Rio de Janeiro – August 8, 2016 – Athletes at the Olympic Games in Rio had been discussing how difficult the cross country test looked all weekend, and on Monday the track proved to be just as punishing as predicted. Only 47 of the original 65 entries made it across the finish line, and only a handful did so without jumping or time penalties.
Boyd Martin was the first to go for the U.S. team with Blackfoot Mystery, and despite having one of the greenest mounts in the field, the pair made it look easy. Opting to take the less risky long routes in two spots, they still made it to the finish line with only 3.2 time penalties tacked on to their score. With a total of 50.9 penalties they climbed from 35th in the rankings to 6th place individually.
“I am so thankful I was on an old racehorse from Kentucky because he kept fighting the whole way home,” expressed Martin. “He was definitely on empty coming to the last three fences and he just tried his heart out and jumped every jump. I am so pleased with him.”
Martin continued, ‘He’s a wonderful galloper and he’s pretty light in the mouth. To have three time penalties with two long routes is a testament to his speed and how much he tries. Normally, if you take two options you get 20 time penalties.”
Now, Martin is looking ahead to Tuesday’s show jumping phase and he concluded, “Blackfoot Mystery is good, he’s fit and he’s a very sound horse. I think I’ll have plenty of horse for tomorrow.”
Things started to go downhill for the U.S. team in the afternoon. Clark Montgomery was eliminated after three refusals with Loughan Glen, who did not seem interested in participating in today’s cross country phase.
“He’s definitely not feeling himself,” admitted Montgomery. “It’s hard to say exactly what. It’s an old problem that he used to do a couple years ago that we found out how to fix, and obviously we missed it somewhere in his preparation.”
Montgomery added, “It’s an adjustability issue. He’s very difficult to make come back and then turn to the right. It’s something that I know needs to get fixed. We were unable to fix it before we got here. We thought everything was OK and obviously it wasn’t.”
Lauren Kieffer was up next, and was having a very strong run with Veronica, but the pair got caught at a gate towards the end of the track, and the fall eliminated them from the competition.
“I think she was being really good, so it was stupid not to go the straight way,” explained Kieffer, who had a minor hand injury, but otherwise seemed OK. “Then she hit that gate with her right front and for a second I thought she might save it, but down we went.”
The elimination of Montgomery and Kieffer dashed any hopes of a podium finish for the U.S. Team, but that did not deter veteran Phillip Dutton from laying down a fantastic effort with Mighty Nice.
The pair went in ready for the challenge. Despite one issue at the hedge corner, the duo made it around the track with no jumping penalties and just 3.2 time penalties. Their total score 46.8 penalties ranks them fifth individually, and they are less than 10 penalties off the leaders heading into the show jumping phase.
“Mighty Nice is not the fastest horse, he’s not a Thoroughbred, it was a little hard to catch it up, but he fought really hard right to the very end and came home nicely,” said Dutton. “I didn’t have much to lose, just go out there and going as fast as I could. I was planning to go direct at 6, but then after that error we had to go to plan B.”
Discussing the course, Dutton mentioned, “I think everybody is pretty shocked. Most of the Olympics, cross country hasn’t been as advanced, but it is what it is and it’s probably not my favorite type of course, but it was the same for everybody. The cross country is still really important and no one is worrying about the dressage score at the moment.”
Dutton and Martin, ranked fifth and sixth, respectively, will now fight for an individual spot on the podium during Tuesday’s show jumping phase, which begins at 9:00 a.m. EST