Friday 19 August - 20h13 | Lulu Kyriacou
Skelton Wins Individual Gold
Nick Skelton, a rider who broke his neck at one point, riding a horse that has hardly jumped for two years after a series of injuries, today won Great Britain's second equestrian gold medal. At 58 years old, this was not his first Olympic Games but it is certainly the most memorable as Skelton won his country's first Olympic individual showjumping medal for over 40 years. It is the first time ever that great Britain has won individual gold in the show jumping and Skelton is the oldest winner of a British medal in any sport since 1908!!
35 riders from16 countries lined up to represent their countries in the Individual Show jumping Final, eight of those countries with the maximum three riders. 35 would go through to a second round with a further jump off to decide the medals if required. Guilherme Jorge's 12 fence course had an 80 second time allowed which seemed generous after previous rounds but the fences were massive. A double at four was followed by the return of the open water at five and a line of related verticals to finish. The last of which had a sand coloured top rail which made it harder for the horses to see. To the delight of the British, the first clear went to Nick Skelton and Big Star but as they were only the third to jump, chances are there would be a few more to join him. And those on zero soon included World and Olympic Champion Jeroen Dubbeldam (Zenith), defending Olympic Champion Steve Guerdat (Nino des Buissonnets), leading lady Edwina Tops Alexander (Lintea Tequila) , Christian Ahlmann (Taloubet Z) and Roger Yves Bost (Sydney Une Prince) hoping to make it a another French celebration. Sydney Une Prince has not so far touched a fence. Peder Fredrickson (All In) was there, another not to have a single jumping fault but so was last to go Eric Lamaze, whose Fine Lady had not even scored a time fault. Eventually there were 13 clear rounds and two with time faults and surely the winners could come from those although all the four fault rounds qualified. Only the Germans and the Swiss had more than one totally clear round, both having two each.
Amongst the riders who didn't make the cut was Meredith Michaels Beerbaum who missed her stride completely on Fibonacci at the very first fence and then having jumped the next plain fence, sensibly retired, having had the odd issue in the past with this extravagant horse after losses of confidence.
The second round course was entirely changed. The combination now included two huge oxers, followed by a third on a related distance round a turn. The triple bar was now part of a double and the time was tighter, 68 seconds. Luciana Diniz (Fit for Fun) made up slightly for her last fence mistake in the first round by jumping clear as firs to go but if anyone thought it was easy, the next in score a whopping faults and then the news came that Harrie Smolders had withdrawn Emerald so the Dutch would be relying on Jeroen Dubbledam for a realistic chance of a medal. Ben Maher was next for the British but Tic Tac could not reproduce his earlier good four fault round and left the arena adding another 13 to his total. Thereafter the faults were made all over the enormous course. And the track was huge. The triple bar was maximum 190m wide and 1.60 high on the back rail. There were other clears, Pedro Veniss , Doda de Miranda for Brasil and McLain Ward for America from those carrying four faults but the medals were almost certainly going to come from a double clear. The time was not unreasonable but you had to push one, time faults were going to be costly here. First double jumping clear went to Argentina's Matias Albarracin who added just another time fault to his first round total on Canavaro.
Jump off thrills
British hearts were then in their mouths as the first of the 13 clears from the first round came in, Nick Skelton, was aiming to be the first Brit to win an individual show jumping medal since 1972. But Big Star was up to the task and took the lead with the fist completely clean sheet. But it didnt go quite so well for some of the others. Jeroen Dubbeldam left all the fences up on Zenith but had a time penalty, continuing the Dutch miserable week. Edwina Alexander changed her mind into the triple bar and paid the price. Martin Fuchs (Clooney) clattered through an upright. Christian Ahlmann hit the last double and the German chances evaporated when First Class belted out a upright for Daniel Duesser. Sydney une Prince made her first mistake of the competition at the same fence to end French dreams of a golden double for Roger Yves Bost
Inevitably almost, it was the defending champion Steve Guerdat who forced a jump off, riding the most beautifully judged round on Nino. They were joined by an absolutely over joyed Sheik Ali Al Thani and First Devision and it was not long before Kent Farrington joined the jump off band on the super consistent Voyeur. Peder Fredrickson took the mantle of Sweden's favourite with yet another clear on All In and just to make the jump off extra spicy, the 2008 champion Eric Lamaze was the last to make the line up with another faultless horse, Fine Lady to give us a six horse jump off for the medals.
First to go, over a changed course, was Nick Skelton and he was clear in a fast time of 42.82 so the others would all have to go for it and be brave. The title defence was over when Nino des Buisonettes and Steve Gurdat removed the rail on top of the planks at the fist fence. SheiK Al Thani did not look to be going for the time when First Devision hit the upright coming out of the double. Three left to go...... Kent Farrington and Voyeur simply flew but they had made exactly the same mistake as Guerdat. Peder Fredrickson has not had a single rail on All in this week and finished without having one but his clear round was slower 43.33..... Only one horse and rider stood between Skelton and a Gold medal. Another who had not touched a pole all week and a formr Olympic Champion to boot. But Lamaze turned too tight into an oxer and it was all over. Skelton was the champion and what a result for his long time owner Beverley Widdowson, who also owns Michael Whitakers horse.
Afterwards a clearly emotional Skelton said
"It's unbelievable, I am almost speechless, well for me anyway. Big Star was amazing, he was unlucky the first couple of days but actually in London it was the other way round so this worked better. It has been a tough road, the last time the horse won was a Grand Prix in Aachen in 2013, so the last three years have been so up and down. I knew if I got him right he was capable but he hasn't been sound for a lot of that. He is the best horse I have ever ridden, and I knew if I got him right , he could do it. Big Star is so clever, he knows what day it is and what is going on and he is so rideable, you can put pressure on him and he can take it. As for the jump off, I prefer to go first, the horse is naturally fast although didn't get the best turn to the last as he locked up on me a bit, it worked in my favour as if he hadn't, I wouldn't have got such a good shot. I knew I had gone quick but not stupid, so the pressure was on the others. As for an eighth Olympics for me and a third for him well, I don't think so but who knows."
At the press conference Sketon hinted that retirement might not be far off when he said that when Big Star stopped he would stop. Skelton has been at the top of British showjumping now for the best part of 40 years so you could hardly blame him!
Peder Fredrickson, former event rider who was based with Mark Todd at one point has already tasted Olympic podium success with the Swedish team who won the solver for show jumping in Athens in 2004. This is his first individual medal in either discipline. Bronze medallist Lamaze not only won an individual Gold at the 2008 Games but also led the Canadian team to a silver medal. It was over 40 years since the Canadian's last team medal, when they won gold in Mexico.
The full result is here https://www.rio2016.com/en/equestrian-jumping-individual-jump-off