Great Britain just missed out on double gold in a nerve-wrecking jump off in the stunning Olympic arena in Greenwich, London, 8 August 2012. The world’s best riders fought out the medal winning positions in gladiatorial style over huge technical tracks of London themed landmarks.
Course Designer Bob Ellis and his team had built a course that was not only impressive for the 23,000 capacity crowd that packed the grandstands but also for the horses and riders contesting it. A time allowed of 84 seconds meant that riders had to seriously consider taking one of the options offered on the course at an angle for them to cut out a stride or two, if they weren’t to incur time penalties.
As a result of their stellar performances throughout the Olympics, that culminated in their winning a Team Gold on Monday, Team GB were in the fortunate position of having three riders eligible to contest the Individual medals at stake. Jumping in reverse order based on penalties accrued previously, the score-card is then wiped clean, with the 37 riders qualifying for the Individual competition all starting on zero. The team must have been on tenterhooks watching some of those go before them as fences were falling, time penalties were being notched up and even some of the world’s most respected riders were coming out of the arena having notched up penalties running into double figures.
Scott Brash with Hello Sanctos, a 12 year-old bay gelding owned by Lady Kirkham and Lord & Lady Harris was the first of the British riders coming forward, and he proved to the world what a calm, collected and focused 26 year-old man he is. Competing at his first Olympics, with a horse he has only partnered for six months and knowing that there had only been three clear rounds before him, came into the arena and produced the most perfect clear and within the time allowed. Walking Sanctos out of the arena on a long rein as if he had all the time in the world the grandstands went wild in their appreciation.
Talking after the first round Scott commented “He jumped really well today, he’s (Sanctos) much more settled and he’s jumping better and better as time goes on. The more time he spends in the arena the better so I just took my time walking him out afterwards. I’m just really pleased, there’s still a lot to go plus another round to jump which is a lot of jumping to ask. We have to try and beat the track, Sanctos isn’t aware that there’s medals at stake so I have to just do my best for him and hopefully give the home crowd something to cheer about.”
Ben Maher with his own and Quainton Stud’s 10 year-old dark bay stallion Tripple X took on the course with a forward pace knowing the time required was tight. Producing a superb and stylish round they were unlucky when they touched the centre element of the combination, which served as the penultimate fence, and incurred 4 faults as the pole fell. This still left Ben in a solid position as the highest placed 22 competitors were being taken through to the Jump Off where penalties are accrued across both rounds to decide the final positions. The groans from the grandstands as the pole fell were soon replaced with a wall of applause as supporters realised that although it was a pole down he was still in the strong position for Great Britain.
Nick Skelton, with the 9 year-old old KWPN Stallion Big Star owned by Beverley Widdowson must have been overwhelmed with the noise of the crowd as they entered the arena. Having not touched a fence throughout the four rounds of competition preceding today, Nick and Big Star have instilled an incredible passion across the nation in support of them. Going through the start line, you could have heard a pin drop with everyone jumping each fence with him from their seats.
Jumping like he’d just come back from holiday Big Star’s performance yet again was perfection and faultless with the crowds jumping to their feet to honour the combination they have embraced so whole-heartedly.
Commenting afterwards and in respect of his thoughts for the Jump Off, Nick commented “Riding a horse of the quality of Big Star is the reason I get up in the morning and he just makes my life easy. Whatever he does in the Jump Off I won’t be unhappy with, he’s just been outstanding, he’s gone great, he’s brilliant and I really can’t fault him.
“I’ve not once met a course that he has struggled with, his talent is limitless and I really do believe there isn’t anything that you could build for him that he couldn’t jump. Jumping courses like this is difficult, they’re big and they’re technical and what people don’t realise is that just a few inches too close or too far off means a jump down. When you have a horse like Big Star on your side, then you’re in with a chance as he’s not only incredible in his talent but also how he works with you”.
The Jump Off saw 22 riders come forward, in essence all those that had incurred 5penalties or less and Great Britain were the only Nation to have two going forward on zero penalties. The course, which was slightly shortened and given a time allowed of 80 seconds also saw some new fences introduced, such as the striking fence depicting a London Bus as fence 1.
Starting in reverse order Scott, Ben and Nick were all in the fortunate position of watching how the course rode and what may be expected of them if they were to secure a medal. It was Ben and Tripple X who made the first appearance for the Brits and yet again it was the combination that proved to be their downfall in what was otherwise a faultless round. This time, following an extremely light touch it was a pole from the first element standing at 1.59m that rolled from the cups giving them an additional 4 penalties and a finish score of 8 penalties.
Coming out of the arena Ben commented “I can’t remember when we last had a combination down, he is a great combination jumper yet it’s caught us out both times today. In the first round, if I was to analyse it I could perhaps say we were going a little strong into it. However, in the jump off I felt we were coming at it perfectly, but he just took a breath eyeing up the second part of the fence and it made him get in short to the first element resulting in us having it down. This just goes to show though the talented horse that he is as he did exceptionally well to jump his way out of the middle and latter part”.
The riders following Ben who were coming forward with 1 penalty were the riders which could be a serious threat to both Scott and Nick in addition to the other competitors on a zero penalty score. With the majority notching up additional penalties it was Gerco Schroder for the Netherlands and Kamal Bahamdan from Saudi Arabia that managed to produce a clear and 1 penalty respectively adding to the pressure.
Moving to the final six - those that were coming forward with zero penalties - the atmosphere was electric and it was Steve Guerdat, the rider before Scott and Hello Sanctos, that managed to produce the first double clear of the competition. With everyone on the edge of their seats, Scott entered the arena to a sea of Union Flags, however his Individual medal hopes were dashed when the first part of the double fell early on the course giving them an overall finish of 4 penalties.
The crowds again went crazy when Nick and Big Star rode into the arena knowing that anything other than a time fault would keep them in the running for a medal. Jumping his sixth round of the Olympics they looked set to jump clear, but three fences from the finish, at a vertical ,their chances for Gold crashed around them as the pole rolled from the cups. The disappointment and sympathy for Nick from the crowd was all too evident, something that Nick acknowledged in the arena by saluting the crowd with his hat as he made his way out.
Commenting on his disappointment afterwards Nick said “What can I say other than it’s one of those things. He jumped great, he hasn’t touched a fence all week. It’s one of the worst times to touch one but it’s the way that it is and he’s still a brilliant horse. There really isn’t anything more that I can say other than it wasn’t meant to be. We would have settled with a Team Medal before we came and I have to remind myself of that. I just feel so sorry for everyone , those that are part of the team supporting me and the crowd that hoped we would be picking up another medal for them today. We will now be positive, look forward and start again”.
This left Steve Guerdat with Nino des Buissonnets in the Gold medal position whilst Cian O’Connor for Ireland with Blue Lloyd 12 and Gerco Schroder with London went into a jump off for the Silver medal position. It was Gerco Schroder that prevailed producing a superb clear in a time of 49.79 seconds, a performance that Cian was unable to match as jumping clear to the penultimate fence he knew he had to beat Gerco’s time and it was this that perhaps brought the last fence down as he came through the finish in a time of 46.64seconds but with 4penalties relegating them to the Bronze medal position.