The Freestyle! The Individual Dressage Medals! British fans had gone all out with flags and fascinators to show their support for the British riders. The sun was shining brilliantly as we took out seats. I knew this would be a hard fought competition and we were to have the pleasure of watching the best horses and riders in the world.
The second flight brought us Edward Gal. As he entered the stadium the announcer told us about his victory in the European Championships in Windsor in 2009 with Totilas. Somehow I felt that Edward might not want to be thinking about that now as he enters the Olympic freestyle on a horse he has not been riding for even a year. Their music was very dramatic and suited the pair well. The test was well ridden with loads of hind end engagement and tempis arrow straight. His score of 80.26 went to the top of the leaderboard.
The tenth rider was Anky van Grunsven and Salinero. This would be the last time I would see this pair in the competition ring. At 18 years of age Salinero will retire soon. Anky is a consummate professional and rode for every point. She cleverly took the walk along the long side. It has not been Salinero’s strong point and she was going to give it what help she could. She replaced Edward at the top of the leaderboard with 82%.
Then we were entertained by Juan Manuel Munoz Diaz and the wonderful Fuego. Juan Manuel gave a demonstration of piaffe right in front of Stephen Clark in the judges box at C. It was as if Fuego was saying:” How do you like this?” The movements were executed in perfect timing to the music, the ones were performed one handed and passage one handed as well. You have to hand it to Juan Manuel he knows how to win over a crowded stadium. His score: 79.375%.
Kristina Sprehe and Desperados followed. Good extended trot, pirouettes really up in front, ones arrow straight, this is a pair for the future for sure. 81.375% was their score.
Helen Langehanenberg was the first of the final six riders to go. Damon Hill is such a stunning horse. Today there were a few small errors in transitions but they still earned a score of 84.303%. The scores were creeping up!
Rider number 15 was Laura Bectolsheimer and when she entered the stadium you could hear a pin drop. Yes ,seriously, I have never heard a stadium with some 25,000 people be so still and quite. It seemed that everyone knew that for this horse we had to be very quiet to give him his best chance. Their passage tempo fit perfectly to the Lion King music, the extended canter was flying, the piaffe was fabulous. They went into first place.
Carl Hester and Uthopia followed. The extended trot was a 10 as usual but there were some mistakes and a score of 82.857.Then came Adelinde Cornelissen and Parzival. She was riding to win. Beautiful ride to the music of Swan Lake and the Nutcracker for a score of 88.25! Could Charlotte top that?
Charlotte’s music is British to the core with the canter pirouettes to the chimes of Big Ben, and extended canter to Elgar’s ‘Land of Hope and Glory’. It was really wonderful but just at the end a miscommunication coming out of canter. Would it pull down her score? We clapped and cheered as she left the arena but I knew everyone was wondering……would it be enough? We had to wait. Seconds ticked by. Charlotte left the stadium and rode Valegro out to the warm up area. Then up went the score. A roar rose from the stadium. 90.089! She had done it. On the big screen we could see Charlotte burst into tears. Weeks, months, of pressure and today especially intense pressure was relieved. Britain has been doing extremely well in these Olympics and the expectations on the athletes have grown exponentially. But I also knew that Charlotte’s emotions came from the knowledge that Valegro was to be sold after the Olympics. In a perfect world someone would buy him to give the ride to her. Perhaps that could actually happen so that this marvellous partnership can continue.
As we now know Valegro did not get sold and I am happy that the partnership with Charlotte could continue.
The day after the Freestyle my husband David and I were sitting in the BA Lounge waiting for our flight home. I was working on my laptop when David gave a little cough and alerted me to the fact that Stephen Clarke had just sat down next to me. There was a table between us. I wrote a note on a small piece of paper telling him how much we had enjoyed the dressage and what a wonderful job he had done as president of the ground jury. I slid it across the table to him. He picked it up, read it and struck up a conversation. We talked for a good 20 minutes before we had to get our flight. He told me he was so relieved it had all gone well. After the debacle of 2008 in Hong Kong with the secret meetings he had to make sure that did not happen again. He also told me that it was his responsibility to find interesting places for the judges to have dinner in Greenwich! He was now going to take a three week holiday. He had told everyone he was going away but actually he was going to stay home with his dog and do some gardening!