This article originally appeared on Eventing Nation.
It’s almost a century since Sweden last won Olympic Jumping Team gold, and when they did it tonight they did it with both style and grace.
A magnificent performance all week from Henrik von Eckermann with King Edward, Malin Baryard-Johnson and Indiana and Peder Fredricson with All In led to high expectations that this could be the night they would bring the ultimate honour back to their country for the first time in 97 years. But it wouldn’t be easy.
As the final competition played itself out it came down to a head-to-head with the feisty American threesome of Laura Kraut with Baloutinue, Jessica Springsteen with Don Juan van de Donhoeve and McLain Ward with Contagious, and they wouldn’t be handing anything over without a fight. The two sides completed today’s first round with eight faults apiece, and the battle lines were drawn.
Belgium was already assured of bronze when collecting 12 faults in the opening round. Team France looked set to be the biggest threat to all others when single time faults from both Simon Delestre and Berlux Z and Mathieu Billot with Quel Filou, in the opening round left them sitting pretty before Penelope Leprevost set off. But elimination at the third fence for Vancouver de Lanlore shattered the French dream of repeating the glory they enjoyed five years ago in Rio de Janeiro.
So Pieter Devos (Claire Z), Jerome Guery (Quel Homme de Hus) and Gregory Wathelet (Nevados S) could sit back in the knowledge that the third step of the podium would belong to Belgium, and the stage was set for one last roll of the dice for the Americans and Swedes.
With all three team members returning to the ring for the final showdown it was Kraut who led the way for the USA with her 11-year-old gelding, scorching through the finish in 41.33 seconds to set the pace. And although Sweden’s von Eckermann took a new route he was a little slower when breaking the beam in 42.00 seconds with King Edward who, sensationally, never lowered a single pole in five rounds of tough jumping this week.
Springsteen returned clear for USA in 42.95 seconds so when Baryard-Johnsson was quicker, crossing the line in 41.89, the Swedes already had a small advantage. But Ward was next to go, and shaving seconds off all those ahead of him he raced through the finish in 39.92 to really put it up to Swedish anchorman Fredricson.
But how cool is the man who took his second successive Individual silver medal, and with the same horse, just three days ago.
As he set off you could read the complete determination on Fredricson’s face. Did he feel the tension as he galloped down to the last fence, knowing what was hanging in the balance?
“Oh, the pressure was on!”, he admitted. “My god, in these situations when you have two teams like this you really want to win. McLain was fast, I saw his round and I knew what I had to do, and today the poles stayed up and the time was on my side!
“I had the speed and I gave him (All In) a lot of room. He’s in super shape, but I was really worried he would take the front pole with his hindlegs, but he came up!” he said after breaking the beam in an amazing 39.01 seconds to seal the victory.
In the end just 1.3 penalty points separated the two sides, but the joy in the aftermath for both teams was palpable. They’d been in a fair fight and the best side had won. No hard feelings, just delight in great sport played out between great opponents.
Ward enjoyed every moment of it. “It was great to be in the battle!”, he said with a big smile. “Sweden’s win wasn’t unexpected here but they took it to another level, we would have had to have an incredible day to beat them. I think we pushed them right to the limit, and in competition when you push them to that limit and they still win you’ve got to be proud of the fight!”
“We just didn’t give up!”, agreed his team-mate Kraut. “It was hard-fought and Sweden were incredible all week, so if you’re going to lose you’re going to lose to them, and we can live with that!
Springsteen said, “It was wild, watching the last couple go, wondering if we would have to jump-off or not, you really got the jitters, but it was very exciting!”
But it was even more exciting for the new Olympic champions. There was no-one begrudging their success today. They won fair and square and they were immensely proud of their achievement.
“Yes it’s a dream come true – to win an Olympic gold medal I think that’s every athlete’s dream for sure!”, said Baryard-Johnsson. We’ve been so well prepared for everything at this championship, we’ve not missed out on anything, we have a team behind us that’s incredible. All of us, the way we’ve ridden shows how confident we’ve been and how they’ve all made it possible for us to totally focus on what to do in there. We knew it was very possible for a jump-off because it was only one round and we knew we didn’t want the silver medal this time!”, said the rider who was a member of the Swedish side that took Olympic team silver in Athens (GRE) 17 years ago.
Even more special
Von Eckermann just missed out in the Individual Final on Wednesday night when finishing fourth, “so that’s why it’s even more special tonight!”, he said. “It was a frustrating fourth place but I’m so happy that I pulled myself together and told myself to leave what I can’t change behind me and focus on this. No one can say we didn’t deserve it!”
And he added that there should be medals awarded to the horses as well as the riders. King Edward certainly deserved a medal having jumped through the entire week without ever dropping a pole.
Fredricson’s last round was the stuff of champions, and Ward, who has won plenty of accolades himself, acknowledged that. “He’s one of the best, and his record with that horse is spectacular. What horsemanship and what planning, and all the people around him. But he’s also been at the top of the sport with other mounts too which is testament to his riding, it’s not just one horse”, he said.
Typically modest, Fredricson was thoughtful when asked what tonight’s glorious victory meant to him.
“It’s unbelievably satisfying to get this gold. And my horse deserves it also for the way he jumped, I’m so happy for him and his owner and groom and the whole team and my team-mates. This is a great feeling!”, he said.
