TORONTO -- Team USA led through the first two days of both the individual and team eventing competitions, but the equestrians knew their work wasn’t done yet.
The quartet knew that qualification for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games was on the line.
The three-day competition culminated with a team eventing gold medal for Team USA’s Phillip Dutton on Fernhill Fugitive, Lauren Kieffer on Meadowbrooks Scarlett, Boyd Martin on Pancho Villa, and Marilyn Little on RF Scandalous. Little also took home an additional gold as she won the individual eventing title.
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On Friday, the U.S. took on the dressage portion of the competition, where it ended the day on a score of 133 to rank first, but in a tight race with Canada.
After a stellar penalty-free cross-country performance Saturday, Team USA maintained its position atop the leaderboard.
Little’s performance would catapult her into second place in the individual competition.
In the third of three tests, the athletes would take on show jumping. The course, designed by Canadian Michel Vaillancourt, had a time limit of 148 seconds and featured 14 challenging obstacles.
Phillip Dutton went first for the Americans, and, with only one rail (four faults), finished the competition on a cumulative score of 52.40.
Immediately after him was Team USA’s Lauren Kieffer, who went clear to finish her competition on her dressage score of 48.40.
American Boyd Martin took the lead in the individual competition with no faults on his dressage score of 44.30.
"I've been in this bracket 20 years and have never gotten a medal,” Martin said. “This is my first medal. We had to fight for it pretty hard so it's a very rewarding feeling. I've been trying for this for a long time and I finally got it."
By the time it was Little’s turn to compete, she knew she needed to jump clean to win individual gold. The situation set Little up for the storybook finish she had always dreamed of.
Little completed her run fault free, also finishing the competition on her dressage score of 40.30.
The Americans secured the gold in both the team and individual competitions and earned a berth at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. The U.S. squad was the only team to add no penalties in the second and third phases of the event, ending on the score of 133, compared to Brazil's 140.70.
“You think about all of the hard moments you’ve had and all of the people who helped get you there,” Little said as she fought back tears. “You only get to stand up there once and I’m the only person standing up there.”
"Obviously it's about qualifying for Rio but we wanted to come here and win and that's what happened,” Martin said. “It's been a bit of a tough road for American eventing but I think everyone has stuck to the principles to try and get better in the sport and get better horses and for the riders to ride better.”
“Then you’re listening to the same anthem you’ve listened to since you were a child and hope that one day it will be playing for you,” Little said. “So on the day that it does, it’s hard not to cry.”