Day one of the Olympic Dressage! The Grand Prix. David and I got off to an early start and went down to Greenwich by boat on the river Thames. Everyone on the boat was going to the dressage. Most of the other passengers looked British with Union Jack flags in hand or Team GB jackets and t-shirts and even finger nails painted with the British flag.
Arriving at Greenwich we were all guided by very cheery and helpful volunteers in pink or purple outfits several with pink foam fingers to point us in the right direction. We went through airport style security before getting into the stadium.
There were to be fifty riders in total riding the Grand Prix over two days. In the first flight of riders Carl Hester was the last to go on the wonderful Uthopia. The announcer had asked us before the competition to hold our cheering and applause until the test was finished to give the horse and rider the chance to do their best. However when Carl came into the arena there was an immediate response and we had to be reminded to keep it down. Apart from an unfortunate mistake (an impromptu flying change) in the extended canter it was a lovely test and scored 77.772 which put him into the lead.
After the break the first horse was Rafalca ridden by Jan Ebling for the USA. They scored 70.243. I was surprised to see very few Americans in the audience. The Brits were of course, well represented with flags, hats and decorations. There were Swedes with flags, Spaniards with flags and national colours, Finnish and German but I only saw one American flag waving at the end of Ebling’s ride.
Also in the second flight were Anky van Grunsven and Salinero. At 18 Salinero is still looking very fit. But the dressage horse world has changed since they won in Hong Kong. The horses seem even more spectacular and the scores have sky rocketed. Anky scored 73.343
While we were on the lunch break it began to rain and then it poured! Unfortunately for David Marcus he had to deal with this and his horse Capital decided that it was all too much and sadly David could not regain his horse’s composure and they were eliminated. This meant Canada would no longer have a team and Ashley Holzer and Jacquie Brooks would ride as individuals. As a Canadian this was disappointing but having spent a large part of my life living in England I was also rooting for Team GB.
During the afternoon there was more intermittent rain and we would pull on ponchos and then take them off and then pull them on again. The Dutch supporters had come with orange rain gear and they stood out clearly in the stands.
Laura Bectolsheimer was the second last to go. As she came in the announcer reminded us to keep it down but as she entered there was still considerable applause so Laura took one hand and gestured for us to quieten our enthusiasm. I have watched Alf (Mistral Hojris) for several years and know he was an explosive fellow when she first started with him. They have come a long way. Laura and Alf went into second place behind Carl.
A lot of pressure on Team GB. Both the GB riders, Carl and Laura were at the top of the leaderboard but team Germany had their two strongest riders to come. Germany has always been a powerhouse in dressage and they would be looking for their usual gold medals. But this year Britain looks to be in a strong position for a medal. Possibly a gold medal. The pressure is on!
The previous day Carl Hester had given and interview that was played on the big screen in the stadium. He said that leading up to the Games friends were calling up and asking if he was alright. “I’m not alright” was his answer. “But now that I’m here with all the other athletes, all of whom are in the same position, I feel better.” If Carl Hester, an experienced Olympian, is feeling the pressure what must it be like for Charlotte Dujardin, 26 years old in her first Olympics and the last British team rider to go?
We took our seats and found we had Australians next to us. The woman beside David had a marvellous story. She had been at one of the food stands before coming into the stadium and struck up a conversation with a young teenager who was a dressage rider. She looked at the Aussie (who is my sort of age…in her sixties) and said:” Did you ever ride?” When the woman replied that she was still riding and competing the teen’s jaw dropped!
Over the morning I noticed the background music seemed to have been carefully selected for the individual riders. Renate Voglsang of Austria rode to Vivaldi, Valentine Truppa of Italy to selections of Verdi and Puccini, Jessica Michel of France to Les Miserables, and Richard Davison of Great Britain to a selection of themes from James Bond films.
After Richard Davison came Kristina Sprehe and Desperados a rising star in the dressage world. Desperados is a very elegant horse and embodies the current preference for a finer lighter horse with excellent movement. The pair had a good test which was, to my eye, mistake free. The scored a 79.119 which put them in first place. Could Charlotte top that? But there were other riders and horses to watch to take my mind off that.
Adrienne Lyle’s horse Wizard tripped in the extended trot and picking himself up went into canter. Siril Helljesen’s horse picked up the wrong canter lead. Victoris Max Theurer’s Augustin was late behind in the ones. Arggh! Of all the moments to have things like this happen. They would never be making these mistakes at home but nothing can be guaranteed in the competition ring especially if that ring is a packed 23,000 seat stadium at the Olympics.
Then Charlotte and Valegro. Down the centerline. Halt. Excellent. Off to the trot. Extended trot…wonderful. Gasps around the stadium. The small scoreboards showed a 9.5 for the extended trot. Some judges had given it a 10! Extended walk. One of the best of the day. Canter tour. Two’s good. Zig zag ok. Ones uphill and energetic. Down the centerline passage, piaffe, passage and halt. YES! The score ….83.663! The stadium was on its feet cheering and clapping. Even those spectators who know nothing about dressage and had just got tickets to see an Olympic event knew they had seen something special.
But as they say in showbiz it’s not over till it’s over.
Steffen Peters and Ravel. 77.7 Adelinde Cornelissen and Parzival 81.687 Then came Damon Hill and Helen. This horse is just stunning and as I watched I thought about how many really beautiful horses I had seen that day and how many excellent riders. Their score …..81.17
THE BRITISH WERE STILL IN FIRST PLACE BUT JUST BY A GNAT’S WHISKER.
Team GB 79.407
Team Germany 78.846
Team Netherlands 76.809
The Grand Prix Special would decide the gold, silver and bronze medals. Could Team GB stay on top?
I would have to wait and see.