Kiwis Claw Way Back Into Medal Contention
New Zealand’s Olympic Games eventing team has produced a powerful performance to move into silver medal spot as the riders head into the final day of competition.
Spear-headed by the legendary Sir Mark Todd, the team is just 4.5 penalty points off leaders Australia, with France 6.2 penalties behind the Kiwis.
Todd and Leonidas II sit in fourth place individually, while Clarke Johnstone and Balmoral Sensation are in seventh equal and Jonelle Price aboard Faerie Dianimo in 13th.
All three produced stunning clear cross country rounds on a day that saw many big names fall by the wayside. Germany, who were hot favourites to take the team gold sit in fourth place, 22.5 penalty points off the pace.
However, maestro Michael Jung (GER), the current Olympic champion, and Sam FBW are well in touch, sitting less than a rail away from leader Chris Burton (AUS) aboard Santano II.
It was a vastly different Eventing Team New Zealand today. The team were all disappointed to be trailing the leaders at the end of the dressage phase, but certainly dug deep for a cross country that many described as the toughest in more than 30 years.
Trail-blazer Tim Price was incredibly unlucky when his horse Ringwood Sky Boy slipped this morning going round a corner and the two fell, resulting in immediate elimination.
“It was a gracious fall if there is such a thing,” said Price. “It was on the side of a slope and the momentum just took us. It is a challenging course out there and you try and leave no stone unturned in the build-up . . . then you go and fall over.”
He was through the toughest part of the course when it happened and was headed for home “with smiles on our faces”.
“He was going brilliantly and felt so good. I thought ‘game on’. I felt he was the right horse to be sitting on this day. I am just so gutted.”
Next out was Todd – the oldest rider in the eventing competition, who competed in his first Olympic Games in 1984 and is poised to make history as New Zealand’s most successful Olympian if he collects another medal tomorrow.
He and his German-bred Leonidas II were clear, adding just two time penalties to their dressage score to finish on 46 penalty points.
With Price out, the remaining three riders had to complete the course if they had any chance of a medal.
“I had instructions from the team to go safe and clear,” said Todd. “The horse was brilliant all the way around. The instructions were also to ride safe at the fence where Tim had the problem and I think that probably cost me those few seconds.
“That was a really unlucky fall for Tim, to slip on the flat like that when the horse was going so well.”
Todd was ecstatic with his own horse, and a tad emotional when interviewed at the end of the day.
Rio is the ninth Olympic Games he has been selected for, including the boycotted 1980 Games. He has actually attended every Games since 1984, when he and Charisma won the individual gold medal, as he was the team trainer in 2004.
He has two individual gold medals to his credit and a bronze, as well as a silver and two bronze team medals.
“I am over the moon to have finished and gone well. It is a 3* course with 4* technicality. The fences come at you thick and fast.”
But he had plenty of praise for his.
“He is so brave and honest,” said Todd.
“The team needed me to get round. When you are travelling at 570 metres a minute, the fences come at you thick and fast. There is no room for error – the horses have to stay really focussed. It is a real riders course out there.”
Clarke Johnstone and Balmoral Sensation were also clear, with 4.8 time penalties.
“He was absolutely sensational. I am just thrilled with him – everything went to plan, I am just buzzing. My horse finished full of running. It is really intense out there – there are a lot of jumping efforts,” said Johnstone.
“Sometimes on these high pressure courses you can feel you are just getting by, by the skin of your teeth but not today.”
Johnstone set a new record for himself in walking the course six times.
“There was so much pressure – normally you are riding for yourself but here it is for New Zealand. With poor Tim having that fall, the pressure was really on. I was feeling it too, until I got on my horse and did a couple of warmup jumps . . . he jumped out of his skin. He has been feeling a little flat all week but when I got on him today he just lit up. He was literally rearing to go in the start box.”
Last out was Jonelle Price and her little pocket rocket Faerie Dianimo. They may have been riding all the pressure in the world on their shoulders, but you wouldn’t have known it.
“We were a bit of a glum old bunch last night wondering how we would dig ourselves out of our hole,” said Price.
But she says the Kiwi attitude got them home, as well as drawing from the “words of wisdom” from New Zealand chef de mission Rob Waddell.
“The Olympics are a once in a lifetime opportunity. It is something you leave with nothing in the tank,” she said.
“We took the dressage pretty hard. None of us performed to our personal expectation, but we went out today with a positive mindset.”
Tomorrow’s showjumping round is lining up to be a real edge-of-your seat showdown between the world’s eventing giants. Once the team medals are decided, the top 25 combinations will be back in the arena to jump-off for the individual medals.
The horse details –
Balmoral Sensation (owned by the Johnstone Family) and Faerie Dianimo (owned by Trisha Rickards, Jacky Green and Jonelle Price), Leonidas II (owned by Diane Brunsden, Peter Cattell and Sir Mark Todd) and Ringwood Sky Boy (owned by Robert Taylor, Varenna Allen, Tim Price and Selwood.com).
ESNZ High Performance Media Liaison
+ 55 (21) 97374 6770 – RIO NUMBER