The 27-year old Charlotte Dujardin has written history today by winning the Kur to Music individual finals at the 2012 Olympic Games at Greenwich Park in London, obtaining perpetual glory and her second gold medal in two days time. Aboard Carl Hester and Roly Luard's 10-year old Dutch warmblood gelding Valegro Dujardin won the freestyle with an Olympic record score. The silver went to Dutch Adelinde Cornelissen while Briton Bechtolsheimer rose as a phoenix from the ash to earn bronze.
Dujardin's individual gold was a dream scenario come true in Greenwich where the 23,000 counting sell-out crowd celebrated her victory with a standing ovation and roars of exaltation. As last rider to go on the day, Charlotte eclipsed Cornelissen's whopping 88.196% which seemed very hard to beat when it flashed on the score board and which had created an almost full four percentage gap with third placed Laura Bechtolsheimer.
Riding to a brand new Tom Hunt arranged freestyle which could easily be titled "Gloria Britannia", Dujardin played with the emotions of the crowds while her dark bay gelding Valegro obediently danced to the choppily arranged and musically disconnected tunes of Elmer Bernstein's The Great Escape, Paul McCartney & Wings' Live and Let Die, and Edward Elgar's Pomp and Circumstance March "Land of Hope and Glory". The starting piaffe and passage, which sweetly matched The Great Escape, was soft and nice but lacked some boldness. The extended trots were phenomenal and the half passes had major cross over. The collected and extended walk were well ridden. The two tempi's on a curved line upped the degree of difficulty as well as the passage half passes followed by trot half passes in the opposite direction. The double pirouettes were nicely on the spot. Charlotte delivered a very secure ride which missed some sparkle but excelled in harmony. The horse was up in the bridle and the contact was consistent and steady even though the left snaffle rein was once again tighter. The only small hiccup in the test came at the end when Dujardin rode a transition from extended canter to a piaffe pirouette. Valegro struggled to find the rhythm.
The distinguished panel of judges, which included Tornblad (DEN), Ernes (NED), Roudier (FRA), Clarke (GBR), Alonso (MEX), Eisenhardt (GER) and Rockwell (GER) scored the ride with a record mark of 90.089% which was quite excessive, yet well earned. Six out of seven judges had Dujardin first, Dutch judge Ernes had her second with 89.125%, only a fraction lower than his score for Cornelissen (89.625%).
Dujardin helped bring Team Great Britain's gold medal tally to 25 on Thursday 9 August 2012 and wrote history for British Dressage. "That was unbelievable," said an emotional Charlotte. "It is always something I've known the horse could achieve but actually doing it is something else. I didn't really know how I was going to find the atmosphere and the expectation. Not many people are going to have the chance that I've had to get to the Olympics in a year and a bit of competing in grand prix and to come here with such a fantastic horse like Valegro and win doesn’t feel real. All I could do was to do my best. Valegro was feeling tired, but he got in there and gave his all. He’s never let me down; he’s the horse of a lifetime.”
With trainer Carl competing two rides before her, Charlotte had to warm-up Valegro herself. "I've ridden the horse since he was five and trained (so much) with Carl on the floor. I'm pretty confident with the horse. If I haven't learnt anything by now, I need shooting," she joked. "I had him (Carl) in my mind what he would be telling me through the movements."
When asked why that small issue happened at the end of her test, Charlotte replied that is was "greenness and tiredness. He misunderstood me. He's 10 years old and given me three amazing rides. I couldn't have asked for anything more from him."
Charlotte and Team GB are going to celebrate their victory with a special boat ride on the Thames. "We might drown," she said. "Friends and family have organized it. It's going to be fantastic. Everbody is coming on, the whole team."
Cornelissen Mines for Silver
Dutch double World Cup Champion and 2011 European Champion mined for gold in the freestyle but discovered individual silver. Aboard her 15-year old Dutch warmblood gelding Parzival (by Jazz x Ulft), the cheerful Dutch rider did nothing else than what we are used of her: she rode on the edge, with tunnel focus and totally unnerved by her surroundings. Cornelissen is a goal getter and makes no mistakes on her path. It was no different today.
