Team USA sat down with a few members of the media to share their thoughts on the experience of these Olympic Games and their gameplan for the upcoming weekend.
What are your thoughts on the Sea Forest Cross Country course?
Phillip Dutton: It was interesting walking with the other nations, and I see that Derek has made people think and decide what line they want to take. I think that’s a positive thing, and it’s certainly not the biggest course I’ve ever walked but there’s plenty there to do. I think that it’s going to be very hard to make the time and the terrain is kind of different terrain than what most of us have ridden around a lot of courses, there’s quite a lot of steep climbs then flat areas and so I think you have to be thinking all the time, knowing the course very well, knowing each turn very well and really pushing things to stay on the clock.
Boyd Martin: I think it’s very difficult just because it’s on a twisty piece of land and like Phillip said it’s not big but I’m thinking it’s going to feel big just because you’re sort of stopping and starting and going left and right and up and down. I think even though it’s 7 minutes 45, I actually think the horses will be pretty winded just because there’s a lot of sprinting and stopping and starting. I think Derek’s built a top track because I think there’s not one wicked influential fence. I think there’s tricky traps set the whole way around the course from the fourth fence which is the first jump into the water until the last combination, so I think there’ll be problems spread out the course and obviously I think the course is way harder if you really have a crack and the time and go in the direct lines and take chances.
Doug Payne: I do think with the land that Derek had available to him, I think he’s done an excellent job to make use of it. I couldn’t help but think it feels or should feel most similar to like a Tryon four-star short. I think it’s going to feel quite a bit like that, so I think everyone’s goal is to be as smooth and easy on the horses as possible. I’m quite happy to have Vandiver here, he’s a really quick horse in general but I think it’s going to be incredibly important and will help your horse a lot if you know the land and know your line from start to finish within a couple inches because I think it’d be very easy to get caught off a little bit off one way or the other and have a pretty big impact on your round and make it more difficult on the horses. The easier you can make it, the more efficient, the quicker – time’s going to be challenging for sure but we’ll take a crack it.
Tamie Smith: I feel like the course actually really suits my horse. The distances, there’s a couple different ways to go about it, but it just feels really good. It’s a little bit odd to be walking out there and having to be ready to do it even though potentially, most likely I’m not going to, but Derek’s a master and I agree with Boyd that there’s going to be problems all throughout the course and I have no doubt that these three are going to rock around amazing.
Do you feel the track will lend itself well to going forward despite the twists and turns?
Phillip Dutton: I think obviously (Derek has) got a certain amount of land and he’s going back and forth on it, and a lot of the combinations are turning combinations and then you’re heading in the direction that the next gallop is. So it certainly the first minute, I think there’s six jumps in the first minute, but then after that it opens up, there’s only a couple of jumps per minute. And then again you have clumps or clusters or jumps. There is enough galloping there, I think it’s fair to everybody. If you’re really going at it there’s a lot more pressure on you, if you ease off the throttle a little bit then it becomes a fair bit easier too so it depends on your strategy and how each country heads out.
Can you talk about how this journey has been in terms of travel and team camaraderie?
Tamie Smith: We all get along really good, we’re here to support each other. We were all in Aachen together. I’m starting to be more like a male, by a couple more weeks I should have it all in gear! But I think it’s been fantastic. It’s been a great experience and actually Doug and I were just talking about it yesterday, how you envision being at your first Olympic Games and then you get here and it’s maybe not quite as scary as potentially you thought it would be. So it’s comforting.
Doug Payne: The Olympics is something that you strive for, frankly for all of your life, you always think it would be a great honor to do that. I personally would function and compete best when I sort of take the pressure off, so I’ve been actually trying to downplay the entire thing. I think if I keep it as just another horse show then frankly I think that’s the best situation to be. That said, the Olympic Games are pretty special and you have the other disciplines going and there’s top of the sport everywhere you look so I try to make the most of that. Following the dressage to go down and watch them from the time they get on and warm-up and go to the arena, I think there’s a lot to be learned and that’s been a pretty special opportunity.
How are you liking the facilities here, and how does this Olympic Games feel in general?
Doug Payne: It’s amazing having the barns all climate controlled, I think it’s a really excellent place for the horses, they seem very happy, relaxed. Having the entire U.S. team here has been pretty cool, especially with the success the dressage team had. As far as Vandiver, he’s been ticking along really really well. I think the facility offers just about anything you could want as far as training, cross country, whatever it might be. It’s just an honor to be here.
Boyd Martin: It’s been an Olympics like no other and…I mean it’s fantastic being here and I think you’ve got to enjoy the moment. It’s unique, it’s different, I think we’ll in years to come look at photos on the wall wearing masks and no spectators and think ‘holy hell, what a weird time that was’. I think we had obviously a great training camp there in Aachen and a good time here and it’s different, but it’s a special moment in all of our careers. And at the end of the day, the dressage arena is the same size, the same number of judges, it doesn’t matter one person is watching or 50,000 people are watching you’ve still got the same job to do so it’s important that you not get focused on things that are different or inconvenient. We’ve got a big job to do with the next couple days and we’re sort of dialed in for that and feel like we’re prepared.
Phillip Dutton: I think it’s a very horse-friendly environment that we’ve been brought into…obviously it’s hot but the facilities cater to that and the amenities have been first class. So I think we’ve got no excuses, it’s been a good preparation for us, and in bigger terms I’m excited the Olympics are going ahead. What we’re dealing with around with world with Covid is going to be with us, it’s not just going to go away miraculously, so we’ve got to learn how to deal with it in a safe way and I think the Japanese people are doing that and showing the rest of the world how it should be done.
How does the new format play into your strategy, and what are your thoughts on Team USA’s draw position?
Erik Duvander: At the end of the day (the draw is) something you don’t have control over so you have to mentally go into these events knowing that you could end up in either area. I have a tendency to think positively about any situation so I’ve been thinking about all the positives that comes out of it. We’ll just have to do our best. The one thing is with cross country if you run later you can maybe play a little bit with your tactics or how you go. I’m very fortunate to sit here with incredible riders who like going fast, so I think they’ll be in their comfort zone being competitive like they are at any other competition they try to win, so I think it’s all good.
I think the one thing in common is arriving with a team to an Olympic Games that’s prepared and selection of riders of horses. People always talk about strategy, you have to have a certain type of horse. I’m a believer in bringing the best horses and the best riders that are on form, so that is really the thought around that. We had a conversation with the riders about the running order and it was decided amongst the riders how we were going to go with Doug being first and Phillip second and then Boyd third, so that was a smooth all-inclusive conversation and that made my job easy. I’m very happy with the line-up and how we’re doing it. There’s a good reason why every rider are in their certain position, so I’m very happy.
Can you speak on the different types of pressures that come with each position in the running order?
Phillip Dutton: There’s no drop score now so I think everybody’s got the same amount of pressure. I think my role will be to go out there and get the best possible result and score for the team. And then I think Erik hinted that towers the end of the day there might be some decisions to be made about whether we keep on that route or play it a bit safe, but I think as riders we’ve got our mind set on saving every second and going as quick as we can so that would be my job when we set out.
Boyd Martin: In all my times representing America I’ve only ever gone first and last, so obviously it’s a luxury watching the first two guys go. Phillip and I have worked together for years and years and I think him being able to come back and sort of tell me how he thought it went (will be helpful). And obviously Erik will have a bit of a say, probably one or two decisions that need to be made before I start. But to be honest, I don’t really think it really matters too much what order you go in. Obviously Doug’s a very, very strong cross country rider so it’ll be good to get his horse done and get a bit of confidence to us and get the job done.