By Gabrielle Scheder-Bieschin | Oct. 09, 2018, 10:48 p.m. (ET)

Mattie Hatcher competes in equestrian on Oct. 9, 2018 in Buenos Aires, Argentina. 

 

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina -- Team USA’s Mattie Hatcher earned the gold medal in team jumping today, coming together with other North American athletes for the mixed-nation event at the Summer Youth Olympic Games Buenos Aires 2018. The sole American equestrian in Buenos Aires, Hatcher teamed up with athletes from Honduras, Panama, Haiti and Mexico to earn the top spot – and gained some friends along the way.

Hatcher traveled all the way to Argentina to compete in the team event without having even met her teammates. Despite that, they have quickly become close. Thanks in part to Hatcher’s language skills – she took up to Spanish 3 Honors in high school – the equestrian has spent these early days of the Games chatting, training and spending time with her teammates.

“I had never met any of them before, but we get along so well. Every single night in the village, we hang out, and it’s really, really fun,” Hatcher said.

It is easy to see how close they have become. When Hatcher, the last competitor of the round, entered the course, her teammates sat closely together and collectively held their breaths. Her strong second-round performance propelled them from fourth place to qualify for the gold-medal jump-off, the show jumping equivalent of overtime. When her teammates heard the news, they leapt up to cheer and quickly rushed to congratulate Hatcher when she dismounted.

Though they may compete against each other in future days of the Games, today they came together across borders as one true team.

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Mixed-country events were introduced at the first Youth Olympic Games in 2010. They were created to encourage and emphasize the cultural exchange that can occur through sport. The Olympic values of friendship, excellence and respect are neatly embodied in these events, as athletes – who may usually only see each other while opponents – come together to compete at the highest levels in sports.

“It’s so much fun, way more fun than just doing it yourself, because you have a lot more support and people. It’s just awesome,” Hatcher said about her experience on the team.

Being able to join up with other equestrians, but also athletes from other sports, has been a highlight of the Games for her. “There’s 4,000 athletes here. Since I play two other sports – soccer and basketball – as well, it’s great getting to be around other athletes and to learn everybody’s mindset, how they deal with pressure in their sport.”

The learning experience paid off. After qualifying for the jump-off against Team Europe, Team North America’s chances at a gold medal once again came down to the last rider – Hatcher. With her teammates cheering her on, she earned the fastest ride of all 10 finalists, propelling the team to the top of the podium. Her teammates’ shouts of joy could be heard across the stadium.

Hatcher left the grounds today with a green ribbon on her horse and a gold medal in her hands, but perhaps it was the smile on her face as she celebrated with her new teammates and friends that should make her country – and continent – most proud.

“Today was so much fun,” she reflected when asked about competing at the Games. “I want to keep doing this.”

Fortunately for Hatcher, she will compete again – this time as an individual for Team USA – in the first round of the jumping individual event on Oct. 12.