Britain wins 1st Olympic team dressage medal: gold
LONDON (AP) - Britain ended Germany's decades-long domination of equestrian team dressage by winning Olympic gold Tuesday, with a boost from a hometown crowd still buzzing from a win in team show jumping a day earlier.
Germany took the silver, and the Netherlands got the bronze.
It was Britain's first dressage medal at an Olympics and capped an equestrian competition in which the home team won a medal in every team discipline: gold in dressage and show jumping and silver in eventing.
"I hope it doesn't end here. I hope it's the start of the team evolving,'' said Britain's Laura Bechtolsheimer, who rode Mistral Hojris for the British team at Greenwich Park on Tuesday.
"We've been watching on the telly how the crowds have been,'' she said. "The crowds have been carrying the athletes. We got to experience that ourselves, and it's a groundbreaking day.''
The competition received unusual attention because the American team featured Rafalca, a horse co-owned by Ann Romney, the wife of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
The U.S. finished sixth, and Rafalca, ridden by Jan Ebeling, ended in 28th place and out of contention for individual medals.
Ann Romney was in the VIP stands, as was Britain's Princess Anne, whose daughter, Zara Phillips, was part of the silver-winning British equestrian eventing team last week. Rafalca gave a solid performance.
"It was wonderful,'' Mrs. Romney said. "She was elegant and consistent again. We just love her.''
Germany had won every Olympic team gold in dressage since 1976 with the exception of the boycotted Moscow Games in 1980, and Britain had never won a dressage medal of any color.
The final team scores, combining a Grand Prix last week with the harder Grand Prix Special on Tuesday, were Britain with 79.979 percent, Germany with 78.216 percent and the Netherlands with 77.124 percent.
Germany brought a young team of riders and didn't include any Olympic veterans to contest a sport in which experience clearly provides an edge.
The Germans likely could have won gold if they hadn't had to leave Totilas, their best dressage horse and likely the best in the world, at home when rider Matthias Rath came down with mononucleosis.
"This is for speculation,'' said team coach Klaus Roeser, emphasizing that the dressage future still looks good for his country. "We have to look forward. We have strong riders at home as well.''
The 18 highest-scoring riders in team dressage advance to perform a freestyle test Thursday to determine individual medals, with movements and music of the rider's choosing, similar to freestyle ice skating or the floor exercise in gymnastics.
Germany and Britain look equally strong in the freestyle. All their riders finished in the top eight Tuesday, as did current world leader Adelinde Cornelissen from the Netherlands riding Parzival and the top U.S. rider, Steffen Peters on Ravel.
Peters, who emigrated from Germany in 1985 and became a U.S. citizen in 1995, is riding in his fourth Olympics.
"It's always an honor to represent your nation,'' he said. "It never gets old.''
Anky van Grunsven, a member of the Dutch team on Salinero and winner of individual gold at the past three games, set another mark Tuesday: By adding team bronze to her medal collection, which stood at eight, she became the all-time biggest winner of Olympic equestrian medals.
"This color I didn't have yet,'' she joked.
In Tuesday's Grand Prix Special, Britain's Charlotte Dujardin finished in first place on Valegro with 83.286 percent, Cornelissen was second with a score of 81.968 percent, and Britain's Carl Hester on Uthopia was in third place with 80.571 percent.
Scoring for the individual medals starts from scratch Thursday.
In dressage, the horse performs a choreographed routine of movements that showcases the animal's training: prancing trots, extended strides, twirling pirouettes and a canter movement called flying changes, which look like the horse is skipping.
After criticism of the dressage judging at the 2008 Games, the judging was tweaked here. Two judges were added to a panel of five, and a review panel were added to scrutinize unusual scores in case a judge missed something. A handful of marks were changed throughout the competition by the review panel.
Mrs. Romney said that after Ebeling competes for another year or two, she would probably try breeding Rafalca, a German-bred mare. A mare so famous and accomplished as Rafalca could be valuable on the horse-breeding market.
Ebeling said he welcomed the attention even though some of it has focused on the impression that dressage is a sport for the wealthy.
"If one kid picks up the sport and makes it all the way to the top, to the Olympics, I will have done my job,'' Ebeling said. "In my sport there's money, but in any sport there's money. You can't say it's an elitist sport at all. I have wonderful clients who support me and want me to succeed.''
During Tuesday's Grand Prix Special, a handful of riders wore helmets instead of the typical top hat and tails. This is the first Olympics where helmets have appeared in the dressage arena. Two years ago, Courtney King-Dye, an American dressage rider in the 2008 Olympics, sustained a devastating head injury while not wearing a helmet.
Follow Nicole Winfield at www.twitter.com/nwinfield.
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