Tokyo, Japan – August 6, 2021 – Flags flew proudly for 19 nations as show jumping athletes gathered at Baji Koen [the official equestrian park] in Setagaya City, Tokyo, to represent their countries during the Team Qualifier at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games. It was a hard fought battle to be one of the 10 qualifying nations for the Team Final. Only five athletes had faultless rounds, dominated by all three representatives of Sweden who topped the leaderboard at the end of the night with a zero fault score. They were followed by Belgium and Germany who each finished on 4 faults with every athlete incurring time faults but no jumping penalties.
Several changes had been made to the format ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. The first was that the Individual Finals were held ahead of the Team Finals. For the team competition, countries were limited to three athletes with no drop score in an effort by the FEI to be more inclusive and allow more countries to be represented, with 19 countries competing on Friday. The top ten countries have advanced to Saturday’s Team Final where they will jump in reverse order of merit, but will all start with a clean slate.
Course designer Santiago Varela (ESP) had the difficult challenge to build a course that could be jumped by both developing nations’ teams and the top countries in the sport, without creating too many ties at the top. He set a long and technical track for athletes to execute ahead of the Team Final. The 14-obstacle first round included a triple bar-vertical-oxer triple combination early in the track as well as a line of liverpools before the final line, which included a vertical-vertical plank double combination ahead of the final oxer. Rails fell frequently with a score of 27 faults being good enough to qualify for the Team Final.
The first clear round came from Sweden’s Henrik Von Eckermann and King Edward following the country’s stellar performance on Wednesday with all three members going double clear. Brazil’s Marlon Modolo Zanotelli and Edgar M also cleared the course, leaving the countries tied on equal first after the first round of athletes, with five countries tied for third on a single time fault.
As the competition continued the faults began to add up. Sweden once again produced a clear round, this time from Malin Baryard-Johnsson and H&M Indiana, while the only other fault-free performance came from Switzerland’s Bryan Balsiger and Twentytwo Des Biches. Sweden held on to their lead with Switzerland second on 1 fault, Belgium third on 2 faults and Germany fourth on 3 faults as final riders for each team geared up to compete.
As each team’s final athlete took to the course it was once again Sweden topping the standings, producing the lone clear effort. Two-time individual silver medalists Peder Fredericson and H&M All In continued their now four-year history of clear rounds at the Olympics by crossing the finish line with all the rails intact. Sweden was the clear leader of the Team Qualifier and will be last to show during the Team Final.
Belgium and Germany tied for second place, with all of their athletes faultless over the fences but at the cost of time faults with a total of 4 faults from each team. Switzerland was ranked fourth on 10 faults, followed by the United States in fifth place on 13 faults.
Thanks to consistent effort by all three athletes, the United States was able to qualify for the Team Final in the middle of the pack. Laura Kraut was first to go with Baloutinue, lowering the height of a single fence for 4 faults. Jessica Springsteen was next with Don Juan Van De Donkhoeve, lowering the height of the first fence in the double of planks, also incurring 4 faults. McLain Ward and Contagious, fresh and ready to compete after not competing in the Individual Qualifier, had just a single knockdown in the final line as well as a time fault for 5 faults, bringing the team total to 13.
The final six qualifying teams included France (15 faults), Great Britain (20 faults), Brazil (25 faults), The Netherlands (26 faults) and Argentina (27 faults). No faults carry over to the Team Final, but they will return in reverse order with Argentina leading off the evening’s performance.
With the Team Finals less than 24 hours away, athletes will prepare with their teams to figure out the best strategy as they aim for the top of the podium. Competition will get under at 6am ET on Saturday. Stay tuned for the latest updates from Phelps Sports.
FROM THE WINNERS CIRCLE
McLain Ward – United States
“He felt great. It was really a new challenge, what Contagious and I had to do. We’ve been on the ice for the better part of four weeks now. The show in Rotterdam was over a month and a half ago, the last ten days I think I jumped nine jumps, so to come in and jump at this level is a real challenge. I had a lot of anxiety about it to be frank, but he was right there for me. The turn for home, I just wanted to make sure we just brought that nice score home. I didn’t fight as hard as I needed to for that oxer, but I knew what the situation was and I wanted to make sure there wasn’t a major blunder.”
On bringing Contagious to Tokyo out of his string of horses:
“I feel really blessed, but Azur is really at the end of her career, and I thought to come all this way wasn’t fair on her, especially with the heat and conditions we expected here. Unfortunately Noche De Ronda had an injury in Florida and she’s out, so I’m proud of Contagious that he stepped up. When I originally got to ride Contagious I didn’t think he was an Olympic horse, but he proved us wrong today that he is capable of this level.”
On the toughest part of the course:
“For me, not riding for three weeks. We’ve been doing a lot of flatting. I think it’s a great course. I think this new format is a little complicated and challenging, and I’m very grateful we have a course designer like Santiago [Varela] who really has been, in my opinion, brilliant.”
On the pressure with a three-person team:
“There’s no drop score, no room for error or minor mishaps. I’m not a fan of three-person teams. We’ve already seen this evening some really unfortunate problems. There’s too many variables with a horse and a rider to make it great sport in this format.”
On developing Contagious:
“He had to grow a little bit. He was always a super careful horse but he was a little shy. Brave, but I don’t know if he believed he could jump the really big fences. He’s developed and he’s a trier and a fighter and so am I. I’m really proud of the horse and feel like we belong here.”
