Saturday, October 2, 2010

Two More Historic Firsts at WEG Grand Prix Freestyle

With something of an upset in the team medals (Netherlands atop the podium, Great Britain winning its first-ever World Equestrian Games medal, a silver) and with Steffen Peters collecting the first US individual world championships dressage medal in history (bronze in Wednesday’s Grand Prix Special), the sellout crowd of 25,000 was primed for more history-making in tonight’s Grand Prix Freestyle at the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games in Lexington, Kentucky.
Sellout crowd at the start of the WEG Grand Prix Freestyle

Sunset over the Kentucky Horse Park stadium
The top fifteen finishers from the Special contested the Freestyle, which left only Peters and Ravel to represent the United States. At the end of the first rotation, Germany’s veteran, Isabell Werth, was atop the leader board with a score of 80.000%. But that score didn't stand for long because Britain's Laura Bechtolsheimer and Mistral Hojris, the GP Special silver medalists, came in and shattered it with a delightful, accurate ride to surf-themed music that earned a score of 85.350%.
Bechtolsheimer and "Alf" in the Freestyle
From there, the excitement just grew. Juan Manuel Munoz Diaz of Spain brought the house down with a crowd-pleasing freestyle aboard the PRE stallion Fuego XII to (what else?) Spanish music, complete with extended trot that drew spontaneous cheers and a flamboyant finish of one-handed one-tempis down the final center line, with Diaz pumping his free hand to encourage the clapping and shouting. He got the audience so pumped up that Fuego XII scooted and bolted at the raucous applause that followed his final halt and salute. But his score of just 81.450% drew equally loud boos and whistles from the crowd, which clearly thought Diaz deserved better.
Showman Juan Manuel Munoz Diaz of Spain plays the showman aboard Fuego XII
Then it was the golden boy of these Games: blond Dutchman Edward Gal and his black KWPN stallion, Moorlands Totilas. Having clinched both team gold in the GP and individual gold in the Special, Gal was expected to deliver something extraordinary in the Freestyle. And he did -- a final total score of 91.800%, with American judge Linda Zang, sitting at "C," awarding him an astonishing 93.500% -- but Gal's ride was not up to the standard that he set in the GP Special, with Totilas breaking to canter in one extended trot, walking out of a halt, and stopping momentarily during a passage. 
Edward Gal and Moorlands Totilas
Steffen Peters' freestyle also did not quite equal his performance in the Special, with a little buck at the start of a line of tempi changes and some momentary losses of balance. But Ravel's suppleness and elasticity, to what Peters later referred to as a "turbocharged" version of the Rolling Stones' "Sympathy for the Devil" and Men Without Hats' "Safety Dance" freestyle that they used at the 2008 Hong Kong Olympics, earned the pair a score of 84.900% and the bronze medal.
Steffen Peters and Ravel
"It's amazing how high the standard has risen," Peters said afterward. Of his second individual medal, he said, "Tonight we sprinkled a little more icing on top of the cake. It's a pretty wonderful cake."

Peters tonight becomes the first American rider ever to win one -- much less two -- individual medals in world-championships dressage competition.
Same medalists, same order: Bechtolsheimer, Gal, Peters
Gal accomplished the other WEG first: winning three gold medals. "It's just now sinking in," he said of his historic achievement.

"Tonight we had three totally different types of horses," said Zang, who was president of the ground jury. "Totilas has so much power but seems so easy and light. Laura's horse has a lot more power, a very big horse. Sometimes it's a little hard for Laura to keep that propulsive power balanced. Ravel's strength is that he's so elastic and soft."

Gal confirmed that Totilas has been bred to Brentina, who achieved much success under Debbie McDonald. I wonder what kind of super-foal that will be!

There was a poignant moment during the awards ceremony, when Peters entered the stadium wearing a helmet instead of the top hat in which he'd competed. Asked about the headgear switch, he replied: "I sent an e-mail to Courtney [King-Dye, who suffered a severe head injury last March] today. I said tonight I want to dedicate my ride to you." (King-Dye was in attendance tonight.) 
A helmeted Peters dedicated his victory gallop to injured rider Courtney King-Dye
"I saw her after her accident," Peters continued. "It was one of the hardest things I've seen in my life. So tonight I wanted to dedicate my honor round to her."

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