We knew coming into this Olympic weekend in Tokyo that Great Britain would be the force to be reckoned with, but we also know that this is eventing and anything can happen at any given point. Luckily, the Brits had an exceptionally deep long list from which to select their squad — as Laura Collett put it in yesterday’s press conference, each individual here is here because they fought tooth and nail to prove their mettle.
Well, this team certainly did their selectors and their country proud: the happy three of Oliver Townend and Ballaghmor Class, Laura Collett and London 52 and Tom McEwen and Toledo De Kerser (and supported by alternate pair Ros Canter and Allstar B) are bringing home the first team eventing gold for Great Britain since 1972. Great Britain won a team silver medal at their home Olympics in London in 2012.
The team came into tonight after delivering three flawless cross -country trips yesterday on a tough and testing Derek di Grazia track, giving themselves a healthy amount of breathing room ahead of today’s jumping finale. With nearly 18 penalty points in hand tonight, the team had room to wiggle, and they did collect two rails between the three: Laura Collett had one well-sat rail down with London 52 at fence 4 and Oliver Townend also had one down at the first element of the triple combination at fence 5A. Neither rail would be costly in the end, though, and Britain will finish the weekend as the only team under 100 penalty marks with a final collective score of 86.3 — the lowest finishing team score in Olympic eventing history.
“It hasn’t sunk in yet but at the same time, we’re three riders on exceptional horses and I think that’s what’s been so special — that all three of us have been on what literally feels like horses of a lifetime, and that ended up falling at the same year, in an Olympic Games with super special horses, and we knew that coming here,” Laura Collett reflected in the post-event press conference.
It’s been a long road for Laura, who in 2013 suffered a rotational fall that would put her in a medically-induced coma for six days and resulted in a fragment of her shoulder traveling to her right eye through her bloodstream, taking the majority of her vision in that eye with it due to damage to the optic nerve.
“Before having the accident, I could have only dreamed of being here, let alone standing here with a gold medal around my neck,” she said. “It’s been a long road with a lot of ups and downs along the way, but a moment like this, standing here and standing on that podium, it makes every bad day worth it. It’s an incredible experience.”
Oliver Townend, who on his Tokyo qualification tour managed to collect three consecutive wins at the Kentucky Three-Day Event, echoed the sentiments — and told us he’s got plans to celebrate as soon as his plane touches back down in England.
“As team, we’ve never had a problem finding a celebration. I don’t think it’ll be with a cup of tea and a biscuit,” he grinned. “I’ve got a lot of visiting to do when I get home to say thank you to everyone that supported me on the way because it’s been a very long road, and there’s a huge amount of people that I need to go and visit.”
It’s another trip to the podium in consecutive Olympic Games for both silver-placed Australia and bronze-placed France. France was the defending gold medal winning team, with one member of the Rio 2016 team, Karim Florent Laghouag returning to collect a second medal, this time with the 14-year-old Selle Français Triton Fontaine. Australia returns two members of its Rio squad: Stuart Tinney (who was the unutilised reserve rider this weekend with Leporis) and Shane Rose with the 16-year-old Australian Warmblood Virgil.
Australia — who experienced some last-minute changes to their squad, beginning with Chris Burton‘s withdrawal of Quality Purdey, calling up Stuart Tinney and Leporis into their spot, moving Kevin McNab and Don Quidam into the traveling alternate spot. Then, after all four Australian pairs had passed the first horse inspection, the decision was made to call up Kevin and Don Quidam and move Stuart and Leporis into the reserve spot. The move, which was made prior to the start of dressage, came without a penalty — and the rest is, as they say, history. Australia ends their weekend with just one rail between the three, which was collected by Shane Rose and Virgil, to end on a collective score of 100.2. This is the eighth Olympic eventing medal for Australia and the second team silver in their Olympic eventing history.
For his part, Andrew Hoy was the fastest of the day on what is clearly one of the best cross-country horses in the world, the 12-year-old Anglo-Arabian gelding Vassily De Lassos (Jaguar Mail – Illusion Perdue, by Jalienny). A clear round in the team final today helped seal the deal as the anchor for Australia. This is the eighth Olympic Games for Andrew Hoy and for his part, he’s thrilled to be here with a horse he’s absolutely mad about.
