis. Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro are on at 14.10.
Full results and times for tomorrow to to London 2012 web site