Pak Across the Pond – Day 4

Wow! I knew going in that cross country day would be thrilling, but I have to say it again – WOW! There were so many highs and lows, both emotionally and in terms of the ridiculously hilly course.

Colby and I met up with our group of friends at the big screen just behind fence 5. Having the jumbo-trons on course is really fantastic because it enables you to catch multiple fences from nearly every ride, as opposed to only getting to see the one fence you happen to be standing near at the moment. But after I missed any decent photo ops for Boyd’s ride, I decided I was not going to be sitting and watching on the big screen – I had to get out in the action! So Colby and I split tasks – I scurried off with nothing but my camera and cell phone in tow and she watched our bags and watched the big screen so she could live-tweet any breaking news.

Here’s Colby’s recap: “Could not have ordered up better weather for XC day here at the Olympics. Given the concerns about the footing and terrain it was especially nice for the riders and horses out there trying to put a safe, fast round together today. It was a reasonably uneventful day for Team USA today, Will and Tiana each picked up a stop, but everyone got home safe…though a bit slower than we would have liked. Will was very noticeably displeased upon crossing the finish…he’s a fierce competitor. But you can’t always put ALL the pieces together, unfortunately.

Boyd, Karen and Phillip all looked very on-point during their rounds and compared to the day had by the Canadians and the Japanese, the US effort can be considered an absolute success. My heart truly broke for Hawley and Ginny in particular, this is a sport of such massive highs and lows…thankfully they’ll both be back to fight another day. We wish Hawley our best in her recovery from what is reported to be a sacral fracture. Sad end of day news that Michelle Mueller’s Amistad (another Canadian pair) has withdrawn from competition and will be retired as a result of a tendon tear.

Michelle Mueller and the gorgeous Amistad, on course today

As for the Japanese, the riders looked quite solid in their technique, but still suffered unfortunate falls which served to end their Olympic dreams. Some of the better rides of the day came from the Brits and the always unshakeable Andrew Nicholson and Mark Todd. Speaking of the Brits, I thought the house might come down during Zara and Mary King’s rounds…there was A LOT to cheer for as both riders put in fantastic performances – clean and fast! (Editor’s note: Zara came in 8 seconds under the time, reportedly after High Kingdom lost BOTH front shoes on course!)

Mary King and Imperial Cavalier jump the moon

The teams will be working hard tonight to care for their horses after what was quite a physical test. Here’s hoping they emerge sound and fit for what will surely be an exciting show jumping competition tomorrow. With less than a point separating the current medal placements and a tight cluster of scores going deeper into the board, this is far from a done deal and both riders and horses will need to do more than just show up tomorrow.”

As for me, I’m just grateful Greenwich isn’t known for having a serious tick problem, because I was hiking all over that park today. It was absolutely worth it, though, to experience the thrill of Olympic cross country firsthand. It also helps my sore legs feel a bit better knowing I got some really fabulous shots that I’m sending over to our awesome team back in the states to put up for you all to see (thanks Bekky and Nels!).

A fabulous shot of the always-fabulous Phillip Dutton

In addition to experiencing the thrill firsthand, I also experienced the heartbreak a bit more intensely, too. I’ve seen my fair share of falls, and I’ve had plenty of my own, but a fall at this level is something else. It’s not because you’re falling harder, or from higher… well, at least not physically. But the emotional fall from the tremendous emotional high that is competing at the Olympics must really be devastating. While my heart sank for all the riders whose Olympic dreams ended today, it absolutely broke for Yoshiaki Oiwa, yesterday’s top scorer. No one really expected him to hold on for the gold medal, but I’m sure that somewhere, in some quiet place, in some small corner of his heart, he let himself believe it could be true. And for a while it could’ve been. But then a slightly less-than-perfect ride to a very challenging jump changed everything. Now his only option is to watch his two remaining teammates compete, because with two of their other riders eliminated on course, Japan is no longer eligible for the team competition.”

As Colby mentioned above, it was a tough day all around for eliminations on course. In fact, there are now three of the top ten teams that are down to just three qualified riders heading into tomorrow’s show jumping competition. That means Brazil, Ireland and Australia will have no choice but to take their three riders’ rounds as they come (whereas the teams with four or five remaining qualified riders will get to pick the top three scores they want to count towards the medals).

I, for one, can’t wait to be back in the stadium (and not just because there are seats there). I’m just positively giddy with excitement at the thought of watching the horses and riders I feel that I’ve gotten to know over the past few days put it all out there when it really matters most. Tomorrow we’re sure to see more Olympic dreams that cannot be, but I’m really looking forward to the promise of seeing Olympic dreams come true, and being there among fans who are cheering with national pride. Go equestrian! Go Olympics! Go USA!!

Stay up to date on the latest London happenings by following @SmartPakerSarah and @SmartPakerColby on Twitter!

Sarah Paull

Sarah Paull is a lifelong rider and SmartPak’s Brand Manager. You may know her better as the life-size foam finger from the London Olympics, the host of USEF Network’s Live from London coverage, or “that girl from the Stuff Riders Say videos.” Prior to joining SmartPak in 2008, Sarah worked as a Veterinary Technician at B.W. Furlong & Associates in Oldwick, NJ, and obtained her degree in Equine Science from Centenary College. Sarah is the proud mom of Cody, a semi-retired, 23-year-old Quarter Horse gelding, and she’s currently looking for an eventing partner to help her get rid of all the extra time, money and energy she doesn’t actually have :-) If you're interested in her often-horsey, always-odd musings, follow @SmartPakerSarah on Twitter.

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