The world number one Oliver Townend has put Great Britain in gold medal position after the first of three sessions of dressage at the Tokyo Olympics.
Second into the arena, Townend delivered an extremely accurate performance and did not waste a mark on the flea-bitten grey 14-year-old Ballaghmor Class to score 23.6 - the fifth-best mark by a British rider at an Olympics, according to EquiRatings.
The 38-year-old, for whom this is the first Olympics, said: “We know he’s special and I'm just very grateful that he did a clear round in there, and a very safe test on my own terms. I’d want a bit more, but I think 23 is a good starting mark for the team. He went in and did his best in conditions he’s not used to in a stadium that’s very, very special.”
was followed immediately by the USA’s first combination, Doug Payne and Vandiver. The 17-year-old Trakhener, owned by breeder Debi Crowley and Doug and his wife Jessica, posted a mark of 33, which left them in 12th at the end of the session.
The new, specially-written Olympic dressage test takes just 3 minutes and 50 seconds and is particularly intense, demanding a lot of horses in a short space of time. It includes movements not asked for before in eventing dressage, such as a canter zig-zag - canter half-pass one way, a flying change, canter half-pass in the other direction, and another change. There are four flying changes in all in quick succession, and Vandiver struggled a little with the second and fourth changes.
said: “I was very happy with him. Of all the three phases, this would be the toughest for him, but I think he put forwards a great effort and, honestly, in the end, that’s all you can ask for, so it’s pretty exciting to get through that finally and on to the
next phase. There’s a lot more left, that’s for sure.”
China’s Alex Hua Tian came the closest to knocking Townend off the top spot with a flowing test aboard Don Geniro for a score of 23.9. His halt and rein-back were not as good as Townend’s, but the judges - Nick Burton (GBR), Christina Klingspor (SWE), and Jane Hamlin (USA) appeared to reward the attractive, dressage-bred 14-year-old’s movement and the boldness of Hua Tian’s execution.
“I’m really proud of him and pleased - he’s not good with a camera and there are five of them around the arena,” Hua Tian said. “He was quite nervous during the first arena familiarisation, and he just gets so tricky when he’s hot. He had one little spook during that right medium canter, which he always does for some reason, and 50% of the time when he does that he changes [lead], so I was pleased that he stayed with me despite spooking.”
German rider Julia Krajewski might have been expected to go ahead of Townend on the 11-year-old Amande De B’Neville but, although the quality of the work was high, a few minor mistakes crept in - the mare broke momentarily into trot during the walk, which is double-marked, for example - and she was awarded 25.2 for third place, 0.7pen ahead of the home nation’s Kazuma Tomoto.
The Japanese rider, based in England with William Fox-Pitt - who has flown to Tokyo to help Tomoto during the Games - looked ecstatic with the 12-year-old French-bred and produced Vinci De La Vigne. It was a rhythmical test performed in a good frame with no tension and deserved a high mark. As EquiRatings pointed out, it was the second-best Olympic score from a Japanese rider, only beaten by that of Yoshiaki Oiwa, who led after dressage at London 2012 with 25.4.
Switzerland’s Felix Vogg is in fifth with Colero on 26.7, and Therese Viklund and her one-eyed Viscera caught the eye with a fluent, forward test for sixth place with 28.1.
The first member of the French team, Christopher Six, managed the only other sub-30 score - 29.6 - on Totem De Brecy.
New Zealand’s Jonelle Price delivered a typically punchy, brave test on Grovine De Reve for eighth place on 30.7.
“I’m happy, because he isn’t the fanciest horse in this phase, and for him to score any better than that it needs to be 120% of a clear round, and it wasn’t - it was blooming close, but every single tiny detail has to be perfect and there were one or two little things that kept us a bit shy of that.”
The sole Canadian representatives, following the withdrawal of Jessica Phoenix and Pavarotti before the first horse inspection, are Colleen Loach and Quory Blue D’Argouges, and they posted a solid performance for a score of 35.6 and 15th place at this stage. Puerto Rico’s Lauren Billys (Castle Larchfield Purdy) are in 17th on 39.9 penalties.
second session of dressage commences at4:30 P.M. local time, and the U.S.’s Phillip Dutton is sixth into the arena with Z, just behind Britain’s Laura Collett and London 52.
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