Tokyo, Japan – August 7, 2021 – Leading up to the Team Final at Baji Koen [the official equestrian park] in Setagaya City, Tokyo, during the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games, the Swedish Show Jumping Team has been foot perfect, not touching a single rail. After the first round of the Team Final, they were propelled into a gold medal jump-off with the United States, eerily similar to the jump-off from the 2018 World Equestrian Games (WEG). In the end, all three athletes from each country cleared the track, and just 1.3 seconds would separate the two nations as Sweden captured the gold medal while the United States would bring home the silver medal. Rounding out the top three, the team from Belgium earned the bronze medal.
For the Team Final, countries were limited to three athletes with no drop score. The top ten countries from Friday’s Team Qualifier advanced to the Team Final with a clean slate. Course designer Santiago Varela (ESP) set a technical 14-obstacle track with an oxer-vertical double combination as the third test. Other tests induced a triple bar to a vertical-oxer liverpool-vertical triple combination, an open water to a delicate plank, and a vertical-oxer double combination before the final line.
After the second group of horses, it looked like France would be taking home the top medal, leading the standings with only 2 faults, while Sweden, the United States and Belgium each emerged with 4 faults. The countries with 4 faults were ranked by time and would return in reverse order for the final rotation of athletes.
Gregory Wathelet and Nevados S anchored the Belgian team, but an 8-fault score would bring their team total to 12, looking to potentially finish off of the podium. McLain Ward was next in the ring for the United States with Contagious, and they lowered the height of a single oxer, taking the team total to 8 faults, but good enough for a medal. Two-time individual silver medalists Fredricson (SWE) and H&M All In had not brought down a single rail throughout their performances in Rio and Tokyo, but as they crossed the final fence the smallest rub added 4 faults to their score, bringing their team total to 8 faults as well.
France’s Penelope Leprevost entered the ring with a rail in hand on Vancouver De Lanlore, but their gold medal hopes ended suddenly when her horse stopped abruptly at the first combination and repeated the offense on a second attempt, eliminating them from the competition and creating a sudden jump-off between Sweden and the United States for the gold medal.
Spectators and athletes had deja vu recalling the unprecedented gold medal jump-off from the 2018 WEG, which included all three of the Swedish riders as well as Ward and Laura Kraut from the United States. The pressure was on for the United States, going against the Swedish team who had lowered the heights of only two fences during five rounds of competition.
Kraut was the first to return, representing the United States with Baloutinue, setting the standard by taking a very tight inside turn after the first fence and then clearing the course in a quick 41.33 seconds.
Sweden’s Henrik von Eckermann was the only athlete to not lower a single fence during the 2020 Olympic Games with King Edward, and he managed to continue his streak, clearing the track in 42.00 seconds, making King Edward the only horse to complete six rounds without a single rail.
The pressure was on for Jessica Springsteen (USA) and Don Juan Van De Donkhoeve. They stayed out a bit wide in the rollback turn to a wall fence following the double combination, but they cleared the course in 42.95 seconds to keep the pressure on Sweden to be fault-free.
Malin Baryard-Johnsson (SWE) and H&M Indiana put the pressure back on the United States after they also cleared the course, taking over the lead with a time of 41.89 seconds.
Ward was the last to go with Contagious, a speed specialist, and they once again proved their prowess by traversing the track without error in the fastest time yet of 39.92 seconds. Naturally, Fredricson and H&M All In would need to be clear and fast to top the podium, and that is exactly what they did. They finished the course with the fastest time of the night, 39.01 seconds, bringing their total time to 122.90 ahead of the United States’ time of 124.20, capturing the gold medal by just 1.3 seconds to cap-off their fantastic performance during the Games while the United States would take home the silver medal honors.
Sweden’s gold medal makes them the only team to have earned four team gold medals in show jumping, having last won team gold in 1924. The United States won its tenth team medal, defending its silver medal title from the 2016 Rio Olympics. All six athletes from Sweden and the United States were thrilled with their horses’ performance and stood atop their podium, beaming with pride after showcasing fantastic sport on the world stage.
The 2020 Tokyo Olympics will officially come to a close on Sunday. For the show jumping athletes they will now look ahead to the 2022 Show Jumping World Championships in Denmark. Sweden, the United States and Belgium can also look ahead to the 2024 Paris Olympics as automatic qualifiers thanks to their standout performances over the last week. Stay tuned to Phelps Sports for all the latest show jumping action!
