Those who burnt the midnight oil to sit up and watch the Olympic individual jumping final were richly rewarded with a spectacular class followed by a heart-stopping jump-off which saw Ben Maher (GBR) and Explosion W win gold.
The top 30 from the qualifier were faced with another very challenging course from Spaniard Santiago Varela. The course was both big and beautiful. It was a far gruntier version of the qualifier but was just as colourful and vibrant with bridges, bonsai trees, blossoms and a sumo wrestler. The biggest of the 18 efforts was 1.65m high with the widest 1.9m. Combinations came out in reverse order from their qualifier results.
Six superb combinations came through to the jump-off where each continued to raise the bar. First out was Japanese rider Daisuke Fukushima aboard Chanyon who were all clear and set the mark with their 43.76-second effort. But Malin Baryard-Johnsson (SWE), one of three Swedes in the jump-off, rode a very bold clear aboard Indiana in 40.76 seconds.
Her fellow countryman Peder Fredricson and All In rode very slick lines to take the mark to 38.02 seconds. Then came Ben Maher and his aptly named chestnut Explosion W who crossed the flags in 37.85 seconds.
Henrik von Eckermann (SWE) and King Edward couldn’t quite match them with their 39.71 second round, and nor could Maikel van der Vleuten (NED) aboard Beauville Z who came home in 38.9. It was a jump off befitting an Olympic final with all six double clear.
Daniel Meech and Cinca 3 were the only Kiwis to make it through to the final, but as the 30th qualifier were first on the course. They jumped beautifully, however had three fences down and picked up two time faults. They were later eliminated for a superficial nick on the side of the side of the horse. “It was an unlucky nick from the spur,” said Daniel. “There is no wound or cut and for that reason we protested the (elimination) ruling but the rule is the rule.
“She jumped amazing tonight. I am really happy with her. I think she knew she was going to have to try really hard. She jumped very big with the wall going into the first double so was so close to the second and you could then feel she just slowly lost a little energy.”
As it was she had down the second of each of the double combinations (fences six and 11), as well as a fence following (fence 12). They also picked up two time penalties to finish on 14 faults for their round. “It just wasn’t our day today.”
The weather today had added another dimension too. “Today you really felt the heat – even when we were walking the course it was really humid and even when I was warming up it was just after six and the sun was still up so it was very, very humid. So that played a big part for me today.”
But he was still incredibly proud of the 12-year-old mare who had graced the stage as part of a final featuring the top 30 horses in the world. The team behind the horse, including groom Steffi Whittaker, owner Desiree Johnston and others had all had a big hand in getting her to the competition. ‘”I am proud we made the final and she put in a really solid effort. It was nothing to be ashamed of for sure.
“She is definitely very capable and yesterday was her day when she really showed her class. To jump clear tonight, the horses needed real 5* experience – those who were winning jump these big tracks often and this is their second or third championship. Yesterday was her day and she probably just put a little bit much out. She put in such a gutsy effort over two days of the hardest jumping I have ridden in a long time,” said Daniel.
Tomorrow is a rest day before the team competition gets underway on Friday. The second horse inspection is on Thursday afternoon with the starting three announced after that.
By Diana Dobson – HP Media Liaison
Photos by Libby Law/ESNZ