Three-Day Riders Are U.S. Highlight
SYDNEY, Australia (AP) _ The biggest question for the U.S. equestrians before the Sydney Games would be how to handle the long flight and eight-week quarantine for their horses.
This situation colored many of the decisions concerning team selection, which had to occur earlier than usual going into an Olympics. The next question was how to keep the horses on form during the long quarantine.
Sydney responded with a beautiful facility, perfect weather and a horse-friendly environment. The quarantine period became a balancing act between how much to train and condition the horses and how much to wait and rest.
The U.S. three-day and dressage riders clearly enjoyed their preparation time and responded with medals. The show jumpers felt confident in their preparation but then struggled in their events.
The highlight for American riders came during the first week, when David O’Connor won the individual three-day event, the first U.S. equestrian gold since 1984.
O’Connor, of The Plains, Va., also led the United States to a bronze in the team event. O’Connor and his wife, Karen, were on the team that won silver in Atlanta and their experience paid off. They finished behind Australia and Britain.
The U.S. dressage riders hoped to win bronze but weren’t counting on it. They pulled out a squeaker for the bronze thanks to a strong ride from Christine Traurig of Carlsbad, Calif., on Etienne.
The U.S. dressage riders knew in advance they couldn’t win an individual medal, because they’d have to beat all the powerful Germans and Dutch who won team gold and silver. However, Susan Blinks of Wellington, Fla., performed an impressive freestyle ride on Flim Flam that pulled her up to a very credible eighth place.
``The wait through quarantine was hard,″ Blinks said. ``Usually you arrive for a show four days ahead. I had to be careful not to overtrain and keep cool. You can’t gear the horses up and then keep them at that level.″
The disappointment of finishing sixth in the team event was deeply felt by the show jumpers going into the individual event on the last day. They were selected by a completely objective set of trials that did not allow any flexibility for choosing more experienced pairs.
``We wanted to prove to ourselves and show we belonged here,″ said Lauren Hough of Ocala, Fla., on the last day. The three U.S. horses jumped well in the individual event but had enough small mistakes to keep them out of the running.
The relatively green U.S. jumpers also didn’t benefit from eight-weeks of relative inactivity here.
``They jumped no big courses since the trials in California in August, which was a problem, especially for young horses,″ said Laura Kraut of Oconomowoc, Wis.