FROM THE WINNERS CIRCLE
Henrik von Eckermann- Sweden – Gold Medal
On Sweden’s gold medal
“I think we have three really good riders and three outstanding horses. We believed in it from the beginning. We all know small things are to make it not happen, but still, we really believed in it. We had one goal and it’s fantastic that it happened.”
On Sweden’s Individual Final performance:
“That, to be honest, put me down a bit more. For me, it was a day that I will always remember, (where) I lost a medal a bit. But I don’t want to think of what I can’t change. It was what happened, and now I would be even more angry if I let that somehow affect my judgement in the next coming days. So I pulled myself together, and I’m happy I did.”
On King Edward:
“The ones who’ve been following him know that his record is unbelievable. When I came here, I knew he’s a very fresh horse. This heat will even make him better, because it will make him a little bit calmer. So for me, it was only an advantage. My fiance, Janika Sprunger, she found the horse when he was 8. She had been riding him doing great things with it and bringing it up. With a fantastic son that came, it made it possible for me to take over the reins and that was it. The horse showed what he is. It’s a very small horse but he’s a machine, he’s fantastic. Even if you think you have everything ready and you think you have everything in place, even then to have clear rounds and not knock one pole is almost impossible. I am just so happy with the horse.”
On the format:
“To be fair, we won it today so of course we say great, but it’s not great. For the horses to have three people, it was better before with four, it was better to have a scratch, that is my feeling.”
Peder Fredricson – Sweden – Gold Medal
On the jump-off:
“I saw McLain’s round and I also didn’t have so much time between my first round and jump-off, so I wanted to stay calm as long as possible. I did one small oxer then watched McLain’s round then walked All In to give him time and collect my thoughts. Since I got a silver medal in the individual I was quite determined to make the time and luckily the poles stayed up today.”
On All In:
“He was an amazing horse. I bought him when he was 7 years old. He was an amazing horse even then, and I think he’s for sure one of the best horses in the world.”
Malin Baryard-Johnsson – Sweden – Gold Medal
On the jump-off:
“We’ve been against each other but they’ve beaten us the last two times, so we said before this there is no chance they are going to be faster than us!”
On H&M Indiana:
“I’ve ridden Indiana since she was 7. From the beginning, she was a very difficult horse to manage, she had very low rideability. The rideability still isn’t great, but she’s one of the most capable horses with the biggest of hearts and she really fights for me nowadays. She’s probably the best horse I’ve ever ridden.”
McLain Ward – United States of America – Silver Medal
On the format:
“Today was great sport, but not because of the format, because of the horses and the riders and the competition. I am not a fan. I personally think the team competition should go first, because then when you get to the individual medals it’s really a test of multiple rounds. Not having a drop score in a sport where you have the variables of another living animal that puts too much pressure on the situation. The idea that there aren’t drop scores in other sports in the Olympics just isn’t true. I was watching diving today and they get a certain number of scores and drop some and keep some. I don’t think it works for our sport and I don’t think it has to be that way. I hope they take a good look at it because it creates a lot of stress for the horses.”
“Everybody knew the format coming in, so it wasn’t a surprise. Just with me sitting out the individual as well, we had a game plan. Again, it was incredible sport tonight, but not because of the format. I would like to go back or find some sort of compromise, so that we can take into consideration some of the needs of the Olympics and television and all of the different stakeholders, but also take into account our sport and the variables we deal with and most importantly the horses.”
On the jump-off:
“I didn’t like the order as much here! What an incredible battle. My battle with Sweden goes back to Athens, we jumped off against Sweden. Then again in Tryon luck of the draw I went last and got to see Peder, and now the reverse situation. What great sport, what a great battle. I am proud to be a part of that and I tip my hat off to them – they were unbeatable.”
“Contagious is an incredible trier, he fights for every inch, he’s a very, very careful horse. I thought he jumped a great round last night. When I turned for home I knew we had a few rails so I wanted to make sure nothing bad happened and I probably over rode him a little bit. Today I tried to keep him fresh. We’re dealing with a little bit of heat here. Obviously the facilities here are incredible, but it was very humid today, so I got on him and made sure he felt ok for a few minutes. I tried to stay out of his way and I am very proud of the performance he gave.”
Jessica Springsteen – United States of America – Silver Medal
On her ride:
“I was disappointed to have the 4 faults, I kind of took it for granted a little bit, I wasn’t really expecting that to be one of my challenges. So I’m disappointed in that regard, but I thought my horse jumped the rest of the course absolutely beautifully. I was just thinking of that left-hand turn there I want it to be neat on my time, so I think that’s why I had it down, but all in all he was amazing this entire week, so I’m so happy him.”
