Thirty combinations left all the jumps up in the individual jumping qualifier Tuesday evening at the Tokyo Olympic Games. There were just 30 qualifying spots available for the individual final.
A single rail over Santiago Varela’s (ESP) 1.65m track was enough to derail any hopes of competing for an individual medal. It made for a surprising start to jumping competition, the final equestrian sport to get underway at these Games.
Perhaps most notably, there won’t be a single American in the individual jumping final.
That’s not to say that the Americans did poorly, but little mistakes proved costly. Leadoff pair Jessica Springsteen and Don Juan van de Donkhoeve had just a single rail against them—the front rail of the oxer at 13a—to finish on a respectable score of 4 in their Olympic debut. World No. 5 Kent Farrington and Gazelle looked foot-perfect until they had the same exact rail, also finishing on 4. Anchor pair Laura Kraut and Baloutinue, still an exceptionally new partnership, had two rails against them to finish on 8.
If there’s a positive to take from the day, it’s that the group will have fresh horses heading into Friday’s team qualifier, where they will receive a blank slate.
So, too, will the 30 riders that did advance to Wednesday’s individual final; Tuesday’s qualifier solely determined qualification and seeding. As the number of clear rounds began to rise midway through the 73 horse and rider combinations, one couldn’t help but pause at the prospect of a clear performance not advancing.
“A harsh reality of our sport is one rail down and you’re out,” Farrington said. “In the new format, tonight it was all or nothing, and unfortunately for the American team right now, it’s nothing.”
Varela’s course was big and bright, with a variety of eye-catching fences, each representing Japanese motifs and cultural traditions. The sumo wresting vertical at Fence 10 was especially visually stimulating. Its single hollow filler carried many horses’ eyes downward, while its lightly colored rails blended into the backdrop; a realistic sumo wrestler even acted as the right standard. The open water, of course, also played a role; that element will also appear in the individual and team finals.
Some favorites met their lofty expectations.
Ben Maher (GBR) and Explosion W navigated Varela’s course swiftly and smoothly, receiving the coveted final place in Wednesday’s start order with the fastest clear performance of the day. Reigning European Champions Martin Fuchs (SUI) and Clooney, who appeared visibly fresh in his opening round, also moved forward to the individual final, as does World No. 1 Daniel Deusser (GER) with the phenomenal 11-year-old mare, Killer Queen.
Steve Guerdat (SUI), the 2012 individual gold medalist, is among the group that will be noticeably absent from the individual final but will get a second chance in team competition.
“It was a big enough course today, and a lot of horses are a little bit spooky. I don’t know whether it’s the new jumps or the lights and I felt that with [Explosion],” Maher said. “This is my most nervous round of the week. [Explosion] is a horse that improves as the rounds go on, so he was having a little look today, but he’s naturally a fast horse and he did everything he needed to do.”
New formats have been implemented in each of the three equestrian sports this year in Tokyo, but show jumping has seemingly been impacted most. The only discipline in which the individual final now precedes the team final, riders were feeling the pressure. Previously, the top 35 riders after three qualifying rounds advanced to the first of two rounds that determined individual medals. Of course, when team qualifying begins Friday, there will also no longer be a drop score, with just three riders on each squad.
“I was feeling a little nervous Sunday and Monday night, and yesterday I had a good talk with the sports psychologist for the Swiss team and he really helped me to ease the feeling a bit,” Fuchs said. “I told him I’ve never had this feeling before, being nervous, it’s totally new to me. He gave me a few small but good advices and it helped me a lot.”
Belgium, Great Britain, Ireland, Sweden and host nation Tokyo will be represented by all three of their respective individual riders Wednesday, while Switzerland and The Netherlands send forward two. The U.S.-based Ashlee Bond (ISR) advanced with a spectacular round aboard Donatello 141, as did the only Canadian jumping representative in Tokyo, Mario Deslauriers (Bardolina 2).
The individual jumping final gets underway at 7:00 pm JST (6:00 am EDT).
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