“It is very, very special,” Andrew said. “We don’t come to these championships, especially Olympic Games, to finish in fourth, fifth or sixth. We only come to get a medal — and look, it’s been a complete team effort. For sure, Vassily De Lassos has done a wonderful job to finish on his dressage score. But if it wasn’t for Kevin, and also for Shane in the team, and this complete support team, we wouldn’t be here. It’s our High Performance Team; it’s the Australian Olympic Committee behind us.”
Shane Rose, who is based full-time in Australia while his teammates are all in the UK, said it’s been an incredible experience to be here with his ‘mates’.
“In eventing, we don’t get team opportunities very often,” he said. “I’m based in Australia, and these guys are based in Europe, so we get to see each other once every few years — and when we do come together it’s amazing how quickly and easily we bond and form that team partnership.”
Kevin McNab, who is so well-known and respected for his production of top-class horses and riders, has finally gotten a shot at an Olympics — and what better way to cap it off than to bring home a medal?
“I’m speechless — it’s absolutely amazing,” he said. “They’re a fantastic team. I was really surprised, and at the same time, I felt for Stuart, which is quite difficult. He left big shoes to fill, and I’ve tried to do my bit. So there was a bit of pressure there to try and step up there to do his job.”
The French will take home their third Olympic eventing team medal — they’d previously won team gold also in Athens in 2004. Nicolas Touzaint was a member of the 2004 team and now returns with the 11-year-old Selle Français gelding Absolut Gold HDC. This has been the fifth Olympic appearance for Nicolas, who this weekend earns his best finish in sixth place individually.
“Well, I feel happy, and I’m really pleased to be here today,” Nicolas said. “I think that this is a real opportunity, to be in my fifth Olympic Games. It’s my second medal only, and it’s not always easy to get an Olympic medal. I’m really proud of what we achieved, and very satisfied at the result.”
Despite a tumble in the warm-up and a very hairy moment in his individual final round, Karim Florent Laghouag was all smiles after securing a team medal with the 14-year-old Triton Fontaine (Gentleman IV – Grenouil Fontaine, by Nightko). This was another team that had to do a bit of shuffling in the lead-up to the Olympics; after originally selected Thibault Vallette and Qing du Briot withdrew, Karim and Triton Fontaine were moved up into the traveling reserve spot. Then, just before the Games began, Tom Carlisle also had to withdraw Birmane after a minor issue — opening the door for the returning Olympian to have a go.
Also making up a third of Team France is Olympic rookie Christopher Six with the 14-year-old Selle Francais gelding Totem de Brecey (Mylord Carthago*HN – Jessy Landaise, by Quouglof Rouge). Christopher finishes in seventh place individually on a final score of 35.2. This was another pair that shuffled up in the selection order, starting as the traveling reserve and bumping into the primary team after Qing du Briot’s withdrawal.
Had it not been for some unfortunate blips on cross country yesterday, Germany might have also been on the podium tonight to collect their fourth consecutive team eventing medal — but it wasn’t meant to be as they finish just out of sight of the podium on a collective score of 114.2.
New Zealand is another that might have threatened the podium without the spats of trouble that were scattered throughout their weekend. Three rails down from Tim Price and Vitali certainly isn’t the finish the Kiwis would have been seeking, but as this is the first championship for all three of these up-and-coming horses, it’s safe to say this team will be one that won’t be far out of contention after this experience.
“I think huge credit to the organizers for their determination to run,” Jonelle Price commented. “Of course it’s been difficult with the various restrictions and it sort of feels like we haven’t quite experienced Tokyo as we might otherwise, but, look, we’re here and people are riding for gold medals and that’s what it’s all about.”
Team USA Finishes Full Team in Sixth Place, Doug Payne Highest Placed in 16th
Team USA had an up-and-down weekend, and while collectively the members know there was much left on the table, the riders are feeling positive, overall, about these Games, which saw the U.S. finish a team for the first time since Beijing in 2008. The U.S. last won an Olympic eventing medal — a bronze — in Athens in 2004. Today, each member of the U.S. contingent had at least one rail down, with Phillip Dutton and Z having two.