On his teammates:
“Confidence level of the riders I’m riding with is very high. Jessie [Springsteen] is brilliant, the horse is brilliant, just had a bit of bad luck. Her horse jumped phenomenal and I believe will deliver a clear tomorrow. Laura [Kraut] and Kent [Farrington] are longtime teammates of mine and I’m always proud to have them by my side. Everyone is going to fight hard tomorrow. I’m not a huge fan of this format, but I think that’s something to talk about another day. We have to focus on the task at hand tomorrow and try to be in the mix.”
Jessica Springsteen – United States
On her round:
“I thought my horse jumped beautifully. I was thinking for the time allowed a little bit that I needed to regroup for that last line, but I am thrilled with the way he is jumping, so I felt good about it. I know my horse so well and I know that he’s really brave and I can really trust him, so that always gives me a good feeling going in. I knew that last line would be difficult with the double of planks, but I thought it was a good course. My horse has a really big stride, so I try to do the leave outs to make up for time and I did the five strides to the plank, but I needed to just slow it down a little bit more there.”
On the pressure of riding for the team:
“I definitely had a lot more nerves today as opposed to the first day. I want to make everyone at home proud and have a good performance for my teammates, and I think we are sitting in a good spot.”
On being in the spotlight:
“For me, my one thing about riding that I’ve always loved, aside from my love for the horses, is when I’m in the ring and the bell goes off and I am completely focused on that, so any outside pressures or anything else going on really just fades away and I am in that moment. That’s always been something that I love about it. I am so grateful that my parents have supported me throughout my entire career. They’ve been on this journey with me, it’s been a huge dream for them as well and I am just happy I can make them proud. I just try to keep focused on what I am here to do.”
On aiming for the Olympics:
“When I first knew they had equestrian at the Games! It felt so far away for so long, so the fact that it’s a reality, I am really trying to take in every bit of it. In our sport it has so much to do with timing. You need to have the right horse at the right time and you have to be at your peak performance at that moment. Last fall leading up to it I knew Don was feeling great and I really wanted to give it 100% and make it a focus of mine.”
On partnering with Don:
“I got him in Belgium from a woman named Eleanor and she produced him so beautifully. She rides quite similar to me, so for me getting on him was a really fast click. He has so much power, so we were able to move up straight away and get to know each other over those bigger fences.”
On beginning riding:
“My mom always wanted to ride, so when we moved to New Jersey we got a farm and she started taking lessons. When I saw her do it I immediately wanted to do it. She was my first riding idol. I used to watch her jump thinking, ‘You’re jumping so big, I am never going to be able to do that!’ It’s really cool that it’s something we can all enjoy as a family.”
Laura Kraut – United States
On her ride:
“It felt great, he jumped beautifully. I had said when I walked the course that it could be the bogie jump, it’s going into that corner with a dark hole behind it. I could have probably gotten him six inches closer to it, so if I had to do it again that’s what I would do. But apart from that, he didn’t touch a jump and did everything I asked of him. So I’m really happy.”
On going first for team USA:
“As everyone knows, I haven’t had the horse very long, so I’m still in the learning stage of his stride and when it’s appropriate to leave out and add. When I walked the course, because I went early I knew I wasn’t going to be able to watch. The first three horses weren’t anything like my horse, it wasn’t going to help me to watch them, so I just had to go with my gut instinct to add a couple after the triple combination and also to the double of verticals, and it was actually a little harder than I thought it would be. His stride was quite big, but he listened and came right back. Maybe hindsight is I should’ve had one more to that liverpool than leave the stride out there. Still figuring that out. Going early was a little bit of a handicap, but he was great.”
Ben Maher – Great Britain
On his ride:
“I was happy with Explosion W. It’s always tough after a very fast round of jumping the other day, and he’s a horse that gets more careful the faster he goes. So it’s about giving him confidence. I was told by Scott Brash before we went in, we had a bit of a margin to make the team final tomorrow, and I can take it a little bit easier on Explosion and just try to — it sounds crazy in this kind of level of competition — give him a little bit of an easier round. And if we have a mistake, we’ll still make the final, so it was enough. And tomorrow’s a new day.”
On whether he was able to celebrate his gold medal in the individual final:
“It was tough. Honestly, it was a late night and with the protocols that we had to do afterwards, and then you guys and the press conference and then more at the hotel. It was incredible. It was all a bit of a whirlwind, to be honest. All the team waited for me when we got back to the hotel, and we had 10 minutes [of celebration], but we still have jumping to do this week. It’s about producing until the end here and hopefully we can enjoy ourselves next week. I’m looking forward to going home, obviously after tomorrow, and looking forward to sharing this with everybody that can be here.”
Holly Smith – Great Britain
On her ride:
“I was absolutely delighted with the horse. It’s not really experienced at this level, and obviously with us not having competed in the individual competition, it was quite something to go in there. I feel like neither of us have ridden a course for months. It’s not that long, but that’s what it feels like! He answered every question. Track’s causing carnage.”
2020 Tokyo Olympics Team Qualification Standings
Country / Team Faults
1. Sweden / 0
2. Belgium / 4
2. Germany /4
4. Switzerland / 10
5. United States / 13
6. France / 15
7. Great Britain / 20
8. Brazil / 25
9. Netherlands / 26
10. Argentina / 27
11. Egypt / 29
12. China / 35
13. Morocco / 37
14. New Zealand / 39
15. Czech Republic / 45
16. Mexico / 6
Israel / EL
Japan / EL
For over 30 years Taylor, Harris Insurance Services has been serving equestrians across the United States. All our agents are dedicated horse people and we take pride in finding the right solution for every horse. To learn more visit THISHorseInsurance.com and join us on Instagram and Facebook.