Riding to an unaltered version of her almost three year old Nutcracker freestyle, arranged by David Kox and Olaf Ramak of Pyntago, Cornelissen executed a fresh, energetic and expressive test. Parzival had tons of bounce in the piaffe and passage, forwardness in the extensions and ground cover in the half passes, but correctness and purity of gaits got lost in translation. In piaffe and passage the horse was croup high and pulled his hocks up instead of taking the weight on the hindquarters. In the trot extensions the hind legs were more out than under and unfortunately today the contact was very strong again with the horse having a gaping mouth throughout the test. The tempo and rhythm of the piaffe-passage were super and the walk tour was very well ridden. The highlight of the test were as usual the straight, uphill flying changes and very little can be remarked on Adelinde's precise riding of the floorplan of her kur.
The judges' panel awarded the test with a very high 88.196% which cleft an abyss with the rest of the scores earned by the other 16 competitors. This Red Sea between the Dujardin/Cornelissen and the others was a bit exaggerated and unrepresentative of their close performance level.
While the Dutch delegation and its media felt robbed of gold, Cornelissen remained gracious and a true athlete respecting her defeat. "I'm happy with silver and super happy with the excellent shape Parzival is in," she commented. "I did everything to win and in my opinion I rode a super accurate test. Let's be clear, I very much wanted to win gold, but my world hasn't collapsed now that it is silver. I'm very happy with the second place. Throughout my ride Parzival was attentive, which made him very sharp and engaged. We didn't make mistakes. Dressage is and will stay a judging sport and maybe the Brits had home advantage. I will analyse the rides in all quietness at home and then we'll talk again."
Cornelissen's controversial path to Olympic selection made many doubt about the fitness of her horse. The Beilen based rider only had to show fitness at a small show in Ermelo to obtain team selection. "I made quite a different planning everybody else expected me to do," she explained. "Then they started having questions if you do something different. I was making, for me, the best plan possible for him. It worked out."
When asked why the Brit was first and the Dutch second, Stephen Clarke, president of the ground jury and kur judge at C, hit the nail on the head and showed that the judges look for what dressage is truly about. "The first two horses certainly were very close," Clarke said. "The impression we had was that Adelinde had huge power and expression and for us there could have been more lightness and self-carriage. The horse crosses its jaw, which took down the harmony mark a touch. Charlotte had more self-carriage, not quite as much power and expression in piaffe and passage. One had more power, the other more harmony and self-carriage. Our decision was for the harmony."
Bechtolsheimer's Mistral Rises from the Ashes
Laura Bechtolsheimer and her 17-year old routinier Mistral Hojris (by Michellino x Ibsen) rose from the ashes like a phoenix and found his old confident form back in the freestyle. Moving to a Nicole Penzig arranged kur based on music from The Lion King, the boldly going chestnut gelding rediscovered his old metronomical rhythm and spring in piaffe and passage and stayed up in the bridle in the large half passes. The extended walk was slightly tense and only had two hooves overstep. The canter extensions were strong, the double pirouettes excellent and the canter zig zag beautiful. A mistake crept into the two tempi's but the ones were good. With Mistral moving back with full expression and power, the contact with the bit became more inconsistent and Bechtolsheimer returned to strong half-halting to bolster Mistral's energy.
The judges rewarded the test with 84.303% and all seven judges were pretty much in unison on her scores. For Laura the kur was an emotional ride as she gasped for breath, covered her mouth and tried to control her tears after the end halt.
"I was very emotional. Alf's got better and better each time he had been in the ring here. He has so much power, energy and enthusiasm for what he does," Laura explained. "The changes are tricky to get right with him. I wanted to enjoy the freestyle in front of so many spectators and fans. He gave me a very special ride. To be on the podium again, it was huge for us. Finally I had done him justice."
Bechtolsheimer is uncertain whether she should retire her fit 17-year old gelding. "He may or may not do another championships." Laura told British Dressage that "he's 17 years old and he's given me so much. To compete against these young horses with such enthusiasm makes me very emotional."
