GREENWICH, England – It was a rough day for the U.S. equestrian team on Tuesday as the three-day “eventing” competition concluded with show jumping in a vast open-air arena down the hill from the Royal Observatory, the home of the prime meridian (or zero longitude) where Greenwich Mean Time is set.
In the morning, before the royal family arrived to cheer the Queen’s granddaughter Zara Phillips, the U.S. team took a big hit when one of its top riders, Boyd Martin, withdrew his horse for heath reasons. Martin suspected that his horse, Otis Barbotiere, had sprained his front ankle on Monday in the cross-country race (the second portion of the three-part event). As a result, Martin did not jump so his score didn’t contribute to the team tally.
“We thought he was improving this morning,” Martin said of the bay gelding. “He looked okay …but… he was pretty sore. It was in Otis' best interest to withdraw him.”
And with that, what little room the U.S. team had for errors was gone. Before the withdrawal, the U.S. had been fifth among 13 teams.
The team with the fewest cumulative penalties after dressage, cross-country, and show jumping would win. Each team had five riders but only its top three scores counted.
And while the remainder of the U.S. squad featured five-time Olympians Karen O’Connor, 54, and Philip Dutton, 48, it also included two Olympic rookies, Tiana Coudray, 23, and William Coleman, 29.
When Tuesday’s team finale began, O’Connor jumped all 12 obstacles cleanly on Mr. Medicott. Dutton had two knock-downs, an uncharacteristic refusal, and a time penalty aboard Mystery Whisper but the U.S. had to use Dutton’s score because it was the second-best on the team. Coleman also jumped cleanly but he carried over a large penalty from cross-country on his 16-year-old horse Twizzel – and that counted as the third score.
In the end, the U.S. placed seventh, matching its result from four years ago in Beijing. It was only the fourth time in 12 tries that the U.S. didn’t earn an Olympic medal since the team event was added to the Games in 1964.
Germany won gold, followed by Great Britain, and New Zealand.
Princess Anne presented the medals – including one to her daughter, Zara. And now the 31-year-old joins both parents in Olympic equestrian history. Zara’s father, Captain Mark Phillips, earned silver and gold for Great Britain in the 1988 and 1972 team eventing and was working at the London Games as the chef d’equipe for the U.S. eventing team. Princess Anne competed in the 1976 Montreal Games in the same event.
Also on Tuesday, Dutton and O’Connor competed in the individual eventing discipline. Scores from the team event were carried over into an additional round of jumping. O’Connor placed ninth and Dutton was 23rd overall.
Yet the veteran duo sounded non-committal about the prospect of becoming six-time Olympians like Mary King who helped Britain earn the team silver on Tuesday.
“I’ll continue until someone pulls me aside and says ‘You’re getting too old for this,’” O’Connor said, “– and that hasn’t happened yet.”
Dutton, who was visibly dejected after the team event, said simply, “We’ll see.”
Aimee Berg is a freelance contributor for TeamUSA.org. This story was not subject to the approval of the United States Olympic Committee or any National Governing Bodies.