FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
By Nancy Jaffer
Caen, France, September 4, 2014 -- The Hermes U.S. show jumping team was aiming for the gold medal at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games, but at the end of three days of tight competition today, winning the bronze was both a memorable achievement and a relief.
U.S. riders McLain Ward, Kent Farrington, Beezie Madden and rookie Lucy Davis waved to the crowd in a packed d'Ornano Stadium after receiving their medals, reaching over to congratulate the winning Dutch squad and the silver-medal French--who elicited deafening cheers from the hometown crowd.
The Dutch had 12.83 penalties to 14.08 for the French and 16.72 for the United States. As it often does, the chance to stand on the podium came down to a perfect pressure performance by Madden on Abigail Wexner's amazing Cortes C. Not only did she need to jump clear, but she also needed to stay within the tight 80-second time allowed. A single time penalty would have ended the team's medal quest.
Left to Right: McLain Ward, Beezie Madden, Lucy Davis, Kent Farrington and Robert Ridland
Photo Credit: Nancy Jaffer
Madden achieved both goals, enabling the team to secure its prize by 0.10 penalties over hard-charging Germany, and putting herself first in the individual standings.
After a quick look at the clock and a pat and hug for Cortes as she left the arena, Madden was back to being Madden--the ultimate professional, calm and quiet. She was all business on course but admitted to relaxing after crossing the finish line.
"Finally, it felt like fun," she said with a smile.
While her task might have daunted others, being aboard Cortes, a 12-year-old Belgian Warmblood, assured her it was doable.
"I have so much confidence in my horse," she said. "He can jump a vertical, he can jump an oxer, he jumps liverpools. There's nothing I look at and say, "Oh, I don't know if he can do that."
Madden jumped three perfect rounds since Tuesday, giving her the lead in the rankings for Saturday's competition that will include the top-30 riders.
Ward and Farrington are also in that group, which will be trimmed to the "Final Four" who will compete for the medals on Sunday, riding their own horse over a course and then riding each of their rivals' mounts as the WEG comes to a close.
There were many nervous moments before the team was assured it would take part in the medal ceremony.
After the second day of jumping on Wednesday, the United States was in the silver-medal position, and France was fourth, but the top countries all posed a threat.
Things got tense when Ward's mount, Rothchild, ticked the front rail of the second fence, a wide oxer, and it came down for 4 faults. Then Farrington, on Voyeur, toppled a pole at the 10th of 13 obstacles, the Pont de Normandie liverpool.
The burden of the team's status was heavy on 21-year-old Davis with Barron. On the "kiss and cry" stand adjacent to the ring, coach Robert Ridland watched intently, as she was fault-free, fence after fence. But at the landmark Eiffel Tower obstacle, the penultimate on course, a light touch felled another rail.
Beezie Madden aboard Cortes C
Photo Credit: Nancy Jaffer
The points got so complicated that no one was sure where the team stood without looking at a computer. But as Madden rode through the long tunnel that led to the ring, team members told her Germany's Ludger Beerbaum just had a rail, and that the United States was back in the running for a medal. Her mission was clear, and it was accomplished.
Musing on how the team made it to the podium, Ridland revealed, "We came up with a strategy that was intended to win the gold medal. We absolutely felt that we had one of the strongest teams that we had in recent memory, and we were capable of winning the gold medal."
The team was, in fact, just one rail away from winning gold, but in such a close contest, one rail can be a big hurdle.
"If things had gone our way, it would have been the difference between gold and bronze," said Farrington. "So, happy with the bronze, but obviously disappointed that we did not win."
As Davis put it, "We were just a little bit unlucky this week. Kent only rubbed one, McLain only rubbed one, but they all came down," and the same happened to the Stanford University student. "It's a bit frustrating. I would have loved to bring home a clear and take some of the pressure off Beezie."
By placing in the top 5 the U.S. Qualified for the 2016 Olympics.