Germany hoping to extend equestrian reign
Queen Elizabeth II will be following this Olympic event, maybe even in person. Same for Mitt Romney.
There will be plenty of eyes on the stands at Greenwich Park this summer, but there are several storylines to watch for the equestrian competition at the London Games - beginning with Germany's supremacy in dressage and show jumping that stretches back to 1956.
German riders are particularly strong in dressage. The show jumpers are solid, and the country also won team and individual gold in eventing four years ago. But the rest of the world has been creeping up on the Germans over the last decade, and there are several contenders hoping to hear a different national anthem this summer.
The three Olympic equestrian disciplines - eventing (formerly called the three-day event), dressage and show jumping - require very different skills, making Germany's consistent medal haul all the more impressive. Horses and riders do not participate in multiple events.
But Germany excels in breeding sport horses and developing skilled riders, and their exports - horses and humans - are found on many other teams. The leading U.S. dressage rider, Steffen Peters, was born and raised in Germany.
International horse sports also have a strong tradition throughout Europe and the British Commonwealth countries, and riders from Brazil and Saudi Arabia also have been successful recently. While equestrian sports have attracted minimal interest in the U.S., American riders are fierce competitors on the world stage.
For the first time in a long while, Germany will have a crowded field of competitors to deal with this summer. But at least the weather should be nice.
Overwhelming heat and humidity has played a role in the equestrian competition at the games for years. Summer Olympics tend to be held in very warm places, but horses fare much better in temperate climates. Team veterinarians should find the weather to their liking in London, allowing them concentrate on keeping their charges healthy without the omnipresent misting fans seen in Atlanta, Athens and Beijing.
Equestrian at the London Games also will have a royal feel, with Zara Phillips competing for Britain's eventing team, a difficult discipline that tests dressage, cross-country and show jumping ability - an equestrian decathlon. Phillips is the granddaughter of Queen Elizabeth II, and her parents were British Olympians in equestrian events. Her mother, Princess Anne, competed in Montreal. Her father, Mark Phillips, is a two-time Olympian and the coach of the U.S. eventing team.
Talk about pressure.
The U.S. presidential race also could travel to London this summer if Romney makes an appearance at the equestrian venue. Ann Romney, the wife of the Republican candidate, is part owner of a horse named Rafalca on the U.S. dressage team, ridden by Jan Ebeling. (Both Rafalca and Ebeling, by the way, are German expats.)
Another name to watch is show jumper Ian Millar of Canada, who is poised to make his Olympic record 10th appearance in the games. He won his first medal in 2008, a team silver.
Keeping horses sound and competitive without the use of drugs is always a topic of conversation when it comes to Olympic equestrian events. The Olympics are a zero-tolerance zone for horse drugs, even the mildest therapeutic options. The horses aren't allowed so much as an aspirin, putting a premium on fitness.
Gold: Adelinde Cornelissen, Netherlands, on Parzival
Silver: Laura Bechtolsheimer, Britain, on Mistral
Bronze: Steffen Peters, United States, on Ravel
Silver: United States
Gold: Rolf-Goran Bengtsson, Sweden, on Casall
Silver: Rich Fellers, United States, on Flexible
Bronze: Pius Schwizer, Switzerland, on Nobless M
Silver: New Zealand
Bronze: United States
Gold: William Fox-Pitt, Britain, on Lionheart
Silver: Andrew Nicholson, New Zealand, on Nereo
Bronze: Phillip Dutton, United States, on Mystery Whisper
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