All three of the U.S. riders returned to jump in the individual final, resulting in Doug Payne being the highest-placed U.S. rider after lowering just one rail and having one second of time with Debi and Kevin Crowley’s Vandiver. They will end their first Olympic Games appearance in 16th place on a final score, with two jumping rounds, of 48.2. Boyd Martin (with Christine, Thomas and Tommie Turner’s Tsetserleg TSF) and Phillip Dutton (with Thomas Tierney, Ann Jones, Caroline Moran, Simon Roosevelt, and Suzanne Lacy’s Z) finished in 20th and 21st individually, respectively after lowering rails and collecting some time in their final individual jumping round.
“The first thing I’d say, Eric Duvander absolutely gave his heart and soul to making America great,” Boyd said. “To do what he’s done the last couple years is phenomenal. And, you know, I’m a competitive person. And I’ve been dreaming of doing well at this, and I come up a little bit short from what my hopes were, but by saying that, this is the best in the world. And, you know, we’re not far off.”
Phillip Dutton echoed his teammate’s sentiments, noting that it’s all relative.
“Keep it all in perspective,” he said. “I mean, it’s certainly a big thing, an improvement from a team point of view for us, certainly for a while now. So, we’re on the board. Certainly you can always try to do a bit better. Certainly, we’re aiming for more, but it’s not horrible. The cross country yesterday was brilliant.”
“It’s just a huge honor and you’ve got to be thankful for the support both of your family and support crew and of course everybody back at home,” Doug said. “It’s been incredible not only, clearly the experience just in the act of competition is pretty awesome. It’s something you’d always wish you have the opportunity to give it a shot. To have it with a horse a genuine as Vandiver is, and a long-time partner, is pretty special. With Debi and Kevin Crowley, who bred him and own him with Jess and I, it was pretty awesome for them to be able to be here and see this. A huge thanks also to Courtney [Carson, my groom]. The thing that strikes you at Games like this, there’s so much that goes into it. There’s such a huge team behind you — our personal staff, USEF, and then the country as a whole really. It’s pretty awesome, I don’t know that it’s really going to totally sink in yet, but it’s pretty special. We’re lucky to have the privilege to do this.”
Completing her second Olympic Games and her third major championship with Qorry Blue D’Argouges (Mr Blue – Hardie du Bourg, by Count Ivor) is Canadian rider Colleen Loach, who will finish the weekend in 28th place overall on a final score, with two jumping rounds, of 50.8. This will be Colleen’s best Olympic finish as she improves on her debut placing by 14 places.
“Honestly, I’m a little disappointed about my two rails, but I can’t complain about my horse,” Colleen said. “He jumped really well. Cross country, he couldn’t have been better and he tried his heart out today. It was an amazing feeling.”
Julia Krajewski Becomes First Female Individual Eventing Gold Medalist
It was difficult to leave this part for last, to be honest, but ladies and gents, we’ve just had our first EVER female Olympic gold medalist in eventing, and it’s none other than Germany’s Julia Krajewski — who never imagined herself in this position, let alone here at the Olympics as early as the beginning of this year. Now, the gold medal belongs to her as she finishes her weekend with two clear jumping rounds and a score of 25.6 — and at the age of 32 she’s clinched her first major championship win in grand fashion with the stunning Amande De B’Neville (Oscar des Fontaines – Perle be B’Néville, by Elan de la Cou).
It’s also not often you find a mare top of sport in eventing; of course, Michael Jung’s World Equestrian Games silver medal partner fischerRocana FST and Sam Griffiths’ 2014 Badminton winner Paulank Brockagh come to mind as two recently successful mares in modern eventing — but you’d be hard-pressed to find a mare as the Olympic champion.
“I think I really benefitted from the massive trust I have in my horse,” Julia said. “Amande is such a good jumper and I tried to imagine that I am at home training under the floodlight, which I really enjoy doing. I said to her, ‘Mandy, we’re going to rock it now,’ and I had the feeling that she really knew it was special. I think she gave me extra today.”
“I didn’t expect that to happen, really!” Julia had said after her team jumping round of finding herself in first place individually. “But in the end, for me it wouldn’t matter if I’m first, second, third – a medal would be absolutely amazing. I will just try to give it my best shot and see what happens!”
Give it her best shot she did indeed — and I can hear the little girls hanging the posters in their rooms already, finally having someone at the top of that podium whom they can aspire to emulate. We talk often of gender equality in our sport, how unique it is that men and women compete on equal playing field — but it’s taken until now to have a female gold medalist and, well, it goes without saying that it’s long overdue and there wouldn’t be any better ambassador for our sport than the classy, quiet rider who simply loves her horses and the art of producing them.
