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Rio 2016: Team GB wins SILVER

last updated on August 15, 2016 09:16

Rio 2016: Team GB wins SILVER

This evening (BST), Great Britain’s dressage team made history by winning a second Olympic team medal – Silver – at the Rio Olympic Games. The team of Fiona Bigwood with Orthilia, Charlotte Dujardin with Valegro, Carl Hester with Nip Tuck and Spencer Wilton with Super Nova II did Great Britain proud, displaying nerves of steel and riding with trademark tact to proudly take their podium spot.

Germany’s impressive quartet of Sonke Rothenberger with Cosmo, Dorothee Schneider with Showtime FRH, Kristina Broring-Sprehe with Desperados FRH and Isabell Werth with Weihegold OLD, earned a team total of 81.936% to edge ahead of the Brits, however the margin was small as Great Britain showed great strength and quality, accruing a team total of 78.595%. The United States deservedly earned Bronze with a great team total of 76.667%.

Following two days of Grand Prix, there was much anticipation leading up to today’s Grand Prix Special. With the Brits’ performances on Wednesday and Thursday bolstering the team position to Silver overnight, there was everything to ride for if Great Britain was to catch up with narrow leaders, Germany.

First British rider to enter the stadium, at 14.20 local time, was Spencer Wilton aboard Jen Goodman’s lithe, powerful Super Nova II. Looking more relaxed than in Wednesday’s Grand Prix, the pair got off to a confident, secure start, producing a solid extended trot, ground-covering half-passes and expressive passage.

“This horse can really passage,” enthused BBC commentator and FEI 3* Judge Peter Storr, who pointed out the good outline of the horse, nicely out to the bit. “I’ve always admired Spencer’s riding. The horse has not always been easy but he’s really talented. He eats the ground in passage and half pass and there’s plenty more gas in the tank.”

‘Neville’, as the athletic son of De Niro is known, came a little behind his rider’s aids in piaffe, dropping a few marks, but his canter showed good balance and it appeared that the force was with him as the theme from Star Wars swept across the stadium. Good positioning in the canter half-passes and quality two-tempis earned some high marks but an error in the one-tempis – they did 13 rather than the required 15 – was costly.

The overall picture, however, was superb. On the final centre line, the piaffe could have been more willing, but the passage attracted good marks, into halt, and Spencer’s job was done. 73.739% was the score - a fantastic performance from a talented Olympic first-timer with his very exciting horse.

Following an impressive score of 82.619% from Germany’s Dorothee Schneider, Horsham-based Fiona Bigwood and her own Orthilia entered the arena. A strong start with an average of 8.1 from the judges for the centre line and halt, Fiona and the talented 11-year-old Gribaldi mare continued with great cadence in the trot half passes and big marks from the judges for the passage – a real highlight for the responsive mare, coming high off the ground and maintaining a great rhythm.

After prowling across the diagonal in the extended walk, ‘Tillie’ anticipated the piaffe transition causing some dropped marks from the seven judges and then lost confidence in the following piaffe, attaining an average score for the movement of 3.9. Perhaps a little unsettled from the previous miscommunication, a blip in the two-time changes followed to bring the mark down to 5.2.

However, the pair soon left any previous issues behind and made up with two clean sets of one-time changes and two fabulous canter pirouettes, with Peter Storr commending the mare’s ability to sit and take weight behind. More quality piaffe followed and the final square halt at G ended a tactfully ridden test from Fiona who, similarly to Wednesday’s Grand Prix, rode with minimum contact on the curb rein, choosing to communicate with the sensitive mare via the snaffle.

Leaving the arena with huge pats for Tillie, the score was announced – 74.342%, the mistakes may have been costly but the rest of the work proved to be quality and should give great confidence for Monday’s Grand Prix Freestyle.

Following the world number one, Kristina Broring-Sprehe, is no easy feat especially when she has just laid down an 81.26% score, elevating that formidable German team further away from the field. However, if there was anyone to nominate to take on such a task it’s Carl Hester, master of test-riding and Team GB extraordinaire. He and the Don Ruto gelding, Nip Tuck, also known as Barney, posted a solid test yesterday evening, scoring 75.521% in the Grand Prix, despite a costly spook at the edge of the arena reminding us of Barney’s relative inexperience and flighty nature. Carl played it cool though, smoothly taking hold of Nip Tuck and expertly piloting him through a fluid debut Olympic test for the eye-catching bay.

Tonight Barney looked more settled in his surroundings and definitely more confident for his second test regardless of the pressure of this thrilling team medal race. The combination started positively entering the arena and averaging 8.6 from the judges for a very square halt. The first extended trot, still a little reserved, but supremely controlled by Carl sitting effortlessly. A good first passage with Carl keeping Barney on side to ensure no spooks when riding down the side of the arena. ‘Well behaved so far’ commented Peter Storr, as Barney keeps one eye on the flower displays that frightened him the night before. His walk is relaxed and a lovely transition into the piaffe where he remains perfectly on the centre line, ‘the master of making it look easy’ says Peter of Hester’s tactful riding.

