by Louise Parkes
France claimed Team Jumping gold for only the second time in the history of the Olympic Games with a brilliant performance at Deodoro Olympic Park in Rio de Janeiro (BRA) today. Lying only a single penalty point behind the joint-leaders from Brazil, Germany, Netherlands and USA after yesterday’s first round of competition, they added just two time faults to clinch it this afternoon.
Silver went to Team USA who completed with five faults while Germany won out in a thrilling two-way jump-off against Canada for the bronze. This is only the second French team gold in the history of Olympic Jumping, the first won at Montreal (CAN) in 1976 where the side included Jean-Marcel Rozier whose son, Philippe, was French pathfinder today. “My father was here in Rio, and we are all feeling very proud to have another gold medal in our family!”, Philippe said this afternoon.
It hasn’t all been plain sailing for the French who have endured a series of setbacks. “We had bad luck at the beginning of the week with Simon’s horse and then Penelope” said Kevin Staut, referring to the withdrawal of Simon Delestre’s horse, Ryan, who was injured and then a night in the veterinary clinic for Penelope Leprevost’s mare Flora de Mariposa before the pair took a fall in Sunday’s first qualifier. Flora jumped brilliantly in yesterday’s first round of the team event but such was the strength of the French effort that she didn’t have to compete at all today as Roger-Yves Bost (Sydney Une Prince) joined Staut (Reveur de Hurtebise) and Rozier (Rahotep de Toscane) to seal it with three great rounds.
There were four teams sharing a zero score as the day began, but only Germany fielded a full four-rider side, as the elimination of Jur Vrieling (Zirocco Blue) hit the Dutch hard yesterday and the disqualification of Stephen de Freitas Barcha (Landpeter do Feroleto) left the Brazilians looking vulnerable. Then this morning it was announced that Beezie Madden’s Cortes C was withdrawn from the US team after picking up an injury.
On a day filled with time faults, Rozier collected just one in an otherwise copybook pathfinding run for France but it was Staut’s clear when next to go that suddenly placed his country in real contention. And when Bost followed that with one of his edge-of-the-seat rides to come home with just one time fault on the board the destination of team gold was already being celebrated by the French fans. Bost insisted he had no idea the pressure he was under when going into the ring as last French rider. “I wasn’t sure what the score was, I just went in to do my job and the medal just came to me!” he said afterwards, and Staut joked in reply, “when Bosty is warming up, nobody is speaking to him!”
The Americans also kicked off with just a time fault from Kent Farrington and Voyeur but Lucy Davis and Barron left the middle of the influential triple combination, three from home, on the floor so although McLain Ward followed through with a spectacular clear from Azur their fate was sealed on a five-fault total which was plenty good enough for silver spot.
The Dutch kicked off with a mistake from Jeroen Dubbeldam at the second fence along with a time fault and although Maikel van der Vleuten and Verdi only fell foul of the clock, three fences down for Harrie Smolders and Emerald saw them disappear from the reckoning. Brazilian dreams dissipated when Eduardo Menezes (Quintol), Doda de Miranda (Cornetto K) and Pedro Veniss (Quabri de L’Isle) all faulted just once, but in the meantime there was another drama beginning to unfold.
Germany wrapped up their score on eight, thanks to a classic bit of riding from anchorman Ludger Beerbaum who came home inside the time with Casello under the most intense pressure. That meant the five faults collected by Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum (Fibonacci) could be dropped leaving just the single errors from Christian Ahlmann (Taloubet Z) and Daniel Deusser (First Class) to be added together. And that eight-fault total left them on level pegging with the Canadians who added just four to their first-day result thanks to brilliant clears from Tiffany Foster (Tripple X) and Eric Lamaze (Fine Lady). Canadian opener, Yann Candele (First Choice), hit only the last and they could discount the 12 picked up by Amy Millar (Heros).
The Canadians were first to go in the two-way showdown for bronze, but it was three German clears, from Ahlmann, Michaels-Beerbaum and Deusser, that clinched it. “We always knew there was a high possibility of a jump-off” said Michaels-Beerbaum, “we all fought very hard for this medal today and we are very grateful to have it.”
Back in the winner’s enclosure, Kevin Staut reflected on how his team managed to turn it around in a week when nothing seemed to be going their way. “Maybe the problems helped to make us fight more and more” he said. And how it feels to be crowned Olympic team champion? “Really proud – to be French, to be a rider and to be a gold medallist!”