The notion that anything can and will happen at the Olympics has never been more true than today at Greenwich Park in London. Yoshiaki Oiwa and Noonday de Conde of Japan hold the overnight Olympic dressage lead heading into the cross-country on Monday. Yoshi and Noonday de Conde performed a lovely test that featured consistency first and foremost to score a 38.1 and take a 0.4 lead ahead of Stefano Brecciaroli of Italy. First to ride after the lunch break, Stefano’s performance with Apollo left hardly anything to criticize and featured especially dramatic extended gaits. Mark Todd and Campino were the last to ride on Sunday and they round out the top three overnight, giving Toddy a great shot at his third individual Olympic gold. Toddy rode quietly but purposefully and, although you could barely see him move, you could see the effect of every aid on Campino. The changes in particular were fantastic. Mark said of Campino after his test, “at this stage I don’t think he could do any better.”
Germany continued their team dressage dominance this afternoon with Michael Jung and WEG 2010 champion Sam scoring a 40.6 for 11th. Sam’s test involved a few disappointing bobbles including a break to the canter after the medium trot, but the result gives Germany four riders in the top 11 with 40.6 points or better. Ze Germans have a 3 point advantage ahead of Team Australia, who benefited today from great rides by the husband and wife team of Clayton and Lucinda Fredericks. Clayton rode deeply into every corner and made the hard look easy for Bendigo. A couple of tiny bobbles including a change behind after the extended canter held their score back, but they still finished on 40.4 to give Australia 5 team rides that are under 47 points and better than 25th place–the Aussies are positioned perfectly going into the cross-country.
Crowd-favorite Team GBR is in 3rd, 7.9 points back from the Germans with a 127.00. William Fox-Pitt and Lionheart anchored Team GBR’s efforts today with a 44.1 to move into a tie for 17th. William is one of the quietest riders in the world and yet he does so much to make horses look and move better underneath him. Despite William and Lionheart’s best efforts, the test suffered a few bobbles.
Sweden and New Zealand round out the top 5 team spots, both with 128.2 points, although New Zealand has better dropped scores. Japan is the 6th placed team overnight with 130.7. More on them, and their leader Yoshi, later in this post.
The United States is placed 7th and 19.7 points out of first with 138.8. The good news for Team USA is that our five riders have between 44.3 and 52.0 points. Our dropped scores are much better than most teams’, meaning that all of our riders (and therefore our team) can move up significantly with good cross-country rides. My guess is that when all is said and done a 52 will put you in the top 10. Phillip and Whisper didn’t disappoint as the anchor pair for the US–their performance combined big movement, suppleness, and accuracy. If all of that wasn’t enough, their changes were excellent. I am certainly biased but I thought that test deserved way better than the 44.3 it received.
In my biased opinion, the judges were very picky on a couple of horses today including Twizzel, Mystery Whisper, Riddle Master, and, to some extent, Flying Finish. Judging is absolutely subjective, but I thought Phillip’s test was every bit the equal of tests that scored around 40 points. At this point, Boyd’s score of 50.7 looks to me at least 3-4 points too stern, but I am more understanding of that since he was first to ride and we expect the judges to be conservative early.
Canada sits in 11th place tonight, but, just like the WEGs in 2012, this team is here to jump and they can look forward to a cross-country course that suits their team very well tomorrow. Rebecca Howard and Riddle Master bobbled a couple of changes and had an unsteady angle in a shoulder-in, but those were the only major problems in an otherwise quality test from this pair. The judges obviously found more fault with the test than I did and scored it as 50.7.
The individual competition at the Olympics is extremely tight. The top 10 pairs are separated by 2.3 points and just 10 points separate the top 28 pairs. In the end, the dressage rankings could mean very little indeed after the riders compete over Sue Benson’s course. Sue herself has predicted that perhaps only two pairs will make the time. Riders in the lead should by no means rest on their laurels tonight and riders who are father back than they would have hoped can take comfort in the challenge coming tomorrow.
As for your overnight leader, Yoshi is an international veteran for Japan, having completed the 2006 and 2010 WEGs and finishing 49th at the Beijing Olympics. No one would have been surprised by a solid ride from Yoshi today, but he performed the dressage test of a lifetime at the best possible moment. Most recently, Yoshi was ranked 9th with Noonday after the dressage at the CIC3* in Luhmuhlen, 8 points behind Sara Algotsson-Ostholt and Wega, and 4 points behind Ingrid and Butts Abraxxas. They finished 1.2 points ahead of both those pairs today. Incidentally, Yoshi finished Luhmuhlen with 12.8 time penalties and 8 jumping penalties for 16th place. Yoshi’s great ride was one of three quality performances from the Japaneses riders today, with Kenki Sato scoring 42.0 and moving into 15th, and Atsushi Negishi and Pretty Darling scoring 50.4 for 33rd.
Don’t make the mistake of writing Team Japan off just because they are not a traditional eventing powerhouse. Japan beat the always-tough Aussies out of an Olympic team qualifying spot last year at Blenheim. And, as I learned at Young Riders, never mess with a team that has a Buddhist monk riding on it. Japan will face a big challenge tomorrow but their team has been improving and, hey, it’s the Olympics and anything can happen, right?