LIMA, Peru – On the morning of the team and individual eventing final, with Olympic spots on the line and the U.S. with the lead, team physician Mark Hart received a phone call. The cardiologist’s heart skipped a beat.
Putting down his phone, Hart got in a car, drove to the nearest veterinarian and bought the equipment he needed. He returned to the team’s warm-up area, suture in hand, and got to work.
Within the hour, Lynn Symansky’s riding shoe was fixed, 20 blue stiches sealing the back of her boot where a zipper had broken free. She and her teammates could now return their focus to the task at hand: earning Olympic spots for the U.S. eventing team.
They did exactly that, in near flawless form.
Team USA captured a Pan American Games gold medal, securing a team quota spot and three individual quota spots for the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020. With the pressure to perform hanging over their heads like the winter mist in Lima, Peru, Team USA could now breathe easy
“It’s a big relief. We all worked very, very hard,” 2016 Olympian Boyd Martin, who also captured a gold medal in the individual event, said. “There was a lot of pressure coming here. We were under the gun and I think we all stepped up.”
Entering the final day of competition with the lead, Team USA executed four clear rounds in the jumping event, completing the course without a single error. With a 91.20-point total, the U.S. edged out Brazil by 30.90 points for the team gold medal.
Symansky’s clear jumping round also earned her the silver medal in individual, though it wasn’t without drama. Midway through her round, her horse, RF Cool Plays, clipped a rail, emitting an audible ring that echoed throughout the venue. After several tenuous wobbles, the rail stayed put, keeping Symnasky’s clear round intact.
“Oh, I heard the rail tip,” she said with a smile. “But not only that, I heard the [crowd’s] gasp too afterwards. You can’t let something like that rattle you or it all comes apart. So, you’ve got to keep breathing, keep going, stay relaxed and hope it all works out in your favor.”
Team USA kept their composure throughout the three-day competition despite several hair-raising moments. Entering the second day of competition in first place thanks to a near flawless dressage routine, Tamie Smith received 34 penalty points in the cross country event, knocking her down to 17th place. She would finish the individual competition in 17th, while Team USA’s fourth member, Doug Payne, placed fourth.
The U.S. team members credited their collective friendship and prior competition experience for their poise throughout the Pan American Games. Two team members, Martin and Symansky, are Games veterans, having competed in 2015 and 2011, respectively.
“It’s a group of people that know each other already, and I think we all get along really well,” Symansky said. “It makes the pressure environment easier when you have a group that supports each other, even when things don’t go according to plan.”
“I’ve seen how much work these guys have put into this, how much it means to them,” team coach and chef d’ equipe Eril Duvander said. “So, to execute like this, I couldn’t ask for a better ending. I thoroughly believe they deserve all the medals hanging around their necks.”
Team USA its hoping to repeat its Pan American Games performance in Tokyo. When asked what his goals are for the summer of 2020, Payne answered with a single word and a smile.
“Gold,” he said.