The sound of victory on Sunday in Lima, Peru was the clink and clank of multiple gold and silver medals swinging from the necks of Boyd Martin, Lynn Symansky, Doug Payne, and Tamie Smith. It was the most welcoming noise that the U.S. Eventing Team and their supporters could have asked for after a long buildup to a tense week. From start to finish, Team USA held the lead in the three-day eventing competition at the 2019 Pan American Games, with Martin and Symansky completing their weekend on their dressage scores to earn individual gold and silver.
“It is a big relief. We all worked very, very hard,” said Martin. “It’s good to pull it off.”
“It” was more than just the reward of medals at these Pan Am Games, the big “it” was qualification for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games. With only two qualifying spots available and all ten competing teams in the race to earn one, there was never going to be any room for error.
But Team USA brought their A-game, with all four riders and their horses coming together to finish over 30 penalty points ahead of the team silver medalists from Brazil. Canada filled out the podium with a bittersweet team bronze medal; they just missed out on qualifying a team for the 2020 Olympics.
After a strong cross-country day that saw Martin with Tsetserleg (Windfall x Thabana), Christine Turner's 12-year-old Trakehner gelding, and Symansky with RF Cool Play (Condors Champion x Roxana), The Donner Syndicate's 11-year-old German Sport Horse gelding, complete the only faultless rounds of the day, Team USA did one even better during the stadium jumping phase. They were the only team of the competition to complete with all four riders, and the only team to see all four riders jump clear. Brazil’s Carlos Parro jumped a double clear stadium round aboard Quaikin Qurious (West Point Quickfire x Should Be Good), Helena Ashworth's 10-year-old gelding, to win individual bronze.
Team USA coach Erik Duvander spent most of the weekend behind a pair of sunglasses, smiling infrequently and quietly focusing on the ultimate goal. So it was he who perhaps smiled the widest when Martin sealed the win.
“I’m just honestly really pleased to be part of this group,” he said. “It’s sort of like all the way through the last 18 months I’ve been at war. I’ve seen how much work these guys put into it and the preparation and how much it means to them and I couldn’t wish for a better ending with four clear rounds. They deserve the medals that are hanging around their necks.”
All four American horses came out of cross-country in top condition, and jumped brilliant strong rounds. RF Cool Play and Symansky were the only pair who gave the spectators a minor fright, ticking a rail at the beginning of the course.
“I heard not only the rail but I heard everybody gasp,” Symansky said. “You can’t let something like that rattle you at all or it all comes apart. You’ve just got to keep breathing, keep going, and do what you know you can do.”
That mantra was accurate across everyone’s performances on Sunday. Tamie Smith came back from a less than ideal cross-country round to jump a beautiful clear as the first to go for Team USA with Mai Baum (Loredano x Ramira), Alexandra and Ellen Ahearn and Eric Markell's 13-year-old German Sport Horse gelding. And Starr Witness (Chello III x Carmen), Laurie H. Mc Ree, Catherine Winter, and Doug Payne's 8-year-old KWPN mare and the greenest horse on the team, thrived under her rider’s steady guidance, completing the weekend with no jumping penalties.
“In a championship like this you show up and the vast amount of support that we get, from the USEF, the owners, coaches, all the support staff, we honestly are just the very top of what's visible,” Payne said. “We wouldn't be here without their help. And, of course, the horses - they put forth a great effort and we'll be forever appreciative.”
And they're off! Eventing kicks off today in Tokyo (Thursday, July 29 – 7:30 p.m. ET), with the first of three Olympic dressage sessions. Competitors from 29 nations will go head to head, vying for a spot on the coveted Olympic podium.
There were a few last-minute dramas at the first horse inspection for the Tokyo Olympics which took place in the main equestrian park at Baji Koen Equestrian Centre at 9:30 a.m. JST today.
It’s the most hotly anticipated few hours of the eventing year - the cross-country from Tokyo 2020. What will Derek di Grazia’s track have in store for the Olympic riders?
We’re nearly there! Olympic mania has taken over the world, and we’re in the final countdown to the Olympic eventing competition in Tokyo, which starts with the first horse inspection on Thursday. Our USA riders are raring to go, but let’s remind ourselves of the history that precedes them. Just how well has the US team done in past Olympics?