A fabulous performance from Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro ensured that Britain maintains the lead in the team competition, after the dressage Grand Prix concluded at Greenwich today. But the advantage is a very slender one, as Germany lies only just over half a point behind going into the medal-deciding Grand Prix Special next Tuesday.
The home team started the day with Carl Hester and Laura Bechtolsheimer topping the leader board, and it was clear it would be a challenge for them to stay there.
Italy’s Valentina Truppa posted 75.790% with Eremo del Castegno when just the fourth in the arena, while Edward Gal rode a masterful round to earn 75.289% with the inexperienced Undercover to give the Dutch team score a huge boost.
Britain’s Richard Davison and Artemis scored 72.812%, to leave them in 18th place. They will now go through to the Grand Prix Special.
“"With the rain shower and the ponchos coming out, Artemis suddenly got all jumpy so the last ten minutes of our warm-up were not what I wanted," said Richard. "I was getting a more and more scared horse on my hands. It felt like taking a child for its first day at school; he was scared and I had to take him by the hand and say ‘come on, let’s do this together listen to me and you’ll be absolutely fine.’
“Halfway round the test I felt him take his first breath and I thought, that’s where I want him to be – they’re horses and they run away when they’re frightened. Believe me he wanted to run away from Greenwich all the way back to Staffordshire! I’m really pleased with him though and the way he grew in confidence as the test went on.”
Next was Germany’s new sensation Kristina Sprehe, who has had a meteoric rise with the black stallion Desperados. This combination was one of the pre-competition favourites and they duly scored 79.119% – not quite the magic 80% but a solid second score for Germany.
British team hopes rested with Olympic debutants Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro, who only started competing at Grand Prix level in January 2011. The first show piece movement is an extended trot across the diagonal, but a slight loss of contact towards the end started nerves wrangling.
Charlotte has ridden Valegro, or Blueberry, for five years and knows exactly how to handle the situation so it was soon put behind them as the continued in tremendous style. The crowd was silent; all realising that they were watching something truly special. High scores for passage and piaffe further boosted the marks towards the end and they finished as the crowd erupted. The score was finally confirmed as 83.663%, which gave them the lead and set a new Olympic record.
“Blueberry [Valegro] is just unbelievable, to think he’s only 10 and we only started grand prix last year. He knows what he has to do when he gets in there he’s just brilliant and never lets me down. I just enjoyed it from start to finish and when you stop and have that crowd around you, it’s just magic," she said. "The marks haven’t been that high so I was hoping for an 80; my best before this was 81 so to come to the Olympics and smash that is a little bit crazy. I’m wearing my lucky breeches, the ones I broke the world record in at Hagen so maybe they helped!
“It’s an amazing opportunity to get here and ride a horse like Valegro and I wanted to enjoy it, you work a lifetime to get to something like this and I would have hated to go in there and put too much pressure on myself and then made mistakes. I just wanted to go in there and do what I would normally do at home or at any other show and that’s what we did. I never had any doubts that he would do it.”
The final competitor for the USA, Steffen Peters with Ravel, produced a flowing, well-presented test to score 77.705%, slotted him in between yesterday’s British riders Carl and Laura.
The second last rider of the day was gold medal favourite Adelinde Cornelissen on Parzival. The combination has missed some work owing to a slight injury but a textbook performance scored 81.687%. Not enough to overtake Charlotte, but it helped the team to overtake Denmark to lie in bronze.
The final rider of the day was Helen Langehanenberg and Damon Hill from Germany. They needed to score more than 82% to overtake Britain in the team competition. As the test progressed in silence and the marks piled in, it was looking close but the final score was 81.687%. This left Charlotte in the lead by nearly 2% and Britain in gold, but by just 0.562%.
An exciting day ended with the Olympic record broken twice in the space of two hours, three riders break the 80% barrier and Britain top both leaderboards. The riders and horses now have a three day break in competition while the showjumping gets underway and battle recommences on Tuesday 7 August with the Grand Prix Special where the team medals will be determined.