Dujardin Doubles in Olympic DressageBy Louise Parkes August 10, 2012
It was a great week in Olympic dressage for Great Britain, which days after winning team Gold took in two more individual medals at the Aug. 9 Grand Prix Freestyle. Twenty-seven-year-old Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro brought the crowd to its feet with her record-breaking ride to Gold, while Laura Bechtolsheimer, also 27, claimed Bronze on Mistral Hojris.
In a dramatic performance that saw the emergence of a new superstar of the sport Dujardin was the last of 18 competitors to enter the arena in London’s Greenwich Park, where she delivered a performance that set a new Olympic high-mark, a 90.089. The Netherlands’ Adelinde Cornelissen and Parzival took individual Silver in dressage with an 88.196. Bechtolsheimer scored 84.339.
The event was an exciting close to the equestrian portion of the 2012 Summer Olympics, marking Britain’s first-ever dressage medals in the history of the games, and the second Gold medal of the week for Dujardin and Valegro.
“Two golds for Germany in eventing, and two golds for Britain in dressage― the world has turned upside down!,” FEI Eventing Chairman Giuseppe della Chiesa commented earlier that day.
Teammate Carl Hester, Dujardin’s mentor, scored an 82.857, good enough for fifth, on Uthopia, an 11-year-old KWPN stallion. Both Uthopia and Valegro, a 10-year-old KWPN gelding, are set to be sold by their owners, while the 17-year-old Mistral Hojris may be retired after the games, which means the U.K. will have its work cut out rebuilding a team for the World Equestrian Games in 2014 in Normandy, France.
“To move like that and give his all at 17 is beyond words,” Bechtolsheimer said after posting an 84.339. “He was so full of power and energy, I felt I could ride every move to the maximum.” Calling it “the best ride I have ever had on him,” she said “I felt as if I was pressing buttons and getting the right answers. I think he enjoyed the music. It was the first time he really got involved and the Lion King music really suited him.”
Among the U.S. riders it was Steffen Peters and Ravel that ascended the highest on the leaderboard.The only American pair to make it to the final, they finished a disappointing 17th on a score of 77.268. Peters said the horse seemed distracted.
But the test was not without its bright moments, including two time changes on a circle, which was new to the duo’s freestyle repertoire, and a flourish that saw Peters finished by riding passage with the reins in one hand.
“I had a super warm-up,” the San Diego, CA-based Peters noted. But during the competition the horse “kept looking around in the trot extensions and the canter extensions.” Still, the rider wanted to keep things in perspective. “If you remember Ravel for his career and you put it all together, this is just a little glitch today.”
The 14-year-old KWPN gelding owned by Akiko Yamazaki’s Four Winds Farm was fourth individually at the 2008 Olympic Games, he won the 2009 Rolex FEI World Cup Final, the 2009 Aachen CDIO, won two Bronze medals at the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games and has twice been the USEF National Grand Prix Dressage Champion. He’s a modern day legend for the American sport.
“He’s an extremely generous horse and one of the best horses anyone could ever ride. Unfortunately this is it for him. It just wasn’t a good freestyle. It is very sad that it happened at the end of his career, but I still love him,” Peters said.
Austria’s Victoria Max-Theurer and Augustin held the early lead in the dressage final with their 79.053, but the scores just kept improving as the second tranche of riders took their turns.
The Netherlands’ Edward Gal charmed the packed stadium on his new ride, Undercover, racking up an 80.267 that put him in first until teammate Anky van Grunsven raised the bar even higher with 82.00 on Salinero. It was an emotional day for the 42-year-old van Grunsven, who had already broken the record when picking up team bronze on Monday, marking her ninth Olympic medal in seven games.
The retirement of the horse that helped her win two of her three back-to-back individual Golds was also on her mind. “I am really happy. It was a good test on his last competition ever,” she said of the ride that earned them sixth. “I am so happy he kept going for four days and did everything well for me,” she said of the 18-year-old Hanoverian gelding.
Van Grunsven was still out in front as the last six riders took their turns, with Spain’s Juan Manuel Munoz Diaz disappointing slightly with his ride on the lovely grey stallion Fuego, and Germany’s Kristina Sprehe and Desperados notching an 81.375 in a test that included a one-handed piaffe.
Sprehe, who was part of Monday’s team Silver contingent, admitted to being more nervous than she had been in Monday’s decider, but was very happy with the performance she characterized as “my best freestyle ever.”
Breaking New Ground
It was her teammate, Helen Langehanenberg, who raised the bar with a new high mark on her lovely stallion Damon Hill, notching an 84.303. The last German contender in the ring, Dorothee Schneider, marked her farewell performance on the fabulous 10-year-old Diva Royal, whose owner, Katharina Roth, is pairing the mare with her daughter, rising talent Stella Roth.
Now it was down to a British/Dutch battle. Cornelissen entered the ring chasing the 84.339 registered by Britain’s Bechtolsheimer and Mistral Hojris, whose opening trot extension and great piaffe and passage blew the crowd away. But Cornelissen broke new ground with Parzival’s massive trot extensions, floating transitions and amazing piaffe pushing the target-score to 88.196. It was a case of “beat that” from the double FEI World Cup champions as Dujardin rode into the ring.
You could hear a pin drop as the British ingénue set off into a test that displayed the softest of movements, guided by hands like silk to music from the films The Great Escape and Live and Let Die. The pair racked up no less than 13 maximum 10s on her way to putting a dazzling 90.089 on the board.
Bechtolsheimer had already broken the Olympic record with her 84.339. Dujardin smashed that to pieces. Not even a momentary mistake in the movement before the final ride up the centre line could stop her.
For the first time at the Olympic Games there were seven dressage judges (previously, there were five) and a judges supervisory panel.
Asked afterwards about the scoring that gave Dujardin the edge over Cornelissen today, Ground Jury president Stephen Clarke explained, “the two horses were very close. The impression we had was that Adelinde’s horse showed huge power and expression but for us it needed more lightness and a softer carriage. Charlotte’s horse showed more self-carriage but was not so expressive in passage and piaffe.” Dujardin explained that her horse’s mistakes were due to “pure greenness and tiredness. I’ve had three amazing rides and I couldn’t have asked any more of Valegro.”
Marking 100 years of dressage competition since the modern Olympics launched in 1896, the equestrian portion of the 2012 London Games ended with Great Britain at the top of the medal tally, with five―three Gold, two Silver and one Bronze.
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