On her game plan heading into the first course:
“It was super technical. The first time I walked it that was pretty much the plan I stuck with. There were a lot of past rides where you had an option to do one less or one more. My horse has a big step, so I was able to do the leave outs and that helped me with the time allowed.”
On her first championship:
“I thought all three of our horses jumped great yesterday, so I had really high hopes coming into today, especially with Laura and McLain on my team. It really gave me a lot of confidence and gave me the ability to have big dreams riding with them. I am so excited!”
Laura Kraut – United States of America – Silver Medal
On the jump-off:
“I’ve been in three championships and all three I’ve been in a jump-off and I’m a little bit tired of that. In Tryon, we got to go after them, so we knew a little bit what we had to do and it was the reverse tonight, but I think the best team won tonight.”
On her horse’s performance:
“He was magnificent. I think today he was in the game. He was relaxed and focused, and he just did everything I asked of him. He’s just one of the best horses I’ve ever had the privilege to ride. He’s new, really, to this level of jumping, and he’s just better each day that he’s jumped.”
On keeping Balou fresh:
“He’s fresh all the time so today I didn’t have to worry about him being too tired. I basically treated him like I have every other day. He’s an incredible animal, I’ve only been riding him since April. He just knows what he’s out there to do. We had some rails this week just a little bit of him being nervous and not being used to the atmosphere. Tonight, he was completely in the zone and made my job easy.”
On her journey to the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020:
“When my owners were gracious enough to step up and buy the horse, this was the idea and along the way, I was thinking: ‘What are you doing? This is a lot of pressure’. But this horse is one of the best horses in the world, and I think I’m not getting any younger. And I thought, ‘Now’s the moment’. It’s been a huge team effort. I’m just so thankful for them for putting the trust in me as an ageing rider to get to this again, and have a crack at it.”
On whether the course was tougher today compared to Friday’s qualifier:
“Definitely the jumps were bigger. The distances were hard, and it’s the stamina. It’s long, we had two doubles, and a triple. You had the water, several planks that all you have to do is breathe on them (to knock them down). And then this last vertical is gigantic. [Santiago] is an amazing course builder, and he knew he had the 10 best teams, and he needed to build.”
Gregory Wathelet – Belgium – Bronze Medal
On winning bronze:
“It’s a really good feeling of course. We have realized what we did, we did something amazing for our country, for everybody around us.”
On the format:
“It was for sure a different format for us. It held an enormous pressure to not make mistakes and that is why you have to be focused on the first round. Every jump counts and that is why it is hard. It’s more pressure, anything could happen. I think we were strong from the beginning. We made a small mistake in the beginning but in the end we got the medal. For me it was a bit of a strange feeling. When I came out I was not happy with my round. Then we saw France and we were so happy we got it. I needed a few seconds to realize we did it. The feeling was amazing. It is something that is really special.”
On the course:
“The horses are used to it. The fences were nice. The course designer did a really good job of making the courses difficult. It is always really tough in the team final. Some horses for sure jumped more. Yesterday and today was very difficult and it is hard for the horses, but I think it was fair for the horses. They will have a long break when they go home.”
Jerome Guery – Belgium – Bronze Medal
On the bronze medal”
“It’s really amazing. It’s a small thing but it represents a lot for us, for all the people behind us, for the country and for horse sport in Belgium. We work for it and it’s amazing to come back to Belgium [with a medal].”
On the format:
“It was a lot of pressure for Gregory because he was the last to go. When he got out we didn’t know what would happen with the last. We came home with the medal and we were very happy.”
Pieter Devos – Belgium – Bronze Medal
On winning bronze:
“It’s a historical thing for Belgium. We are a very strong horse country and it’s a great achievement here. We have been working for this for a long time with our personal teams and with the federation. I think we have to thank our horses because we did an unbelievable performance here. I want to thank my horse because she gave her everything over the two days and it’s an unbelievable feeling what you can accomplish with a horse. It is a great moment.”
On the pressure to bring home a medal:
“It was a huge pressure, especially because of the new format. It’s an Olympics that will be remembered forever because of the enormous pressure because when you know that you represent a team everyone has a responsibility towards the team. That gives enormous pressure to all of us. We proved today that we could handle that pressure and that is why we have the medal.”
On the format:
“It was my first Olympics so I didn’t know what to expect, but I could tell it was really tough sport at the highest level possible. I think the course designer did a fantastic job. It was a fantastic venue and I think the accommodations here were unbelievable. We were candidates for the medal so there was pressure. Personally, I really tried not to think of the medals and focus on myself and my horse. We did what was expected from us so it gives even more satisfaction.”
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