Laura Kraut (Royal Palm Beach, Fla.) and Baloutinue, an 11-year-old Hanoverian gelding owned by St. Bride’s Farm were the first combination to test the second-round track built by Santiago Varela (ESP) for the final night of team competition and the pair delivered with a clear round to start the team off strong. The scores were wiped clean from yesterday’s qualifier, making each round critical for the overall team standings.
“Today he was just in the game. He was relaxed and focused and just did everything I asked of him,” said Kraut. “He’s just one of the best horses I’ve ever had the privilege to ride and for him to come in here tonight, he’s still new to this level of jumping, and he’s gotten better each day that he’s jumped.”
Following Kraut’s fantastic finish, Springsteen (Colts Neck, N.J.) picked up the baton and guided Don Juan van de Donkhoeve, a 12-year-old Belgian Warmblood stallion owned by Stone Hill Farm, to a fast four fault round, keeping the team within reach of the podium. In the pair’s championship debut, they exceled under the pressure.
“This course was super technical. The first time I walked it I made a plan, and that was what I stuck with in the ring. There were a lot of half strides where you had the option to choose whether you wanted to do one less or one more and my horse has a big step and I was able to do most of the leave-outs which really helped me with the time allowed,” explained Springsteen about her first round.
As the pair’s anchor combination, Ward (Brewster, N.Y.) and Contagious, a 12-year-old Deutches Sportpferd owned by Beechwood Stables, LLC, found themselves needing to keep the team within striking range of the Swedish, and delivered with a solid round, as Contagious barely tapped a rail to add four to their score. Ultimately the team’s total of eight, tied them with the Swedish team, forcing a jump-off to determine the gold and silver medals.
“I thought the horses jumped great last night and really well again today. The task for me was a bit difficult to go in cold to that round last night and I was a little bit anxious about it,” said Ward. “I had a feeling that we were going to settle in, and everyone delivered. Jess stayed as cool as can be after having an early rail and I thought my horse’s rail was a little unlucky, and Laura was just lights out.”
The order for the jump-off remained the same as the second-round order, with Kraut and Baloutinue entering the ring first to set the pace. The duo finished with a quick clear round and were followed by Henrick von Eckermann and King Edward, who matched their pace and kept the score even. Springsteen was tasked with keeping the team on zero in the jump-off and delivered with Don Juan van de Donkhoeve, crossing through the timers with another fast clear for the U.S. With the draw order, Ward would need to pull out all the stops to try to keep the gold medal out of Sweden’s grasp. He pushed Contagious and delivered a brilliantly fast, clear effort for the U.S., as the rest of the team waited to see what Peder Fredericson and All In would deliver. Ultimately, the gold was earned by the Swedish team, which was well-deserved after their tremendous performance this past week, with the U.S. team securing their second consecutive team silver medal at an Olympic Games.
“Sweden has been lights out, which was expected, but they have really been on a different level. We would have had an incredible day to beat them, and I think we pushed them right to the limit and in competition, when you push them to that limit and they still win, you’ve got to be proud with the fight and the medal,” said Ward.
“This was a hard-fought battle,” said Kraut. “McLain is fast, and we know he’s fast, and he definitely put the pressure on Peder. He had .4 seconds to make up and Peder and All In are just so fast, just like we saw on the individual final. This is what we do this for. It’s a lot of work, sweat, and tears, but I’m just so thrilled and I’m so fortunate to have a great team here with me.”
“This was truly a team of four, plus the army behind us,” added Ward, to Kraut’s testament to the team comradery and the support they received from teammate Kent Farrington, who competed in the Individual Qualifier, but sat out for the team competition.
Chef d’Equipe Robert Ridland was thrilled with the way the team’s strategy played to their preparation and noted that they were confident the team competition would most likely go to three rounds and made a point to be sure the horses were fresh and ready for the task at hand.
“It’s what you dream of. We came up with a plan a long time ago and the emphasis was always going to be on the team competition. The plan was, of course, that we’re bringing four riders here and all four were going to be whatever results we were able to get,” said Ridland. “Today was supposed to be the day that we really channeled everything, and we tried to leave as much gas in the tank as we could through the qualifying round to get there, and we’ve all been saying that the team was going to be three rounds and we were prepared for that. It just became magical. It was sweet revenge for Sweden and it’s a great rivalry. They were amazing and we pushed them to the limit and that’s what has made us proud.”
Facts and Figures:
Sweden last won Team gold at the Olympic Games in Paris in 1924 when the three-rider side consisted of Ake Thelning (Loke), Axel Stahle (Cecil) and Age Lundstrom (Anvers).
Sweden also won Olympic Team gold on home ground in Stockholm in 1912 and in Antwerp in 1920.
For tonight’s Final competition, two changes were made to the teams that competed in Friday’s Jumping Team Qualifier – Willem Greve and Zypria S stepped out of the Dutch team and Harrie Smolders stepped in with Bingo de Parc, while Rodrigo Pessoa and Carlito’s Way stepped out of the Brazilian team so Yuri Mansur and Alfons stepped in.
Final medal standings in Jumping:
Jumping Team: Gold – Sweden; Silver – USA; Bronze – Belgium.
Jumping Individual : Gold – Ben Maher (GBR), Explosion W; Silver – Peder Fredricson (SWE), All In; Bronze – Maikel van der Vleuten (NED), Beauville Z.