Rio 2016: Charlotte makes history
last updated on September 21, 2016 15:52
It was a day for dressage that blank pages are made for; action, heroes, romance, records, history, drama and a very special rider and her loyal partner, a story just itching to be written. The pressure was intense – could Charlotte and Valegro, owned by her mentor Carl Hester, Anne Barrott and Roly Luard make history by retaining their individual title they won in London and could she join cyclist Laura Trott in winning three Olympic gold medals?
Following two rest days, today was all about the race for individual honours. The top 18 combinations from the Grand Prix Special presented their freestyle programmes under blazing skies at the Olympic Equestrian Centre in Rio. In rising temperatures it was now time for the dressage elite to turn up the heat for the final stage of the Olympic Equestrian Dressage – the Freestyle.
With the team competition decided, and a Silver under the belt for Great Britain, the focus turned to individual combinations. Fiona Bigwood and Orthilia, were first to go for Great Britain at 10.30 local time. Mother of three, Fiona, and ‘Tillie’ her 11-year-old Gribaldi mare, trotted confidently into a hushed stadium. Fiona raised her hand to beckon the start of her music, and into the arena they passaged, signalling the start of their Tom Hunt composed freestyle.
Moving away elegantly in passage, the pair created a picture of effortless power though a miscommunication at the start of their trot half pass was costly. The walk was relaxed and covering ground, then into canter it became evident that Fiona had set the bar high with the degree of difficulty. A double canter pirouette straight into canter zig zag then a double pirouette the opposite way, all shown with super balance and ease. The test was full of quality but some further blips – the mare jumped behind in the two-tempis and on the final centre line, broke in the extended trot – kept their score to 76.018%, not high enough to catch the 79.393% posted by leader of the first group, the USA’s Steffen Peters and Legolas. Fiona said after; “She was offering [in the half pass] what she thought I wanted, it was expensive, but it’s been a tough three weeks out here. It’s been brilliant; we are such a good team, we get on really well."
After a great score from The Netherlands’ Hans Peter Minderhoud, the first of the Freestyle competitors to break the 80% barrier (80.571%), the pressure was on Carl Hester and Nip Tuck to deliver the goods. Launching into passage and then a strong piaffe pirouette, Carl and his colossal Don Ruto gelding – co-owned with Jane de la Mare and named Barney at home – followed with a transition to canter and into a pirouette, all on the centre line; they meant business.
Mega two-time tempi changes on a curve continued to raise the degree of difficulty and was soon followed by one-times on the centre line with BBC commentator, Ian Stark noting that they ‘couldn’t be more straight’. A slight miscommunication in the canter to passage transition could have thrown many a rider but not Carl, the ‘master craftsman’ as Ian announced, who eased Barney into a relaxed extended walk, stretching well. A final passage half pass into the halt finished a technical test from the maestro of dressage and his unlikely Grand Prix horse that has proved so many critics wrong. Huge pats for Barney as they left the arena and were congratulated by the Team GB support crew – including teammates Spencer Wilton and Fiona Bigwood – who knew they had scored well. A punch in the air from Carl sealed the deal as their score echoed around the arena, 82.553% and into the lead. “Unbelievable,” Carl commented on Barney, “the fact that that horse’s taken me to where I am now; I’ve had him since he was one and twelve, eleven years later he’s got me here. A top ten finish was my ambition, the horse was wonderful and was at his best."
It was then time for the final six riders and the heat of Rio reached pressure cooker intensity. First in was Charlotte’s main rival in 2015, Kristina Broring-Sprehe with the leggy Holsteiner Desperados FRH, by De Niro. Looking determined, the pair started well and floated around with the black stallion glinting in the Rio sunshine. Their music was dominated by the string tones of the violin which was well suited to the floorplan. He looked easy in the pirouettes, a bonus as they score double, but there was an error in the one-time flying changes. A clever diamond pattern of piaffe and passage brought the routine to an end to score 87.142%, stealing the lead from Carl, much to the disappointment of the British supporters and millions glued to screens around the world.
Then it was on to Charlotte. She’d spent the day relaxing with her teammates on Saturday, taking in the sights and sounds of Rio which gave Valegro a rest day and Sunday was just light work to polish a few final moves. The plan had worked and even in the 30+ degree temperatures, the Negro-sired star looked as fresh and ever. Up went Charlotte’s arm and the Rio carnival got underway! The music was perfect, incorporating Charlotte’s love of cartoons, Tom Hunt used tunes from the Disney hit film, Rio.
