Six riders from six countries and three continents competed in a bloodbath jump-off that will go down as one of the most dramatic finishes in Olympic history, and Nick Skelton was able to ride a fast and flawless round from the very start that absolutely no one could match. In attempting to beat such an exceptional performance by Nick and his big bay stallion, Big Star, four of the six riders in the jump-off incurred jumping faults.
The only other clear of the day was named silver medalist, Peder Fredricson of Sweden aboard All In. Bronze went to the man who’d been leading the competition from day one, Eric Lamaze of Canada. His lovely mare Fine Lady 5 didn’t drop a rail or a time fault the entire games until the jump-off.
Round A Eliminates Few Riders, But Takes An Edge
In Round A of the individual finals this morning, multiple horses went clear or only had a single rail, and ultimately all the horses with four faults or less were invited back. Sadly, this round eliminated Lucy Davis and Barron, who had an uncharacteristically expensive round with two rails and a foot in the open water to end their Olympic journey. Mclain Ward and HH Azur had a single rail, but it was good enough to put him through to the finals, and Kent Farrington and Voyeur were clear and looking to be in very good shape.
Kent Farrington and Voyeur. Screenshot via NBC Olympics.
The major shocker of the morning round was a serious miscommunication between Germany’s Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum and Fibonacci, who despite being the reserve riders for the team were looking like extremely promising candidates for an individual medal. It wasn’t to be, as they seemed to be on opposite pages on the very first fence, and Fibonacci dramatically crashed through the poles, nearly unseating MMB. She was clearly shaken, but Meredith circled and hopped the next fence before retiring, looking positively ashen and crushed.
There were 13 double clears and 15 jumping clears in the first round, and the horses were all still looking fresh before the heat of the day.
Round B Takes Its Toll, and Champions are Unearthed
The second round was another matter entirely. Horses who had been performing flawlessly all week were suddenly fading in the fifth match of the competition, and poles were falling everywhere across Guillherme Jorge’s swan song course.
Tiffany Foster of Canada had been having the competition of a lifetime until Round B of the finals, where Tripple X tipped four rails and gathered a time fault. Ben Maher (GBR), Henrik Von Eckermann (SWE), Philippe Rozier (FRA) and Kevin Staut (FRA) all had 8 or more faults in this round, dropping them far out of contention.
Numerous potential champions faded into Four Fault Limbo, including Mclain Ward (USA), Roger Yves-Bost (FRA), Edwina Tops-Alexander (AUS), Christian Ahlmann (GER), and Daniel Deusser (GER). This group would finish tied for ninth.
It was here that the truly fit horses and focused riders were able to shine with utter brilliance, and demonstrate their skill and preparation in the 80+ degree heat.
One of the great Cinderella stories of today was Sheikh Ali al Thani of Qatar making his Olympic debut with two double clears in the final rounds. It was good enough to earn himself a ticket to the jump-off on his 11-year-old Belgian Warmblood, First Devision, to the absolute jubilation of his teammates and crew.
Sheikh Ali al Thani. Screenshot via NBC Olympics
Kent Farrington and Voyeur also managed to capitalize on their first Olympic tour by making the jump-off on a brutal day, and Voyeur looked fast and absolutely fresh where other horses looked flat and tired.
Defending Olympic champion Steve Guerdat of Switzerland also made the jump-off, as did Peder Fredricson of Sweden and Eric Lamaze of Canada, who to this point still had been flawless in Rio. Nick Skelton, who just barely made the cut-off from the qualification rounds to be in today’s final, had clearly put him mediocre start behind him and was headed to the lightning round.
Unmatchable Talent Set Tone for Jump-Off
It would be this 58-year-old from Great Britain, whose country failed to qualify for the team finals four years after winning it in London, this comeback kid who would ride first in the Jump-Off and make it look so fast and effortless that every rider after him assumed they’d be able to follow suit. Oh, how wrong they were.
Nick and Big Star’s clear round and time of 42.83 was utterly untouchable by this crowd, and as combination after combination followed his lines and tried their hand at his death-defying turns, the poles fell over and over. Steve Guerdat of Switzerland, defending champion, galloped so hard to the first fence that Nino jumped it a bit flat, and had it down, evaporating their chance at a repeat gold. It was their only fault, but enough to leave them out of medal contention.
They were followed quickly after by Sheik Ali and First Devision, who would unfortunately have the massive 1.8 meter spread oxer down and the final gold fence for eight faults.
Kent Farrington shared in Steve and Ali’s fortunes, having the first and the last fences down on course to end their road to glory.
Peder Fredricson entered aboard All In as the penultimate rider, knowing that if he went clear, he’d have at least a bronze medal. He does exactly that, and the color of his medal would ultimately be decided by the final rider to go, 2008 Olympic Champion Eric Lamaze of Canada.
Eric and Fine Lady 5 were not riding for bronze or silver today — they were riding for gold. They stormed around the course with fire in their veins and destiny on their mind, but the smallest of rubs brought down the second-to-last fence. Had the fence stayed up, their time would have been enough to beat Nick Skelton, but instead Eric appears absolutely overjoyed to win bronze for himself and his country as the fastest of the four-fault combinations.
Nick looked absolutely stunned when Eric dropped a rail when he realized he’d won, and there wasn’t a dry eye in the house as he misted up during the playing of “God Save the Queen”. It is the first time a rider from Great Britain has ever won an individual gold medal in show jumping, and puts Great Britain at 2/3 in the equestrian events at Rio, as his teammate Charlotte Dujardin took the gold in dressage.
It was a truly historic competition, and we’re beyond grateful we were able to share it with all of our readers at Jumper Nation!