Celebrating Germany’s 13th Olympic Dressage team gold at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games: (L to R) Isabell Werth, Dorothee Schneider, Sönke Rothenberger, and Kristina Bröring-Sprehe. (FEI/Richard Juilliart)
Can Germany make it a fabulous 14?
Germany has a long and formidable record in Olympic Equestrian Dressage. Since the team competition was first introduced in Amsterdam (NED) in 1928, when the German side pinned Sweden into silver and The Netherlands into bronze, they have won 13 of the 20 Olympic team contests. And it’s looking very much like gold number 14 is just around the corner.
The loss to Great Britain at London in 2012 was the only blip in an otherwise seamless run that began in Los Angeles in 1984 when the great Reiner Klimke and Ahlerich led the victory gallop. Despite all the disruption of the last 18 months due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the Equine Herpes Virus (EHV-1) outbreak in mainland Europe, Team Germany arrive at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games as defending champions and strong favourites to do it all over again.
Isabell Werth heads the line-up with the mare Bella Rose and holding the World number one slot. And underpinning the sheer strength of the German challenge, she will be joined by World numbers two and four4, Jessica von Bredow-Werndl with TSF Dalera BB and Dorothee Schneider with Showtime FRH. With Helen Langehanenberg and her mare Annabelle in reserve, they seem like an unstoppable force.
However, the three-per team format introduced for this year’s Games could prove highly influential. One off day for just one team member and the story could be very different indeed, because every ride will be critical.
At the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, Great Britain claimed silver and The Netherlands took team bronze and this time around the British send the dynamic duo of Charlotte Dujardin and Carl Hester once again, but both on relatively unexposed horses.
Dujardin’s decision to take the 10-year-old Gio instead of her considerably more experienced 12-year-old mare Mount St John Freestyle, who was in great form at Hagen (GER) in April and who swept all before her at the home international at Wellington (GBR) in May, came as a surprise. But the athlete, whose record-breaking partnership with the now-retired Valegro has helped popularise this sport like few before her, is backed up by the evergreen Hester and Charlotte Fry with Everdale, and she’s always going to be highly competitive.
Edward Gal with Total US and Hans Peter Minderhoud with Dream Boy headline the Dutch team, Patrik Kittel (Well Done de la Roche) leads the Swedish contingent, and Steffen Peters (Suppenkasper) will be a strong anchor for Team USA. Meanwhile, Team Belgium will be making a little bit of Olympic history as they make their first appearance since 1928.
When it comes to the individual honours all eyes will be on Denmark’s Cathrine Dufour and her fabulous horse Bohemian. The pair posted a back-to-back double of wins at the first leg of the FEI Dressage World Cup™ 2020/2021 series on home ground in Aarhus (DEN), pinning Germany’s Werth and von Bredow-Werndl into second and third.
But when the Covid cloud broke long enough for another leg to take place in Salzburg (AUT) in January, von Bredow-Werndl showed a whole new level of performance with her 2018 FEI World Equestrian Games™ gold-medal partner TSF Dalera BB, who has gone from strength to strength ever since. Now this pair looks a real threat to all the rest in the battle for individual Olympic glory.
However, at Olympic Games, the show-stealers are often the less obvious. Australia’s Mary Hanna, whose horse Calanta was the very first to arrive into the stables at Baji Koen Equestrian Park in Tokyo earlier this week, is a case in point. Because equestrian fans all around the world are already putting their hearts behind this mother of two and grandmother of four who, at the age of 66, is tackling her sixth Olympics.
Apart from the Beijing Games in 2008, she has been a member of every Australian Olympic Dressage team since 1996, and that’s quite some record. She’s as proud as ever to be flying her country’s flag alongside Kelly Layne riding Samhitas and Simone Pearce with Destano.
The last time Olympic Games were staged in Tokyo in 1964, Baji Koen was the venue for Dressage, which was a very different sport back then.
In the Grand Prix, the scores were announced after each ride and after the ride-off – which was filmed and then mulled over by judges Frantisek Jandl, Gustaf Nyblaeus, and Georges Margot; the public, the teams, and the media had to wait for two hours before the final results were announced. It should be a bit quicker this time around!
Swiss supremo Henri Chammartin with Woerman was eventually deemed the Individual champion, and the team title went to Germany’s Harry Boldt with Remus, Josef Neckermann with Antoinette, and Reiner Klimke with Dux.
How it will play out….
The FEI Grand Prix test, in which all athletes must participate, will take place on 24 and 25 July and is a qualifier for both the team and individual competitions. The qualification ranking will be decided by the results of all three team members.
Athletes compete in six groups, with three groups competing on each day. The composition of the groups is based on the FEI World Ranking list position of the athlete/horse combination on the date of definite entries (5 July 2021).
The top eight teams in the Grand Prix (and those tied for eighth place) will qualify for the FEI Grand Prix Special on 27 July.
During the period between the Team Qualifier (Grand Prix) and up to two hours before the start of the Team Final (Grand Prix Special), the Chef d’Equipe may substitute an athlete/horse combination. However, the substitute combination will not be entitled to compete in the FEI Grand Prix Freestyle.
The FEI Grand Prix Freestyle test is the Individual Final Competition which is open to 18 combinations qualified from the FEI Grand Prix. The qualified athletes will be the top two combinations from each of the six groups and the combinations with the six next highest scores.
The Dressage Tests are the FEI Grand Prix, the FEI Grand Prix Special, and the FEI Grand Prix Freestyle.
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