PALGRAVE, Ontario -- In a rollercoaster of a day that saw the U.S. show jumping team in sixth place halfway through team competition at the Pan American Games, U.S. riders faced long odds for gold but managed to pull together a spotless second round to seal hard-earned bronze medals that seemed just as sweet.
In an arena full of roaring Canadian fans with a field of 10 teams all vying for podium spots and, for most, the chance to represent their country at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, tension was at an all-time high. The U.S. was breathing easily, having already secured its bid for the Games by virtue of a third-place finish at the 2014 World Equestrian Games in Normandy, France. Olympic host nation Brazil was the only other team in the field with its Olympic spot already secured.
Members of the qualifying team, riders Kent Farrington and McLain Ward entered the Pan American Games ranked third and fifth in the world by FEI jumping rankings, with fellow teammates Lauren Hough and Georgina Bloomberg also ranking in the top 50.
With a team that included two-time Olympic champion Ward and first-time championship jumper Georgina Bloomberg, the Pan American Games were an opportunity to showcase the breadth of talent in the U.S. program. In addition, according to Farrington, having already qualified for Rio meant that the Pan Ams would serve as a perfect setting to get in some much-needed experience before the Olympics.
“I brought a younger horse here,” said Farrington of his 9-year old Belgian warmblood Gazelle, who was competing in her first Nations Cup-format competition. “This is the biggest she’s ever seen in this kind of setting.”
The Pan Ams also marked Georgina Bloomberg’s first time representing Team USA in a major, multi-sport competition. Bloomberg has had a strong 2015 season to date, highlighted by a double-clear performance at the FEI Nations Cup in Ocala, Florida, in February, helping the U.S. show jumping team to a second-place finish.
“It was incredible,” said Bloomberg when asked how it felt to represent Team USA at the Pan Ams. “To come here was a huge honor, to be a part of this team. I couldn’t pick three people I’d rather be on a team with.”
In the opening round of competition, clear rounds were hard to come by for all of the riders. Ward and Rothchild were the first American competitors in the arena, finishing with one rail for four faults. Hough (riding Ohlala) and Bloomberg (riding Lilli) followed with the same finish, while the last rider of the round, Farrington finished with five total faults (one rail and one time fault).
“We all made one mistake in the first round and we all got punished for it,” said Bloomberg citing the four unlucky rails the U.S. suffered in the opening round.
Standing in sixth position on a score of 12 entering the second round, the U.S. team needed a bit of luck and its very best effort to land on the podium. Hometown team Canada, anchored by “Captain Canada” Ian Millar, entered Round 2 tied with Brazil for third place on a score of six, while Colombia and Argentina led the way on scores of one and two.
In the second round, all four U.S. riders completed the course with clear rounds to remain at 12. Hanging on every jump as the final riders completed the course, Team USA’s second-round effort proved to be just enough to propel the athletes into medal position, ultimately taking the bronze medal behind Canada and Argentina.
“We’re happy to medal, but this wasn’t the medal we came here for,” said Chef d’Equipe Robert Ridland.
“Each round of Round 1 was one extremely minor error. There was not one single major error. It’s pretty simple what you do (to come back from that), you duplicate everything you did in the first round and just fix that one problem and that’s exactly what happened. They were brilliant in the second round.”
After the Pan American Games, the U.S. show jumping team will focus its attention on Rio. Selection of team show jumping riders to represent the U.S. at the 2016 Olympic Games will begin in April. U.S. Equestrian Federation will compile a short list of 10 athletes based upon rankings, 2016 World Cup Final performances and other criteria, from which four athletes and horses, plus one traveling reserve athlete and/or horse will be elected to the U.S. Olympic Show Jumping Team.