Mill Spring, N.C. – Sept. 21, 2018 – The grand finale of team jumping competition at the FEI World Equestrian Games™ took place Friday afternoon, with the original field of 25 teams whittled down so that only the top ten squads remained. The day began with Switzerland leading the way ahead of the home turf U.S. team and Germany, and ended in an unprecedented world championship head-to-head jump-off for the gold medal between the Americans and the Swedes. Earning the world champion honors as well as an automatic slot in the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games, the USA team comprised of McLain Ward, Laura Kraut, Adrienne Sternlicht and Devin Ryan nail-bitingly edged out the Swedish team by mere seconds in front of a home crowd.
Over the course of the afternoon, the 40 partnerships still in the running for a medal took turns navigating course designer Alan Wade’s (IRL) 14-obstacle track with fences set at a foreboding 1.65m in height. By the time the fourth quarter of contenders from each nation were set to ride, it was clear that the teams from the USA, Sweden and Germany were poised to have the greatest medal chances, with the remainder of the squads having accumulated too many faults to be in the running.
Sweden began the day in fourth position, but propelled themselves up the rankings with three clear rides Friday from team members Henrik von Eckermann, Malin Baryard-Johnsson and Fredrik Jönsson, aboard GT Elite Scandinavia AB’s Toveks Mary Lou, Stuteri Arch’s H&M Indiana and Jönsson and David Ingvarsson’s Cold Play, respectively. The team from Germany was still in the hunt, as well, thanks to a combination of fault-free rides from owner-rider Simone Blum with the reins on DSP Alice and Marcus Ehning in the saddle aboard his and Ruth Krech’s Pret A Tout, in addition to a number of unlucky trips from the Swiss, who had begun the day in the lead. Though each partnerships throughout the day put in their best efforts, it all came down to the second-to-last entry of the day, USA’s Ward and Clinta.
First to ride for the home team earlier in the day, Ryan and LL Show Jumpers LLC’s Eddie Blue laid down a solid performance for the USA, but it was not perfect, with the penultimate oxer coming down to accrue 4 faults against them. In similar form, Sternlicht and Starlight Farms 1 LLC’s Cristalline knocked down the same fence as their teammates, putting pressure on counterparts Kraut and Ward to carefully pilot their mounts to fault-free rides to keep the Americans in contention for the coveted spot atop the scorecard. No stranger to high-pressure situations, Olympic veteran Kraut delivered for her team by directing Old Willow Farms LLC’s Zeremonie to a textbook trip sans penalties.
By the time Ward and Clinta, the grey mare he co-owns with Sagamore Farms, entered the ring, the squad sat exactly 4 points ahead of Sweden, meaning a clear ride would clinch gold, a 4-fault ride would instigate a jump-off and an 8-fault or more ride would push the USA down the rankings. With the weight of the gold medal on their shoulders, Ward and Clinta carefully maneuvered the track for what they hoped to be the final time, but unfortunately lowered a fence to catalyze a historic head-to-head jump-off with Sweden, each team with a composite score of 20.59.
With the overall scores of the two leading teams incredibly tied after all three rounds of competition, the final barrier separating the USA from the top podium spot was a jump-off over Wade’s abridged track that included the four horse-and-rider combinations from both teams. In historic fashion, each of the four duos from Sweden and USA prepared to return for one last ride around the U.S. Trust Arena. With only six more fences to assert their dominance, laying down an error-free performance was crucial from each combination remaining. First to ride, Sweden’s world-ranked #4 von Eckerman and Toveks Mary Lou set the pace with a clean trip, and their efforts were immediately matched by USA’s Ryan and 9-year-old Eddie Blue. Baryard-Johnsson and H&M Indiana subsequently opened up a window for the Americans to jump to the lead with the final fence down, but the teams returned to equal status following an identical demonstration from Sternlicht and the 10-year-old mare Cristalline. Third of the matches to go, Jönsson and Cold Play gave a reason to celebrate for the Swedes with their clean ride, but the exuberance was short-lived as Kraut and the grey mare Zeremonie once again returned the Americans to a tie score with their double clear.
