Europe clinch team gold at equestrian thanks to ‘lazy’ Abel
Filip Agren (SWE) punched the air in delight after his two clear rounds on "lazy" Abel clinched the gold medal for Europe in the show jumping team competition.
The scenes were equally wild after Agren’s faultless performance at the Xinzhuang Equestrian Venue made sure of first place with one rider still to go.
“He likes the big stage,” Agren said of his mount. “I thought in the warm-up my horse was a bit lazy but when I came into the ring he was like ‘this is really fun’.
“I didn’t think my horse was the one that would do a double clear. He is a little bit old and done shows before, a long time ago, and I think he has good memories.”
Europe’s team of Agren, Michael Duffy (IRL), Jake Saywell (GBR), Matias Alvaro (ITA) and Lisa Nooren (NED) started favourites and held off a fine challenge from South America to finish on a total of zero penalties.
Third was North America, nicknamed Guti’s angels after Chef d’Equipe Gustavo Diaz (GUA) was put in charge of an all-female group.
Polly Serpell (CAY), Macarena (ECU), Sabrina Rivera Meza (ESA), Stefanie Brand (GUA) and Maria Gabriela Brugal (DOM) finished on eight penalty points.
“We are all girls, so it’s girl power,” laughed Serpell, who was competing at Nanjing 2014 on a universality place.
The European team was far more experienced and showed it. Alvaro started the second round for Europe and had his hands full controlling mount Montelini, who turned into a bucking bronco seconds before starting.
“He had the adrenaline but that was good,” Alvaro said. “It made him concentrate and then he had the power.”
Alvaro duly delivered his second clear of the competition too and was matched by Duffy. By the time Agren arrived, the foundations had been put in place and another clear round would clinch gold.
“What a feeling. We were standing watching and went crazy, whistling and punching the air,” Duffy said.
Saywell added: “I felt the pressure as well. When he cleared the last fence and gave it the kind of ride he gave, it was fantastic.”
The 30 riders are split into six groups under different continents, with the two worst scores from each team discarded in each of the two rounds.
The event is considered a true test of rider, who has to form an instant bond on a borrowed horse.
Not surprisingly, some athletes struggled on the impressive course which was designed by Australian Ian Vallance, and featured Olympic-themed jumps, including one with two NanjingLELE mascots on each side.
It looked like South African Alexa Stais’ mount Dominand was not entirely comfortable with NanjingLELE, but Stais had a different explanation after finishing on 12 faults for the Africa team.
“He is scared of the crowd that side, I don’t know why, I think it’s because it is a little bit darker on that side. There is a lot of camera clicks down on that side too,” she said.
Stais was not the only one to find the course challenging. Lilia Maamar's (MAR) horse Figaro refused the fourth fence and, clearly unsettled, demolished the Lele jump and clipped the final one to tot up 16 faults.
Then there was Igor Kozubaev (KGZ) of Asia on the aptly named Fever, who broke into a sweat in the warm-up ring and, clearly spooked, refused at the first and then did it again at the sixth to be eliminated.