Laura had German Helen Langehanenberg right on her heels, who finished fourth with a fraction of a point less (84.303%). The German's scores, however, differed more greatly between the judges with 79.750% as low score (Tornblad - 5th) and 86.875% as high score (Eisenhardt - 3rd). Aboard Christian Becks' Westfalian licensed stallion Damon Hill (by Donnerhall x Rubinstein), Helen rode her Michael Erdmann composed kur. The horse appeared much better in the contact today though the elastic liver chestnut stallion still tends to dip behind the vertical, especially in piaffe.
Langehanenberg rode big buoyant passage work and showed super balance and self-carriage in the trot movements. The extensions were ground covering and had real lengthening of the frame. In the second piaffe the horse lost the rhythm. The walk was oustanding and one change in the two tempi's appeared a bit short behind. Although Damon Hill needs to improve on the regularity of rhythm in piaffe, the Westfalian excels in his zero tension and swing in the body, especially in canter. The final piaffe was very good.
"Helen had a very unfortunate resistance in one of the piaffes, where the horse really lost the rhythm," judge Clarke explained. "That took down very high scores that were given." Langehanenberg finished second at the 2012 World Cup Finals in Den Bosch, where the stallion showed the best form of the season so far.
Carl Hester, the Master Beaten
British Carl Hester, who was a double silver medallist at the 2011 European Championships, did not return to the podium and saw the student beating the master as he finished fifth aboard Sasha Stewart's Dutch warmblood stallion Uthopia (by Metall x Inspekteur) with a 82.857% score.
Hester premiered a brand new Tom Hunt freestyle which contained a string of snippets from movies, including The Last of the Mohicans, and a very tongue-in-cheek ending to God Save the Queen. Musically the freestyle was not at all coherent, but it certainly sounded better than his 2011 Rotterdam kur. The canter music was too dramatic for the petite, lightfooted Uthopia. The kur was probably the lesser performance of the black stallion's three tests at the Olympics. Uti apeared without fuel in the tank and lacked expression and engagement in piaffe and passage, even though the horse was always very light in the contact. There was a mistake in the ones and a loss of impulsion in a pirouette left. Uthopia was very submissive and excelled in his strong side, the trot extensions. He travelled well in the half passes in trot and canter, but at the end of the test the horse fell apart in the final piaffe and passage.
Hester scored 82.857% but his marks differed from 79.625% (Tornblad - 7th) to 85.125 (Roudier - 4th). "To have our three riders in the top five is an absolute bomb to the rest of the world. I’m so excited for Charlotte and Laura as the new generation of British riders, securing the future of the sport by delivering at the top level," an altruistic Hester told British Dressage. "I feel equally as happy as if I’d won gold myself, being trainer to Charlotte and part owner to Valegro, nurturing this talent has given me great pleasure."
Nine Above 80%
Since the coming of Totilas in 2009 the sport of dressage has changed in the fact that higher scores are now more easily given to the world's best horses. At the 2012 Olympic Games nine horses scored above 80%, while four years ago at the 2008 Games in Hong Kong, Anky van Grunsven rode a winning Kur score of 82.400% as sole rider to crack the 80% barrier.
Four years later the now 18-year old Salinero finished sixth in the freestyle with 82.000%. Something magical happens when Anky rides a freestyle. If she can pick her own floorplan and put music to it, the rider thrives on her Hanoverian gelding (by Salieri x Lungau). However in London the mileage showed on Salinero and even though the muscled gelding looked the best he did this year, the hindlegs no longer carry as much weight and do not step under properly. Nevertheless, Anky's London kur was pleasing to the eye with the canter zig zag, trot half passes and tiny double pirouettes as top scoring movements in the test. In piaffe and passage the horse was behind the vertical and Salinero never truly relaxed in walk, nor in the two non-existant halts. With her final salute, van Grunsven ended an era aboard Salinero, who has been competing at Grand Prix level since 2003. The gelding will now be retired to the field and ridden only for fun.
"All riders today did a fantastic job. It was so exciting for us," said judge Clarke. "To be able to give high marks easily is a wonderful experience for all the judging panel. As you can see from the results, we were very close together through most of the competition."
Text and Photos by Astrid Appels - No reproduction allowed
Eurodressage On the Scene at the 2012 Olympic Games