In they danced in passage, immediately to halt. And then the fun began. The trademark explosive extended trot got the crowd in the mood. Half pass left and right with reach as wide as the sky, passage pirouettes one way, and then the other to passage half pass. It was intense, it was maximum difficulty, it was breath taking. Extended walk is not usually Valegro’s strong point but they’d put a lot of thought into the music and the very regal selection made it look while he was positively marching like the king he is (in all our eyes). Double canter pirouettes looked like child’s play, changing from extended paces back to ultimate collection all simple, even the canter changes were ‘clean’ today, much to everyone’s relief. The final centre line, four hooves planted, the small but receptive crowd erupted and tears flowed from Charlotte as she knew she and her partner had given everything they could in their quest for gold. We all began to believe that a massive score was just seconds away. 93% was announced and it was elation from everyone, Carl sporting a look of relief and acknowledgment of a job well done. The final score was confirmed at 93.857% with two judges awarding a staggering 99% for artistic. The lead was theirs but four riders were still to perform.
Dorothee Schneider and Showtime FRH have won a raft of new fans these last few days and there was a strong German fan club in the stands with the red, gold and black everywhere to welcome them into arena next. Their test was beautifully ridden but there were a few baby mistakes by the ten year old and the intense workload of the Olympics showed in the ten year old’s way of going. 82.946% was their score which they will be proud of but they certainly look like they’ll be on the top of the podium in Championships to come.
On to Spain and the extreme showmanship of Severo Jesus Jurado Lopez and his ten year old Lorenzo. It was every bit as exciting as everyone expected but was again just short of the precision shown by Charlotte and Blueberry, four years their senior. A final centre line of one-handed passage with true Hispanic flair was met enthusiastically by the crowds as they clapped him down to G for halt. The crowd didn’t quite react to his score of 83.625% which such excitement and were left disappointed.
The American duo of Laura Graves and Verdades, who caught the eye at WEG in Normandy in 2014, were the next and entered looking like they we going to throw everything into this test to try and secure a second medal for the USA. The test was packed full Verdades’ best party tricks and clever two time tempi changes on a circle really upped the difficulty. 85.196% was the score – a new personal best – and good enough for bronze position.
The final pair was Isabell Werth and her mare Weihegold OLD, by Don Schufro. This is the German’s fifth Olympics and it’s been 20 years since she claimed individual gold in Atlanta so this was her chance. Their test was typically determined with Isabell coaxing every mark possible from the mare but there were a few moments of fatigue where transitions weren’t as clean as they could be and momentary losses of balance to mar a special test with plenty of highlights. It felt like an eternity for the score to come through…could they beat Charlotte? Would they break the 90% barrier? 89.071% came through – no to both questions and Charlotte had made history with her third Olympic gold and the first ever British woman to successfully defend an individual Olympic title. And just to add to the hat-trick of records, their score broke their own Olympic record set in London. It was silver for Isabell to bring her Olympic medal tally to ten.
After the medals, Charlotte commented; “I know I’ve done my best and he’s done his. It was an amazing feeling in there, I had a really lovely time. I thought I’ve got to go and enjoy it, I felt like he really looked after me out there. I’ve only ridden that floor plan once; I’ve altered a few bits and pieces, I hadn’t even practiced some of the bits I did before today. I just want to say thank you to the people behind the scenes who help to make this happen, and our dreams come true. I’m living the dream.”
Carl Hester was full of praise for his jockey and horse; “I think for her, for sure it must be better than London, consistency is so hard with a horse and to see that horse being at the top for six years with hardly a blip on its record is phenomenal. I can’t think of many horses that have done what he’s done. To watch her, she had absolute preparation in there; I felt very emotional when she came out.”
The media will use every superlative in the dictionary over the next 24 hours and in the weeks and months to come to describe this duo – maybe there will be some new ones invented as they are in a class of their own. As the gold medal was placed around Charlotte’s neck, the tears began to flow; tears of joy, tears of sadness, tears of relief, tears of gratitude, tears to show a job well done. Just one final message for Charlotte to ponder when she left the arena, her long term fiancée Dean Golding, proudly sporting two giant foam fingers declaring Dujardin #1, had written ‘Can we get married now?!’ across his chest. Hopefully they can now plan their happily ever after. The end.
Gold – Charlotte Dujardin/Valegro 93.857%
Silver – Isabell Werth/Weihegold OLD 80.071%
Bronze – Kristina Broring-Sprehe/Desperados FRH 87.142%
7th Carl Hester/Nip Tuck 82.553%
17th Fiona Bigwood/Orthilia 76.018%
Watch Charlotte and Valegro's gold medal performance again courtesty of the BBC - click here
Full results – click here