Nearly 300 rides took place over the three-day tenure of the team competition, but in the end it came down to the final two exhibitors of the day, as Fredericson and Ward would be forced to battle it out for team gold. As the current #7 and #2 ranked riders in the world, talent was in no short supply between the two hungry competitors. Carrying the hope of the Swedish, Fredericson and H&M Christian K expertly navigated the short course, challenging Ward and Clinta with yet another penalty-free jump-off ride. If the final American pair accumulated any faults, the team would slip into the silver medal position, and a clean ride would force the tie-breaker to be split by the composite time of all four contenders from each nation. After the drop score, Sweden was sitting on cumulative marks of 102.72 seconds after all four riders and the Americans’ clock had ticked to 68.09 seconds, allowing Ward and Clinta only 34.63 seconds in which to trip the timers.
Proving why he is a multi-time Olympic medalist and consistently one of the top riders on the globe, Ward dominated the track with Clinta, leaving the course intact and breaking the beam in a quick 32.58 seconds to clinch the gold medal, the first time in 32 years that the USA has won a gold medal in world championship competition. The last time was at the 1986 World Championships in Aachen, Germany, before the inception of the World Equestrian Games. The Swedish team settled for silver, an accomplishment in its own right considering the country has not won a medal in 16 years, and the team from Germany nabbed the bronze position.
The World Equestrian Games gold medal is just one in a long list of awards in the trophy case for Ward and Kraut, both having garnered multiple medals and standout results at the Olympic and international levels, with Ward recently claiming fourth place at the Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping Final. Ryan and Eddie Blue were catapulted into the limelight over the past year after winning the $216,000 Longines FEI World Cup Jumping New York CSI4*-W in fall 2017 and placing second at the Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping Final in France this spring. The youngest on the team and a newcomer to the world championships, Ward-trained Sternlicht and Cristalline will certainly consider Friday’s podium finish to be the highlight of their career and have added to their reputation as a formidable pair.
With the class doubling as the last chance to qualify for Sunday’s individual contest, Germany’s Blum and DSP Alice took full advantage of the opportunity with their second clean round of the series to emerge as the frontrunners. Austria’s Max Kühner and his own Chardonnay will begin Sunday in second position just half of a point behind Blum and DSP Alice, and they are trailed closely by Martin Fuchs and Luigi Baleri’s Clooney in third position. Lorenzo de Luca and Stephex Stables’ Irenice Horta of Italy captured fourth place individually, followed by USA’s Ward and Clinta in fifth position. One rail currently separates first from fifth place, meaning the individual top honors are still a possibility for riders further down the list. All four of the combinations from the home country as well as three of the Swedish partnerships earned a spot within the top 25 to be eligible for Sunday’s class, and will aim to overcome any fatigue lingering from two taxing rounds Friday. Interestingly enough, out of the top 15 riders advancing only two countries are represented twice – Germany and Switzerland.
Friday’s medal ceremony concludes team jumping competition, but the upper crust of individual pairs will return Sunday to the U.S. Trust Arena to ride up to twice more. Based on their showings over the initial three days of riding, the top 25 combinations that earned a slot will compete for one final day in an attempt to hoist the overall title of world champions.
FROM THE WINNER’S CIRCLE
Robert Ridland – U.S. Chef d’Equipe for the FEI World Equestrian Games™ Jumping
On the jump-off:
“It was unbelievable. This is our sport at its best. First off, the odds were miniscule that there would be a jump-off for first place when points go to 1/100th, but we did see that ahead of time. When we were looking at the points ahead of time we saw Sweden was lurking. We realized this was a possibility, as well as if tied for another medal how that tie was going to be broken. It wasn’t what we were looking for, but the sport doesn’t get any better than that. I think Adrienne said it best, “Let’s don’t wake up from this dream,” It’s unbelievable — this is what we do it for.”
On the team:
“For us, this journey really began when we started the selection procedure last June. At that time I felt and we all felt that we had a tremendous group of veteran and young riders and that if we can really prepare them through the lead up to this and test them with fire, whether it was young horses, young riders, veteran riders or young riders, that we had a good chance. I really believed we had that kind of depth. You don’t win the first day but you sure can lose it, but it’s the last day when you win it. I didn’t realize it at that time, but it was going to be really tough to win it on the last day!”
McLain Ward – FEI World Equestrian Games™ Jumping, gold medalist
On the jump-off:
“It’s been a long three or four days. It’s been a long summer and year. My hats go off to Sweden today in particular. I didn’t expect that charge to be that strong until the end
When they logged the third clear round of the day, I thought, ‘Oh boy we’re in trouble.’
