France claimed team gold and Germany’s Michael Jung took his second successive individual title as Olympic Eventing drew to a close at Deodoro Olympic Park in Rio de Janeiro today.
In a cliff-hanger of a contest it came down to the last four into the arena to decide the team result, and it was the defending champions from Germany who claimed silver with Australia slipping from the overnight lead to take the bronze.
It was still all to play for as legendary double Olympic gold medallist Mark Todd came in as anchorman for New Zealand, but a heart-wrenching 16 faults with Leonidas ll sent Kiwi chances crashing down. Their finishing score of 178.80 left them almost three penalty points behind the Germans and now only an Australian meltdown could keep them on the podium.And the drama lasted to the very end. Australia’s Burton and Santano picked up eight faults to round up the Aussie finishing score to 175.30 for bronze, relegating New Zealand to fourth, 3.5 points adrift.
Todd was tipped for the sixth Olympic medal of his career which would have been a New Zealand record. “That will be one of the biggest lows in my career. The whole week was a roller coaster ride. After yesterday’s cross country we were still in with a chance and then – boom – you’re out. I was hoping to go out on a high. Leonidas is such a good jumper but he got wound up when going into the arena. I thought he would settle but he got more and more rattled,” said the shattered 60-year-old Kiwi legend.
The French however were on a high. This is the first gold and only the second medal of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games for the country that has only won two previous team titles in Eventing – a bronze in Rome in 1960 and gold at Athens in 2004.
“This is fantastic,” a clearly thrilled Astier Nicolas said afterwards. “There was a lot of pressure going into this, and really I just had to do what I could for the team. But even though there was a lot of pressure, I didn’t let it bother me. I really enjoyed my round and I am very happy. It’s just fantastic. It is an immense pleasure to be part of this team that has won gold for France. It is something we have waited for for a long time, and it’s amazing!”
Jung (34) matched the record set by New Zealand’s Mark Todd at Los Angeles (USA) in 1984 and Seoul (KOR) in 1988 when making it a back-to-back double of individual Olympic Eventing golds. And, also like Todd, he rode the same horse that carried him to both team and individual glory in London (GBR) four years ago – Sam.
The defence of his London 2012 title didn’t get off to the perfect start as he had to settle for fifth place after the opening dressage phase, but a sensational cross-country run with the 16-year-old Sam yesterday moved him up into second behind overnight leaders, Australia’s Christopher Burton and Santano II.
Having contributed to his country’s team silver medal winning performance this morning with a copybook showjumping performance, Jung moved into pole position and couldn’t be toppled. And in a nail-biting finale, it was French team gold medallist Nicolas Astier who took the silver with Piaf de B’Neville, while America’s Philip Dutton and Mighty Nice moved up from fourth to take the bronze.
Jung made it look like a walk in the park as he crossed the finish line having added no penalties to his first-day total of 40.90, leaving him 7.1 penalties clear of Nicolas, the biggest winning margin in Eventing since the Barcelona 1992 Olympics when Australia’s Matt Ryan and Kibah Tic Toc won by a margin of 11.2.
“It’s the second time to win with Sam and that makes it even more special, I couldn’t be more proud of him”, Jung said. “He is so strong, on the cross-country he can run every hill, jump every fence but in showjumping he’s very nervous and it’s hard for him to concentrate. He jumped better in the second round than in the first. Yesterday it was difficult for me in the warm-up because of the people and the noise, but today the preparation was much nicer because it was quiet and he could settle.” And he added without hesitation when asked where he goes from here: “well Tokyo 2020 of course, and the Europeans and maybe the world title along the way!”
The final leaderboard showed Australia’s Sam Griffiths and Christopher Burton in fourth and fifth places followed by New Zealand’s Clarke Johnstone (Balmoral Sensation) and Mark Todd (Leonidas ll) in sixth and seventh while China’s Alex Hua Tian sent a ripple of excitement across China when slotting into eighth place. “I can’t believe it. I came here hoping to be in the top 20 – I never imagined this!” said the 26-year-old rider.
Source and photography: FEI