It’s not been a smooth road by any means for Julia, who saw her top ride, Chipmunk FRH sold to Michael Jung in 2019 after competing in the 2018 FEI World Equestrian Games together. In March of this year, Julia’s other top horse, Samurai du Thot, on whom she had originally pinned her Tokyo hopes, had to be retired after losing his left eye. Julia’s father also recently passed away — the person who had, among many other things, had been by her side as support throughout her riding career.
“Sometimes when you experience a challenge, it’s difficult to get back to your normal positive way of thinking,” she wrote in a blog for NoelleFloyd.com after the sale of Chipmunk. “But you just keep to your routine, keep putting one foot in front of the other. One day, you suddenly find yourself making plans for the season, and you start thinking bigger. The competitiveness comes back and you’re back in the game. I try not to fixate too much on the idea of ‘I have to get to this goal’. I’d rather focus on the process, enjoy my time, and know that everything will fall into place if I just keep kicking.”
That perspective comes into even clearer focus now, and Julia says she’s still trying to take it all in.
“Well, I’m super, super proud of my horse,” Julia said. “I’m relieved and happy that I made it happen. I’m very thankful for everyone who has been with me all the way. I won my first pony European title 20 years ago. And since then it’s been a rollercoaster really. And it’s quite unreal.”
“It’s the stuff that films are made of,” she continued. “For some time, I thought the Olympics would happen without me. And that was fine. Then slowly with going to Saumur [CCI4*-L in May] and winning there, and feeling that ‘Mandy’ really stepped up a level and could deliver something really big, I thought, ‘OK, maybe you’ve got a little chance of going.’ You have to know that the horse, she’s still less experienced maybe than other horses, and we haven’t been on the world stage together really yet. So doing a championship with her, I didn’t really know where we would end up, how it would happen. But well, it worked.”
And we know Julia’s father would be so unspeakably proud. “I had to think of my family, my father who died in the beginning of the year and basically everyone who’s always been behind me and with me,” she reflected. “It’s a bit of a fairytale.”
Coming second on the individual podium is Tom McEwen with the 14-year-old Selle Francais gelding Toledo de Kerser (Diamant de Semilly – Ariane du Prieure II, by Papillon Rouge), owned by Fred and Penny Barker, Jane Inns, and Ali McEwen. It was a dream weekend for Tom, who’ll be double-fisting the medals on the plane home (honestly, it’s too bad the bars aren’t open for celebration tonight!) after finishing clear on his dressage score of 28.9. Toledo de Kerser is a horse who has shown his talent consistently – but he wouldn’t necessarily have been the easiest to produce.
“It’s all been super special and Toledo has been unbelievable,” Tom said. “I mean, the team this week has been incredible, to get the gold and record score with three amazing horses and the three amazing riders — and the amazing team behind us has been phenomenal.”
Individual bronze in Tokyo will be Australia’s Andrew Hoy, who’s also taking home two medals this week to bring his lifetime medal counter up to five. This is Andrew’s second individual medal — he won individual silver in the 2000 Olympics in Sydney with Swizzle In.
It’s no secret that Vassily de Lassos is a barn favorite of the entire Hoy family and of his owners’, Paula and David Evans.
“He was having a little buck in the warm-up, as if I did dressage schooling exercise with him yesterday,” Andrew said. “Unbelievable. We got the horse on the 13th of May 2017 — that was the day that Stefanie and I got married, so it’s an easy date to remember. I’ve had him since then. I got him from Tom Carlisle, and it’s an absolute joy to work with him every day. Every day when I finish working with him, I have a smile on my face.”
#KingKazu Finishes Fourth in His Home City
It wouldn’t be difficult for me to write another 5,000 words about how incredible this weekend has been. The stories we have to tell from this week in Tokyo will go on for another month, but for now I must spend some time talking about Japanese rider Kazuma Tomoto, who finished just a hair off the podium in fourth place individually aboard Vinci de la Vigne (Esterel des Bois – Korrigane de Vigne, by Duc du Hutrel) on a score of 31.9.