I knew the situation going in, I knew the clear would win and I couldn’t have a time fault. Without giving too much detail, I had the liverpool down. There were two chances to try and win this thing and I’m very grateful to have such a great team also delivering such great scores. Laura was clutch today. I got a second opportunity to help our team win it.”
On Clinta’s first championship:
“She’s obviously an incredibly careful horse. I thought going into the jump-off I was going to do my best if I went in and did the best round I could. Sometimes, if you end up going just enough or halfway, you end up making a mistake. That was my approach. I know how much quality she has. And at that moment you have to do your best; that’s the only thing in front of you.”
On a jump-off before the individual final:
“Funny enough with Clinta it’s actually going to help, she so extremely careful and she had a rail down today because I was a bit far off the oxer, she went too high. To be able to go back in the ring and gallop along, gaining her confidence on the back rail I think will help her. She’s fit, she can handle the weather, but I’ve got some climbing to do and Simone doesn’t look like she makes too many mistakes so it’s an uphill battle.”
Laura Kraut – FEI World Equestrian Games™ Jumping, gold medalist
On winning a team gold medal:
“To be here in our own country and to win against such great competitors is amazing. It was hard fought all the way to the last rider. It is an amazing sport. Thanks to everyone here, Alan [Wade] and all of our supporters and owners. I’m going to brag. I think we have the best support system in the world for sure. They are incredible. For this opportunity at my age, it’s great. I still can’t believe it.”
Devin Ryan – FEI World Equestrian Games™ Jumping, gold medalist
On how he feels about the exciting results:
“There has been a lot of change for me in the last 12 months and Eddie proved himself. He is a super horse and I think all these people in the country have noticed that. It was certainly my break-through year; no one knew who I was. I have just been working my way up the ranks and building a business, developing some young horses. I have learned a lot along the road. I learned a lot today and this week. It was my first real championship. This year was my first year riding on a team for a horse sport. It’s a big difference and the team starts with my family, my owners, and all of these guys sitting on the stage with me.”
Adrienne Sternlicht – FEI World Equestrian Games™ Jumping, gold medalist
On her thoughts about winning a team gold medal:
“I have tears of joy. My best friends and family are here and I am just looking at them like, ‘What just happened?’ You really don’t want to be woken up from this dream. I love my horse so so much and to be able to do it with her and think about our partnership is so special. McLain has been the most unbelievable mentor for me, such an important part of my life. For me, it’s been a battle of overcoming my own mind and I’m so grateful that Robert [Ridland] trusted me and trusted McLain enough to put me on this team. To have been on a team with Laura, Devin and McLain, who are three riders that I have honestly looked up to my whole life for various reason, was an invaluable experience and I can only grow from this. I’m so grateful for this opportunity.”
Henrik Ankarcrona – Swedish Chef d’Equipe
On his thoughts on his team’s performance:
“I think it was slow! I’m super happy with my team. We said last night that there was a chance for a jump-off, we have to do clear rounds to get there. I must say we were prepared to go into a jump-off. We were mentally prepared, and we knew our competition would be really fast, so we’re going to have to do better than ever before, and I actually think we did it maybe better than ever before but today wasn’t enough.”
Fredrik Jonsson – FEI World Equestrian Games™ Jumping, silver medalist
On Cold Play:
“It’s his first championship so we were are on new ground. I don’t know how much I have left of him. He felt fresh today, did an okay jump-off except on the speed, it was slow there. But he comes nice, so hopefully he will stay as good as he did and I don’t mess it up for him. He will be okay for Sunday. I ended up seventh for Sunday, and I’m going to see what I have left.”
Otto Becker – German Chef d’Equipe
On his team’s bronze medal performance:
“I am very happy and I am totally happy with this team. We’ve been here as a team, we fight together as a team, and like you said with this young and inexperienced team to be here and win a medal with all these nations and all these riders. [It’s a] total compliment to my team and I am very happy to go all this way through this season. To get a medal it means a lot to me.
Simone Blum – FEI World Equestrian Games™ Jumping individual leader and German team bronze medalist
On her performance:
“I’m also really happy. It was a dream to win a team medal that came true now it’s unbelievable. Also it’s a dream to start on Sunday that I’m first position — it’s unreal for me but we have two more difficult rounds and we have to stay focused. My horse is jumping amazing here and I’m really happy to sit here and yes, I hope we will have good luck on Sunday. I was not wishing for the first position on Sunday and I have to fight on Sunday, it doesn’t matter how it will go on Sunday it was the best experience of my life.”
For full results, please click here.