Germany’s Michael Jung took his second successive individual title as Olympic Eventing drew to a close at Deodoro Olympic Park in Rio de Janeiro (BRA).
Jung (34) matched the record set by New Zealand’s Mark Todd at Los Angeles (USA) in 1984 and Seoul (KOR) in 1988 when making it a back-to-back double of individual Olympic Eventing golds. And, also like Todd, he rode the same horse that carried him to both team and individual glory in London (GBR) four years ago – Sam.
The defence of his London 2012 title didn’t get off to the perfect start as he had to settle for fifth place after the opening dressage phase, but a sensational cross-country run with the 16-year-old Sam yesterday moved him up into second behind overnight leaders, Australia’s Christopher Burton and Santano II.
Having contributed to his country’s team silver medal winning performance this morning with a copybook showjumping performance, Jung moved into pole position and couldn’t be toppled. And in a nail-biting finale, it was French team gold medallist Nicolas Astier who took the silver with Piaf de B’Neville, while America’s Philip Dutton and Mighty Nice moved up from fourth to take the bronze.
Man to beat
Jung came to Rio as the man to beat, with not just team and individual gold from London 2012 on his career record but also the individual world title from Kentucky (USA) in 2010 and team gold at Normandy (FRA) in 2014 along with three consecutive double-European titles. He’s long been a phenomenon, and today’s result further confirms his supremacy as one of the most successful athletes in the history of this super-tough sport.
Burton had already dropped to third as the individual final action began with the top 25 jumping in reverse order of merit, and two fences down cost him a podium placing, allowing Dutton to move up the order in the closing stages. The 52-year-old American made just one mistake with the aptly-named Mighty Nice to post a final score of 51.80.
Frenchman Astier Nicolas was lying in silver medal spot having helped secure team gold for his country this morning with another fabulous another fabulous ride on his 13-year-old gelding Piaf de B’Neville. In 11th after dressage, his cross-country clear yesterday sent him rocketing up to third individually, and another fault-free effort this morning moved him up another place in the race for the ultimate prize. An uncharacteristically wild jump at the third fence added four jumping penalties and two time faults, but even though that moved their scoreline up to 48.00 they still held the lead as Jung returned to the arena.
But they don’t come any cooler than the man from the Black Forest and he made it look like a walk in the park as he crossed the finish line having added no penalties to his first-day total of 40.90, leaving him 7.1 penalties clear of Nicolas, the biggest winning margin in Eventing since the Barcelona 1992 Olympics when Australia’s Matt Ryan and Kibah Tic Toc won by a margin of 11.2.
“It’s the second time to win with Sam and that makes it even more special, I couldn’t be more proud of him”, Jung said. “He is so strong, on the cross-country he can run every hill, jump every fence but in showjumping he’s very nervous and it’s hard for him to concentrate. He jumped better in the second round than in the first. Yesterday it was difficult for me in the warm-up because of the people and the noise, but today the preparation was much nicer because it was quiet and he could settle.” And he added without hesitation when asked where he goes from here: “well Tokyo 2020 of course, and the Europeans and maybe the world title along the way!”
The final leaderboard showed Australia’s Sam Griffiths and Christopher Burton in fourth and fifth places followed by New Zealand’s Clarke Johnstone (Balmoral Sensation) and Mark Todd (Leonidas ll) in sixth and seventh while China’s Alex Hua Tian sent a ripple of excitement across China when slotting into eighth place. “I can’t believe it. I came here hoping to be in the top 20 – I never imagined this!” said the 26-year-old rider.