The United States delivered a first world team title as they triumphed in a dramatic finale to Friday's Bank of America Merrill Lynch Jumping Championship at the FEI World Equestrian Games™ Tryon 2018 (WEG) at Tryon International Equestrian Center (TIEC).
The U.S. Trust Arena rocked to its rafters as McLain Ward powered the host nation home after a head-to-head jump-off, the first in team Jumping history to do so at an FEI World Equestrian Games™, against Sweden, which was required to decide gold medal glory.
Ward and Clinta had a chance to win it in regulation time, needing a clear round to deny Sweden, who saw Henrik von Eckermann (Toveks Mary Lou), Malin Baryard-Johnsson (H&M Indiana) and Fredrick Jonsson (Cold Play) all claim clear rounds to finish on an overall team score of 20.59.
Ward had one fence down, sending it into a jump-off, where all four team riders jumped again with times and faults collated, and it was the United States that triumphed by more than two seconds as Ward, Devin Ryan (Eddie Blue) and Laura Kraut (Zeremonie) all went clear and Adrienne Sternlicht (Cristalline) had four faults.
Baryard-Johnsson apart, the Swedish team – anchored by European Individual champion Peder Fredrcison and H&M Christian K – also went clear, yet their immense effort was finally beaten by an ice-cool Ward on another beautiful day in North Carolina.
The German quartet of Simone Blum, who also leads the individual competition heading into Sunday's final, Laura Klaphake, Maurice Tebbel and Marcus Ehning took Bronze, with the three remaining 2020 Tokyo Olympics qualifying places being filled by overnight leaders Switzerland, the Netherlands and surprise package Australia.
“It has been a very long three or four days and I take my hat off to Sweden,” Ward said. “I didn't expect that charge from them today. I knew the situation. I had one fence down and then I knew I couldn't afford a time fault. I got a second opportunity in the jump-off. I wanted to go in and just do the best round I could. All the guys came through brilliantly and I am so proud to be American today.”
Kraut, meanwhile, added, “This is right up there with everything I have achieved in my career. The team spirit has been amazing and I so can't believe it.”
United States Chef d'Equipe Robert Ridland joined Kraut in struggling to comprehend what his team had achieved, especially having done it in such dramatic fashion.
“This was sport at its best,” he said. “The odds on a jump-off being required were incredible, although we realized it was a possibility. This, today, is why we do it. We have been dreaming about this for so long. We have a tremendous group of talented riders.”
While the team competition concluded in unforgettable fashion, the leading 25 riders booked their place in Sunday's final.
Blum, aboard DSP Alice, leads the list on a score of 2.47 penalties, with the top ten also including Ward, Max Kuhner, Cian O'Connor, Israel's Danielle Goldstein and former Olympic champion Steve Guerdat.
Also firmly in contention, meanwhile, are the likes of Ehning, Kraut, Ryan and current world number one Harrie Smolders.
Blum said, “I am so happy. It was my third clear round here and Alice was amazing. She was fighting for me and I'm so happy. Alice is in very good shape here. She is quiet and focused and I feel very good and comfortable with her. She loves the hot weather.”
“I am so proud that I am qualified for Sunday. I think that's a huge success and I need to stay focused now. We need two more really good rounds and then we will see.”
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