Into the canter, Nip Tuck’s forte, where the two time changes are spot on and perfectly timed, as are the well-executed one times. Down the centre line and unfortunately there is a small mistake out of the second canter pirouette, the judges come down hard giving an average mark of 4.3 for the movement. An accurate final centre line and smiles all round as Carl gives Barney a big pat looking relieved as he waves to the crowd. A score of 76.485%, a pleasing improvement on their initial Olympic score and places them eventual ninth in a field of outstanding dressage combinations.

Following a masterful display from Isabell Werth, who stormed into the lead on Weihegold Old with a huge 83.711%, and last to go is Britain’s remaining hope for an attempt to retain the Gold medal and star combination Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro. They start with lovely balance and a perfect move off from the opening halt and salute with Charlotte letting the handbrake off as Valegro demonstrates his outstanding abilities with an expansive extended trot.

Next is the half pass, but, sharp-intake of breath, a miscommunication between this usually seamless pair as Valegro breaks into canter. It is an expensive mistake as the judges penalise with a 3.7 average mark. The combination recover quickly and are rewarded with big marks in the second extended trot for their huge steps in the relaxed extended walk and are established once again with a perfect transition into the piaffe.

On to the canter, with stretching symmetrical steps in the half pass leading to the two-time changes - a nervy moment once again as there is a mistake early on. They recover well and despite an average mark of 5.9 for their error the superior pair still remain averaging above 80% - a testament to the quality of Valegro’s work. Down the centre line for the canter pirouettes, always a highlight in their tests, and their one-time changes straight down the centre receive a sprinkling of 10s from the judges. An average mark of 8.9 for the extended canter confirmed it was going to be close at the top, completing with the final salute and a sigh of a relief accompanied another big pat for the charming Valegro who always tries his heart out for his partner.

A confirmed percentage of 82.983% put Charlotte amidst the Germans in second place, ahead of Dorothee Schneider but behind Isabell Werth confirming a team Silver medal for the Brits. However not all is lost, the individual medals will be determined in the freestyle on Monday and with Charlotte only just behind Werth with such a narrow margin despite two mistakes gives hope that a special performance in the music will be sure to put this decorated pairing back in the spotlight to hopefully retain their individual honours. 

A delighted Carl Hester spoke to the BBC’s Lee McKenzie after the medal ceremony: “It’s a very, very elated feeling, we fought hard for this. To come back from an Olympics where we had our first medal in London, to hold on to another one, it was desperation point for me that it would happen but I think our horses performed amazingly. Let’s not forget, our horses have travelled half way across the world. The fact they have come off the plane, they have been beautifully looked after by our team of grooms, they’ve been able to perform at this sort of level in Rio is just amazing. The horses can do that! They’re our partners in this sport and we’re very happy with how they’ve all gone.

“Not only was it [Spencer’s] first team but it’s his first Olympics too, that’s some pressure and he upped his game again today. I said it’s really important that you feel part of it, and Charlotte of course is just the star. We rely so heavily on Valegro. This is his sixth year at championship level and that horse is just amazing. He’s done two shows since the European Championships last year. It’s a walk in the park watching him go round that test, he’s so easy for it and relaxed about it – I get huge pleasure watching him. I can’t wait to get back to the stable and give them all a great big hug and a pat.

“My team mates have been great this week, they always ask how do you do it and make me feel good about myself. I’m just so proud of them because I think the inspiration that we’ve been able to give them with six years of medals. It’s why we’re now producing riders for the future.”

After the medal ceremony, the four riders gathered – along with their Silver medals – to speak to Lee about making British dressage history with a second Team Olympic medal. Spencer exclaimed: “It’s like a dream come true! I was always hoping we were going to get a medal but actually, if you told me four years ago that I’d be standing here with a medal around my neck I wouldn’t have believed you, it’s incredible.”

“It’s been a mental two years, but I’m here and I’ve got a medal round my neck.” Continued Fiona. I have to say, we’re all really good friends. So to do it with a group of people that socialise all the time, it’s been fantastic!”

Agreeing, Carl explained: “It’s the good team spirit that makes it so much more enjoyable. [Dressage Team GB] never managed to medal until London, then to suddenly get a Gold medal out of the blue at the right time, in the right country was sensational. We’ve managed to continue that and come here to take home a Silver – it’s not quite the same, but it’s very fulfilling and I know that this will keep a generation of young riders coming into our sport. UK Sport help us manage to achieve our dreams, at the end of the day you can’t make a living out of riding horses, we have to be helped a lot to get this far, so it’s great that we can repay everyone that has put in [so much].”

“I’m really proud of having a Silver medal,” announced Charlotte, grinning from ear to ear. “It was going to be so tough to get the Gold as we knew the Germans were really, really tough this year. We all did our very best, so we’re all very happy and we’re really proud to be coming home with a Silver.”

Team Results
1st - Germany – 81.936%
2nd - Great Britain – 78.595%
3rd - United States – 76.667%
4th – Netherlands – 75.517%
5th – Sweden – 74.845%
6th – Denmark – 74.311%

For full results, click here.