London Leaves Its Mark
Reflecting on the equestrian events of Olympic Games XXX — which drew to a close last weekend — there were triumphs and troubles alike. There was history made, and there were penalties paid.
But no doubt London 2012 will be an Olympics to remember for equestrians from every corner of the world. An international success it most certainly was. Here are some of the more memorable moments:
n A breathtaking visual voyage through British history, from a montage of London’s tourist sites on one obstacle to the Stonehenge-themed triple combination and the jump standards decorated with Magna Carta quotes, on Bob Ellis’ show jumping courses.
n At least 15 total hours of televised equestrian events on NBC, MSNBC and NBC Sports. Before the games I only had the heart to hope for a few 45-minute segments — so four hours of cross country coverage alone was a shocking yet sweet surprise.
n Gazing in awe at panorama camera views of Greenwich Park, the setting for the equestrian events. The vast, stunning estate dates from the 1400s — if you put it in perspective, more than 300 years before the United States of America even existed. Not exactly your everyday trail riding venue.
n Five equestrian medals for the home team of Great Britain, including three golds: a team gold in dressage, a surprising team gold in show jumping, and an individual gold in dressage for Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro, all significant triumphs in sports recently dominated by Germany, the Netherlands and the U.S. A team silver in eventing and individual bronze from dressage rider Laura Bechtolsheimer capped off the most successful equestrian games for Britain in recent memory.
n Comeback kid Nick Skelton, a 54-year-old British show jumper, who has over the years persevered through a broken neck, two knee surgeries, relationship troubles, and several announced retirements from competitive sport. His three clear rounds aboard Big Star helped the British team win its first jumping team medal since the 1984 Los Angeles Games.
n Zara Phillips, Queen Elizabeth’s granddaughter, finishing eighth individually in eventing on High Kingdom at her first Olympics. Much of the royal family was in attendance.
n Disappointment for the United States Equestrian Team, which had moments of success but failed to bring home a medal in any of the three sports. Kudos to dressage master Steffen Peters, veteran show jumper Rich Fellers, and eventer Karen O’Connor for impressive individual performances.
n A heartbreaking fallen rail at the last stadium fence for Sara Algottson Ostholt of Sweden and Wega, costing them the individual eventing gold medal. She would have been the first woman to become individual Olympic eventing champion. The title went to World and European champion Michael Jung of Germany and Sam.
n Canadian show jumping legend Ian Millar competing in his record tenth Olympic Games.
n The Saudi Arabian show jumping team stunning several equestrian powerhouses with a performance that put them on top after the first team round. The team wound up with a bronze overall, the country’s first-ever equestrian medal.
n The Pilot’s newsroom staff cracking up — in stark contrast to my intense observation and commentary — as we watched dressage, or “that weird horse dancing thing,” on the flat screen TV mounted on the office wall.
n Japanese rider Hiroshi Hoketsu, 71 years young, competing in dressage as the oldest competitor in this year’s games in any sport. Juxtaposing him was American show jumper Reed Kessler, who turned 18 only days before the Games began.
The world’s best will now target Rio, four years into the future. The torch has been passed.
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