Man, the Olympics is a lot. All the dressage, then the eventing, now the beginning of the showjumping… feels like we’ve been doing this for months, yet it’s also flying by. Well, the eventing felt like it flew by anyway. I have A LOT of thoughts about it all and maybe even a for-fun little blog hop tomorrow, but I wanted to jot down my biggest takeaways from the eventing competition.
First and foremost, how can you not be thrilled about Julia winning? No disrespect to Ollie or Tom but I was rooting like hell for Julia. With all she’s been through in the past few years and losing the ride on Chipmunk, then her top horse having to be retired… if a German was gonna win, I definitely was hoping it would be her (sorry Michi, love you 4ever). Plus, like, as a female in 2021, how freakin cool is it to FINALLY have a female gold medalist in eventing? Not to mention – would Julia have even been on the German team if Ingrid hadn’t gotten injured? Probably not. Her win was an awesome moment. She was my “human hero” pick of the games for sure. But how was she not absolutely shitting herself going into that final round of showjumping? I’d have needed a diaper and an oxygen machine. She’s got ice in her veins… well freakin done, Julia.
If I have to pick a “horse hero”, it’d be Vassily de Lassos hands down. What an impeccable career that horse has had, and he continued it with another impeccable performance in Tokyo. He was the only horse to finish on his dressage score even after two rounds of showjumping, which was enough to secure him bronze. Plus how can you not root for Andrew Hoy? Vassily’s XC round was absolutely brilliant, he’s absolutely everything a modern event horse should be. Fast, clever, ridiculously athletic, forward-thinking… his footwork and reaction time are second to none. It was really just a joy to watch. Too bad he’s not a mare.
Also, I feel like we need to talk about the French. I got so many messages from people saying they were surprised to see the French do well or surprised to see so many French horses. Guys, we can’t forget that the French won gold in Rio, right? Never ever count out the ever-so-sneaky French. They don’t compete as much outside of France so I think in a lot of ways they stay more “hidden” than the Brits or the Irish or even the Germans, but they’re a powerhouse and have been for a while now. As for their horses, Selle Francais is one of the top-ranked studbooks in the world, year after year, in both eventing and showjumping, and always has been. The performance of the French team in Tokyo was especially impressive I thought, considering this was really their “second string”, having lost their top heavy hitters in the past few months to injury. Their second string still managed to swoop in and secure team bronze. Also what I really love about them: they are just so very thoroughly FRENCH. 99% of the time it’s a French rider on a French-bred horse in all French tack, French equipment, French clothing, etc. VIVE LA FRANCE.
Speaking of French-bred horses, 6 of the top 7 horses were bred in France. That was some serious domination. As for some other quick stats: the average blood percentage of the top 10 was 59%, a bit higher than the field average of 55%. Additionally, 3 of the top 7 horses had a full blood dam – two TB, one AA. The horses under about 45% blood really did not fare well here overall. I was also delighted to see all 3 Jaguar Mails finish – what an accomplishment for a stallion (a French stallion, naturally).
I wish it could have been a tragedy-free games, but alas that was not to be with the loss of Jet Set. My thoughts on that are summed up really well here so I won’t even bother trying to say it any better.
As for the biggest competitive heartbreak, man I was sad for Japan. They’ve worked so hard and looked so good coming into these games, I was sure they’d get a medal. I actually gasped when Yoshi popped off of Calle 44 on cross country. What a shame to come so far and be in your home country. And then Kazuma Tomoto finishing 4th overall, just out of medal contention… soooo close, yet so far. Brilliant performance for Kazuma, but an overall bummer for Japan to go home with no medals.
As for the US – heavy sigh. Yes, it’s the best we’ve done since 2004 in that at least we actually finished a team this time (ouch), but it wasn’t exactly a great performance either. I could be in the minority here because I’ve seen a lot of other people saying they thought we did great, but… we were 41 points off GB and 24 points off the podium in general. That’s quite a lot. I also think we got lucky a few times: Boyd and Phillip both had near-misses on XC (there’s a point where “epic saves” really need to stop being a regular thing) and Vandiver looked pretty tired by time he crossed the finish. We added quite a few rails overall too. I just think that, as a country, we’re better than that. We’re definitely not GB-level good (lord they dominated everyone’s asses, didn’t they?) but we certainly have a plenty deep pool of talent and horses to where we should be showing better than that on the international stage. I would love to go back in time and make a couple substitutions to see how that played out, but alas, it is what it is. Will be interesting to see if anything was learned from it by the time the next WEG rolls around.
Last but not least, I wanna talk about MIMgate. You guys know that I am 100% for anything that increases safety on cross country. Frangible fences in particular. Love them. Add more. And there’s also no arguing that frangible technology prevented more than one nasty wreck at the Olympics. It did it’s job here for sure. However, the rail on the corner at 14 came down A LOT. Like… A LOT A LOT. Eight times, I think it was? We only saw it on the coverage a few of those times, and one was really legit – Ferroleus Lat would have been splat on the turf if not for that log dropping. However, there were also at least two times it came down where it really really shouldn’t have, and those two times had a big impact on the placings. First was Sam Watson and Tullabeg Flamenco – he gave it a decent thwack with a hind foot, but certainly nowhere near enough for it to have needed to come down to prevent an accident. The other time was Michi Jung, who by all accounts (it wasn’t shown on the NBC coverage but some screenshots have been circulating on social media) didn’t have the rail fall until he was several strides clear of the fence.
Now, this jump had the new yellow MIMclips in use, which can be activated with supposedly 70% of the force of the traditional red ones. There was an oxer near the beginning of the course that was using the red ones and that thing got absolutely WHALLOPED all day, yet I never saw it fall.
The bummer comes in the fact that there’s no room for removal of these penalties within the current rules. Back when this first started and the penalties were 21 for dropping a frangible, athletes were allowed to protest to have it reviewed and potentially have the penalties removed if it was deemed that the activated frangible did not prevent an accident. When it was changed to 11 this provision was removed, and now it simply states that if the fence is deformed, you get the 11. Period. Doesn’t matter how or why… rail drops = 11. My issue is that, if we now have a new clip that allows the rail to fall WAY more easily, it doesn’t seem fair to not allow potential removal. Especially with how easily we saw it fall a couple times here at Tokyo. I also think there needs to be some kind of integrity check in between horses if it does take any kind of impact. If it’s taking three (or however many) little hits that weaken it a bit each time but it’s only falling on the third teeny tiny hit, that’s a concern.
Like I said – I think the technology is greatly needed and 100% should be used, but I also think there needs to be a middle ground if we’re going to have fences that are so “light” to the touch. The last thing we want is people coming out here and picking their way around/showjumping up to every frangible fence… IMO that could be a safety issue in and of itself, not to mention totally outside of the point and purpose of the phase. I hope this is an issue that will get more traction and discussion in the coming months, and possibly some tweaks to the rule. At the end of the day I think rules should have two purposes: 1) safety/well-being 2) fairness of sport. If at all possible we should consider both of those things (which I think absolutely can be done in this case), and we saw some really unfair penalties here in Tokyo that made a big impact.
Thoughts on the eventing? Let me hear them!