The multiple record-breaking British partnership and defending Olympic champions, Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro, more than lived up to expectations when producing the top score as the Dressage Grand Prix drew to a close at the Olympic Equestrian Venue in Deodoro this afternoon. But not even the shining star of the sport could halt the steady march of the Germans who look set to claim their 13th Olympic team title tomorrow afternoon.
“If there is no drama, which we all know can happen, we will hopefully take home the gold!” said five-time Olympic gold medallist Isabell Werth (47), who helped anchor the German total at 81.295 with a great test from the mare Weihegold. But the British are breathing down those German necks on 79.252, just over two percentage points behind, while Team USA is sitting in bronze medal spot another two points further adrift this evening.
Only the top six teams from the Grand Prix go through to tomorrow’s Grand Prix Special team medal decider, so Spain, France, Australia, Brazil and Japan have now slipped out of contention, leaving the Netherlands, Sweden and Denmark still in the medal race along with the leading pack.
Germany was already out in front after two riders from each side competed yesterday, and looked set to gain an even bigger advantage after Kristina Broring-Sprehe (29) posted a massive 82.257 with Desperados today. “We are here over eight days now so I was very happy to begin!” said the world number one afterwards.
And when Dujardin’s London 2012 gold medal winning team-mate Carl Hester (49) had some tricky moments with Nip Tuck, the British looked vulnerable. The 12-year-old gelding is notoriously spooky, unshipping his rider during a training session at last year’s FEI European Championships in Aachen, Germany when he took fright, and living up to his reputation again today.
“He is probably the biggest horse here, but he has the heart of a mouse!” said Hester, who is also team coach. “He is good with noise but very visual. It was probably something ridiculous that spooked him, like a flower moving in a pot – maybe he needs glasses!” Hester joked. “He went fantastic all week and we had ten minutes in the arena this morning and he was totally relaxed. He had me completely fooled, I didn’t expect this and I’m gutted!”
Dujardin rode to the rescue however, her fabulous 14-year-old gelding producing one of those spell-binding performances which have ensured his superstar status. “I can’t help but smile when I ride Valegro”, she said. “Today I didn’t even have to ask him to do a thing, he just did it himself! He enjoyed it and it felt easy, he just tries his heart out.”
The 31-year-old is really enjoying her second Olympic experience. “Some people come to the Olympics under pressure, but they still have to do the same as at any other show so I’m enjoying it and having the time of my life. I’m in the village with the world’s best athletes. ‘Oh there’s Roger Federer, oh there’s Nadal, or Murray’ and I’m star-struck! I’ve been pin-swapping and everything, it’s just great fun!”
A score of 85.071 left her out in front individually and brought Team GB back up into second place, but although the Germans now hold the next three slots to cement their position at the head of affairs, it’s still tight at the top and it’s still all very much to play for as the action resumes in the morning.
The Americans will also have to stay on their toes to fend off the Dutch who are very hot on their heels, less than one percentage point behind. Olympic veteran, Steffen Peters (51), boosted Team USA’s chances with a mark of 77.614 with Legolas. “This was one of the biggest tests of my horse’s life and it’s difficult, but there wasn’t a single point we gave away”, he said. “He delivered the test I dreamed of for my team! It’s going to be tight here now for the team placings though.” he said earlier in the afternoon. And he was right, with team-mate Laura Graves pulling her side closer to the top of the leaderboard but leaving them still just off a podium placing when scoring 78.071 with Verdades.