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Rio 2016 - GP day one

last updated on August 10, 2016 23:26

Rio 2016 - GP day one

The Olympic Equestrian Dressage got underway today at the Olympic Equestrian Centre in Rio with the first round, the Grand Prix, under grey skies in cool conditions. Britain’s Stephen Clarke had the honour of being President of the Ground Jury for the competition and sitting in the ‘hot seat’ at C. He was joined by Peter Holler (GER) at K, Susanne Baarup (DEN) at E, Gary Rockwell (USA) at H, Maribel Alonso (MEX) at M, Thomas Lang (AUT) at B and Eddy de Wolff van Westerrode (NED) at F.

The privilege of the first dressage rider into the arena went to Australia’s Suzanne Hern riding Remmington.

Eighth in, after the first break, was Team GB’s Spencer Wilton. Although all horses have had the chance to explore the arena over the last few days, the addition of the television cameras was enough to spook a nervous Super Nova II during his time before the bell with pilot, Spencer. With the pressure of going first in your team, first after the break and competing in your first Olympic Games, a spook before entering the arena would be enough to break any rider – but not Spencer.

Calming Jen Goodman’s 13-year-old De Niro gelding with a reassuring pat, the Berkshire-based rider continued and rode confidently – yet tactically – into the arena. The ears of Super Nova – or Neville as he’s known at home – were a telling tale as they scoped out every nook and cranny of the Brazilian arena and his tension caused Spencer to ride cautiously in movements such as the extended trot and piaffe. But, as the test progressed, Neville relaxed and produced some fabulous work with great balance, good transitions and quality pirouettes to gain a solid score of 72.686% – a strong start for Team GB.

Speaking to BBC’s Lee McKenzie, Spencer spoke about his first appearance at an Olympic Games: “I really would have loved to have gotten a slightly higher mark. We had a little bit of an unnerving moment in the beginning where he had a bit of a fright from one of the cameras but considering that happened and considering it’s our first Olympics and it’s a fairly frightening arena, I’m really, really delighted!”

Spencer and Neville have been a partnership since 2012, taking the horse from competing at Advanced Medium to international Grand Prix where the pair have earned some fantastic scores, most notably a personal best of 77.50% at Hartpury CDI3* in July, just before they left for Rio.

“He felt fantastic warming up,” continued Spencer. “I felt in a really, really good place but I knew that when he came into the arena he’d go a bit ‘my goodness, what’s about to happen?’, I think without that little episode with the camera beforehand, I think it would have been a slightly different story, but I’m really pleased because we both settled into it and it got better as it went along – and as long as it’s given him a confident feeling, then that’s all I’m worried about.”

Fiona Bigwood could be called a ‘veteran’ of British teams; she’s represented her country at Junior, Young Rider and Senior level but 2016 marks her Olympic debut. And quite a debut it was. Riding her mum Penny and the Dahls’ Orthilia, or Tillie as she’s known, Fiona performed like it was a stage she well and truly owned. With team mate Spencer having performed brilliantly for the team, it clearly gave Fiona the confidence to attack from the get-go.

A straight entry and salute gave way to the first extended trot and Fiona let the Gribaldi-sired mare fly to make an impressive start. The first half pass to the right showed amazing reach to demonstrate the elasticity of this special horse. The second extended trot was again top drawer; dainty but powerful.

On to Tillie’s forté, the passage and piaffe work, and the judges rewarded the powerful, even steps. A good transition to extended walk was followed by excellent steps with good ground cover. Just a moment of anticipation into passage was a tiny blip. On to canter and the first line of flying changes (two times) was foot perfect. Fiona was brave again in the extended canter and the mare responded, positively devouring the ground and growing in stature.

A further line of straight clean changes (one times) followed before the judges delighted in the first canter pirouette, awarding a few nines. The final extended trot across the diagonal was simply poetry in motion – power, grace and expression…just breath taking. The last centre line, again filled with Tillie’s specialties of piaffe and passage scored well before a near perfect halt. And the biggest grin you’ve ever seen, Fiona knew it was something special.

She beamed; "I am so over the moon. Going over that last centre line, they all said afterwards they [Carl and her husband Anders] were saying on the last extended trot, I bet she goes for it now, and when I came round that corner I thought I’ve got nothing to lose and just went for it. I love that horse, I was very emotional afterwards and had to go and give her a big hug because of how good she was."

She continued; "Tillie is so listening to me, from the moment you get on. You just feel you’re riding with a friend, I just love her to bits."

Fiona has a full support team out in Rio which proving beneficial to her competition experience; "Everyone’s here, got my mother-in-law and my mum here looking after the kids. It’s hard at an Olympics, because you don’t have that contact with your children but for them to be here living and seeing it is fantastic. My husband was competing this morning [Anders Dahl who rides for Denmark] so I’m glad that got out of the way because it’s difficult with nerves. It was amazing at the Opening Ceremony to both be there, how many people can say that."

Her score was altered twice but the panel finally settled on 77.157% which put her second behind Germany’s young gun, Sonke Rothenberger with Cosmo.

Even though just one day old, the competition has already been packed with plenty of drama including the retirement of Adelinde Cornellissen and Parzival when the Dutch rider felt the 19 year old didn’t feel on par following an insect bite to his face. The drama was capped when the final rider of the day, Germany’s Dorothee Schneider stole the show with a masterful performance aboard her nine year old, Showtime FRH to become the first rider to break the magic barrier with 80.986%, relegating Fiona to third.

After two riders, Britain lies handily in bronze with Germany taking an early lead and the Netherlands in silver. As well as riding, Carl Hester is team trainer this week as he is mentor to all three of his team mates and he’ll be satisfied with a job well done today. Fiona was quick to praise the dressage maestro: "Carl Hester is just amazing, he’s been helping us all out out here and we’ve had really good preparation these last few days in particular, we knew we couldn’t have prepared any better for it, but it’s still going in there with seven judges and you don’t know how they’ll react in there, so I’m just so pleased."

For full results and times for tomorrow – click here

British riders (BST)

Carl Hester and Nip Tick - 15:27
Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro – 18.24

Photos - c Jon Stroud Media