The story of Kazuma begins in the show jumping ring, actually. He kicked off his FEI career in the eventing space, contesting a former CIC1* event in Japan, but from there he was all about show jumping, eventually moving up to represent Japan at World Cup events through the CSI3* designation. It was then, as the federation began its lead-up strategy to its home Olympic Games, that Japan in 2015 asked Kazuma if he’d consider switching disciplines, as they were sufficiently well-stocked with showjumping competitors.
It was then that Kazuma packed up his bags and left his family and friends in Japan to move to Great Britain, where he ensconced himself with none other than British eventing legend William Fox-Pitt, who’s been his mentor and coach ever since. William’s been here all week helping Kazu and team Japan all week — as has his long-time head groom Jackie Potts — and it’s been a dream come true for all involved to see him finish so well.
“It was really shame there are no spectators here,” Kazuma said after his rounds tonight. “Because here are still so many Japanese volunteers sharing with me, so I’m really really happy. Although there is no audience, this is kind of my home ground, so I actually feel very honoured to participate in this competition. Also, I have all the advantages of being on this ground as well. I feel so honoured to have this opportunity this time round, and I will wait to see if I get invited to compete in Paris, if I am lucky enough.”
What about what William’s been telling him all week? “He always gave me great advice, especially big, big events like this,” he said. William, looking on interjected: “He’s lucky he can ride jolly well!”
Many reading this may not realize that all of the Asian riders here — China, Thailand, India, Hong Kong and Japan to be specific — do not ride and train in their home countries. With the sport of eventing not easily accessible in most parts of Asia, in order to be successful and to make it anywhere, one must often make the huge sacrifice of leaving home to ride and train in a more concentrated area of the world.
With this in mind, it brings to light the absolute magnitude of the success that fielding a team for these Olympic Games is and the blood, sweat and tears that are required to taste any modicum of success. Most of these riders who train in other countries do not often have the opportunity to travel home to see their friends and family. For the Japanese riders here in Tokyo, despite the fact that many of them have family within miles of these Olympic venues they’ve not gotten to spend time with them, making these Games all the more bittersweet.
To put my personal hat on for a second, it’s been an emotional first Games for me because of these riders who have given up so much to be here. I’ve written about this endlessly, I know, but as I grew up, I never really got to see any riders of Asian descent wherever I looked. Alex Hua Tian would have been the first prolific eventing rider I found and followed, and Thai Olympian Nina Ligon was close behind — and over the recent years as more countries have begun to produce riders on the world stage, it’s given me a whole new set of heroes. I know that not all of these riders had the result they wanted this week, but I hope they understand how much their simply being here means, not only to me, but to many, many others who are watching around the world.
The Olympics represent, among many other things, the possibility of opportunity and the importance of access. Yes, the Games are a celebration of athletic achievement and the pinnacle of accomplishment — but if you dig a little deeper, look a little closer, you’ll find the stories of those who started from scraps woven into the fabric. As the Olympics continue their efforts to modernize and reach more, younger fans, I encourage you all to keep talking about our sport on your channels. Share the stories, celebrate the achievements — certainly, we know that we must enjoy the highs when they come, as the devastating lows such as what we experienced this week with the loss of Robin Godel’s Jet Set are all too heartbreakingly frequent. Somewhere, someone saw eventing for the very first time this week. I hope they enjoyed what they saw, and I hope our coverage has helped paint the picture of the sport we all love so much.
It has been a true honor to be here reporting on the Tokyo Olympics and I would be remiss if I wrapped up this report without giving a massive thanks to the organizers, volunteers, taxi drivers, officials, and every other person who has made this an unforgettable Olympics on so many levels. The menace of the coronavirus pandemic continues to loom, yet we’ve been kept safe, socially distanced, yet able to do our jobs and that is no small task. To the people of Japan and the Tokyo committee, I know I speak for all of my media counterparts when I say, wholeheartedly, thank you.
We’ve still got many, many more stories to come, but for now I’ll leave you with one final missive from our new First Lady of Eventing, Julia Krajewski:
“Absolutely it doesn’t matter where you come from…I think everything is possible. Everyone who has a dream and a passion should go for it, and nothing can really hold you back if you really want to do it.”
Wise words for all. Go forth, be inspired, be kind to your neighbors, and Go Eventing.
*This post will continue to be updated with additional photos and quotes. Thank you for following along with us all week in Tokyo!