When Roger Yves-Bost guided Sydney Une Prince through the Olympic finish timers with a clear round, Philippe Rozier burst into tears from where he was watching at the ingate and turned towards Team France, who buried him in their arms.
Team France and all in their camp lived an unexpected, roller coaster fairy tale this week during the Rio Olympic Games, and when they secured Olympic Team Gold today in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, there were few dry eyes on the team. It was the first Olympic Team Gold for France since the Montreal Olympic Games in 1976.
Rozier, Pénélope Leprevost, Kevin Staut, and Roger-Yves Bost started the day in 5th place on just 1 carry-over fault after Wednesday’s harrowing, and bizarre, Team Round 1. With four nations ahead of them sitting in equal first on 0 faults, it was easy to overlook the French and focus on the four favorites to medal: the USA, Germany, Brazil, and the Netherlands.
After all, the French had faced nothing but hardship all week: first, Olympic-select Simon Delestre’s horse Ryan fractured his hock in a stall accident and had to be withdrawn from participation. Traveling alternate Rozier stepped up as a last-minute replacement aboard Rahotep De Toscane.
Then, the evening after the First Horse Inspection, Leprevost’s mare Flora De Mariposa suffered a mild episode of colic, and there were doubts over whether she’d be healthy enough to compete. She was, but she popped Leprevost out of the saddle during Sunday’s First Individual Qualifier. That fall put Leprevost out of the running for an Individual medal, although she could still return to jump for the team.
Riders were out walking the course at 8:00 a.m. this morning, a full two hours before start time. Temperatures rose into the high 80s F, and depending on which way the wind blew, the smell of smoke wafted over the arena from grass fires burning in nearby hills. But the drama today was pure sport and it stayed firmly focused on the Olympic action inside the arena.
Steadily, the French rose as the favorites all faltered. Team Brazil, short a rider after Stephan De Frietas Barcha was disqualified on Tuesday, fell out of medal contention to eventually finish in 5th place. And the Netherlands, which competed a team of three after Jur Vrieling and Zirocco Blue withdrew, fell apart to finish in 7th on a team total of 18 faults.
Team USA was also short a rider—Beezie Madden and Cortes ‘C’ withdrew after announcing that the horse had sustained a small tendon injury on Tuesday. They sat in Gold Medal position for a time, but despite clear rounds from Kent Farrington and McLain Ward, when Lucy Davis got an awkward distance to the triple combination, and ticked the B element, it would prove to be the difference in podium places.
Still, the United States earned Team Silver—no easy task over the courses that Guilherme Jorge has crafted all week. Of top quality with creative jump design and tricky, yet safe, tracks, some said that Tuesday’s Team Round 1 saw too many clears, but Jorge attested that 24 clears was fair for the level of riders here in Rio.
Ward commented on the situation his team faced without their most senior rider: “Beezie has been our anchor for the better part of a decade. [She] and I have gone to many championships together and her record of coming through in the clutch is second to none,” he said, as Madden sat beside him in the press conference. She may have even wiped away a tear as she listened to his comments.
“We felt we had a strong team, strong horses; we thought the course was brilliant today, of real Olympic caliber team jumping,” Ward added. “We thought it suited our horses, so we were going to go round by round. I think both of my teammates did a brilliant job and all three horses performed as well as they possibly could. We have a great team behind us to rally and that’s key.”
But France was simply stronger on the day. Their first three riders jumped clear, adding two time faults to the score, but it was enough that Leprevost didn’t even ride.
France secured their Gold with a quarter of the startlist still left to compete. But it was far from over for Germany and Canada; the two teams moved onto a jumpoff, each totaling 8 faults after Round 2.
Eric Lamaze and Fine Lady 5 sit at the top of the medal favorite list after the three rounds of jumping they’ve logged. Three clears make them the only Olympic pair to jump without time or rails down in Rio.
But the Bronze wasn’t in the cards for Team Canada. Tiffany Foster and Tripple X III delivered a clear round in the jumpoff, but each Canadian pair of Amy Millar and Heros and Yann Candele with First Choice had a rail. The first three German riders in the rotation jumped clear, and the Team Bronze went to Germany.
“We were aware going into today that there was a high possibility of a jumpoff since there were so many teams tied,” said Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum, who has had a bit of a fairy tale week herself. She was the German team alternate, but when Marcus Ehning’s Cornado went lame, she got the spot to jump at the very last minute. “This has been a fantastic team and we’ve all fought really hard to be here and have the medal we have today. I know we’re all very grateful and happy to have it.”
The top 35 Individuals will come forward to jump for Individual Olympic medals on Friday, August 19th. All riders will start on 0 faults, making it anyone’s game once more—and with the ultimate equestrian accolade up for grabs.