Pak Across the Pond – Day 11

God Save the Queen

Great Britain takes the Team gold! (Photo credits: Markus Schreiber/Associated Press & NBC Olympics)

It was truly electric. From the moment the first horse trotted in from the warm up, the air in the stadium was alive with a nervous energy as show jumping fans waited to witness history.

The course is set for the Team Show Jumping final.

Every step of every round felt a little bit like life and death. The crowd held their breath for every rider, regardless of nation or ranking. There were gasps, groans and sorrowful sighs with every dropped rail or foot in the water – and that made for an anxious, noisy day, as the course was not easy. I think Henri Prudent said it best when asked about Bob Ellis’s impressive and imposing course, he simply responded, “This is the Olympics.”

The water at fence 4.

Early in the course, the water jump at four caused some serious problems, with three of the first four riders splashing down for four faults. Word quickly made it back to the warm up ring and the later riders were very determined, gunning it after the London 2012 fence (three) and positively flying over the expansive water. That adjustment helped with the water, but caused problems of its own, as riders started pulling down the tall and airy Cutty Sark fence (five) just a few quick strides after the water.

Other notable problems on course included the massive triple combination at seven, which was followed up by the expansive spread at eight. The considerable effort required to get through those fences cleanly resulted in some really exhausted horses heading into the final five elements, so there were many late rails.

The last noteworthy fence was 12, which featured planks sitting in truly flat cups. The fence was so sensitive, the top plank blew off twice in the breeze swirling around the stadium. In fact, one time it feel right in front of Brazilian Reynoso Fernandez Filho and his time had to be paused while they righted the fence so he could complete the course. Fortunately, he’d already been having a really rough go on course, so it wasn’t an interruption in an otherwise pristine round. But still, the crowd was not impressed by such a considerable snafu at such an important event.

As the incredibly challenging course put the teams to the ultimate test, two teams really distanced themselves from the pack and we had the absolute honor of getting to see a jump off to determine the Olympic gold and silver medal winners.

The ring crew executes the most impressive course change I’ve ever seen.

If you’d ask me earlier if things could’ve been more intense, I would’ve said no way. It simply didn’t seem possible for the rides to be more thrilling, or the energy in the building to be any stronger. But, jump offs are always wild and exhilarating, and this is the Olympics, so it was bound to feel like nothing has ever felt before.

Union Jacks abound in Greenwich Park.

The feeling of the next fifteen minutes will stay with me forever. As if the drama of the competition wasn’t enough, the weather kicked things up a notch, almost as if on cue. As the ring crew set the final rails in the cups and Nick Skelton readied to enter the ring, the temperature dropped and the sky turned from bright blue and sunny to a backdrop of foreboding storm clouds that couldn’t have been painted more perfectly over the London skyline. Then the electricity in the air turned from metaphorical to literal as lightning flashed through the sky just across the River Thames.

In the stadium, we were spared all but a few drops of rain – it was almost as if the weather had been ordered up for dramatic effect, but the rain was kept to a minimum to ensure the crowd could truly enjoy the performance in the ring.

And what a performance it was. With strong contingents on hand cheering for the Brits and the Dutch, the energy built through each trip on course, almost like a pot of water nearly coming to a boil, just tremendous energy rippling below the surface as the crowd tried to contain their excitement out of respect for the rider on course. Once hooves touched down on the landing side of the stunning Tower Bridge vertical, that bottled energy instantly converted into a joyous and raucous roar that literally shook the stadium beneath my feet.

With the first three riders clear, I thought everyone in the stadium might literally crawl out of their skin. It just felt impossible. It felt like too much to witness. It felt like if someone didn’t drop a rail, we’d be stuck at this unimaginable peak of angst, hope and fear forever. I think I physically understood what it’s like to have your heart in your throat, as it was honestly a bit hard to even breathe.

While all the Dutch and British riders were stunning, I have to say, Peter Charles’ ride was masterful. With that much pressure to be both clear and fast, I’m not sure I wouldn’t have fainted in the saddle. After Vindicat gave him a tremendous effort over the massive spread in the middle of the course (original fence eight), Charles sat up and made a decision that truly impressed me – he took a very long approach to the combination (original fence seven). The previous riders had gunned it through that turn and really revved the engines coming home, knowing that if the teams finished on equal faults, it would come down to time. But Charles had the presence of mind to know that a fast round might win it later, but a clear round would win it now. So he sat up, let Vindicat get his legs under him and then cruised over the final three efforts in brilliant fashion, sending the British fans absolutely over the moon as they realized the gold was theirs.

Peter Charles clears the final fence in the jump off, sealing the victory for Great Britain.

It bears repeating – This is the Olympics.

Great Britain’s victory lap with the elated crowd’s reaction.

Follow @SmartPakerSarah and @SmartPakerColby for the latest updates from London, and keep cheering for Team USA!

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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2 comments on “Pak Across the Pond – Day 11
  1. Catherine Paull says:

    Wow! This report gave me such a sense of what it is like to be there . . . at the Olympics. You conveyed more in this description than a video broadcast ever does and made me feel like I shared in the excitement and exhilaration. Thanks for taking the time and focus to share your experience there.

  2. judith a thomas says:

    Compelling writing, dear Sarah — you are a master! I felt like I was there! I think you will be plunged into a new (related) career! Bravo and thank you — so glad you had the English Olympics experience. Love, “Mrs. T”

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