Julia Krajewski landed off the final fence of the individual eventing final and punched her fist in the air.
The German rider covered her mouth in shock before throwing herself forward to wrap her hands around her horse’s neck. She rose and pointed repeatedly to her partner. Her eyes welling up.
Krajewski, riding her 11-year-old Armande de B’neville, didn’t just capture the individual eventing gold medal. She became the first female in the sport’s history to do so—and, judging by her reaction, she could hardly believe it.
“Cross-country went super good. It was quite good for me that I went early (in the day), because I couldn’t watch too much. I just did my thing. And after cross-country, I was fairly positive that we could finish well, because she’s such a good jumper. And I thought, ‘OK, if it goes wrong, it’s all in your hands.’ And before we went in, and I said, ‘Mandy we’re going to get it,’ and I think she knew it was a special day,” she shared.
“I’m super, super proud of my horse. I’m relieved and happy that I made it happen. I’m very thankful for everyone who has been with me all the way. I won my first pony European title 20 years ago. And since then it’s been a rollercoaster really. And it’s quite unreal.”
The last to enter the arena at the Baji Koen Equestrian Park in Tokyo (JPN), Krajewski had the utmost pressure sitting squarely on her shoulders. The 32-year-old took over the individual lead following a foot-perfect jumping performance in the team final, sitting on a 25.60 score.
But with the new Olympic format, she had one more test. Entering a territory not seen at any other eventing competition worldwide, the top 25 combinations at the conclusion of team competition returned for one last round of jumping to determine individual medals.
The course was short—just nine fences and 12 jumping efforts—but it was big and technical, with every rider experiencing the unknown of how their horses would react to a fourth outing in three days. Rails fell throughout, particularly in the triple combination, designed to resemble Japanese cherry trees. The oxer-vertical-oxer test rode tighter than it walked, and the light pink-colored fences, with solid white coloring across center of rails, did not back many horses off. The first clear performance did not come until the 17th rider; France’s Nicolas Touzaint (Absolut Gold) would ultimately finish sixth.
Eight-time Olympian Andrew Hoy (AUS) replicated the feat a few rides later and did what no other combination, even the winner, could not. Hoy and Vassily de Lassos finished on their 29.6 dressage score, without a single penalty point added through cross-country and two rounds of jumping. It was enough to earn him the bronze; he had sat seventh after cross-country. The silver medal, meanwhile, went to Great Britain’s Tom McEwen (29.3). Krajewski took the gold, adding just 0.4 time penalties to her final score (26.0).
While Kazuma Tomoto (JPN) just missed the individual podium with a fourth-place finish (31.9), his show jumping performance elicited some of the biggest cheers of the evening. Tomoto, a former show jumper, has been coached by none other than the great William Fox-Pitt (GBR). He boasts a promising future for not only Japanese eventing, but also equestrian sport as a whole in the country.
The Fates of the Favorites
Oliver Townend (GBR) had held a convincing lead after cross-country, but the World No.1 added a rail in both the team and individual finals. The final rail was especially a heart-breaker; Ballaghmor Class jumped a super round but found himself at too deep of a distance at the second fence, a careful vertical. It would keep this pair off the individual podium, and they ultimately finished fifth. Two-time defending individual champion Michael Jung (GER) also had a rail and fell to eighth.
It was not Team USA’s day. While all three team members—Doug Payne, Phillip Dutton and Boyd Martin—advanced to the individual final, none could keep the jumps up. Payne, originally the team reserve for the U.S., would end up the squad’s highest placing individual, finishing 16th overall.
Show jumping will be the final equestrian sport to take place in Tokyo, with the Individual Qualifier kicking things off Tuesday, August 3 at 7:00 pm JST (6:00 am EDT) with a lineup of 73 combinations.
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