On a splendid afternoon at the Olympic equestrian venue in Greenwich Park, there was much to take in, from the moments of sunshine to the tasty wares of the Champagne & Seafood concession to the gold medal won by the British riding team in a jump-off.
For the Britons and their fans, this was another signature moment in a sport that matters to them. For Canada’s equestrians, it was a different experience, like finishing third on Jeopardy! You got to play the game but it wasn’t long before Alex Trebek forgot your name.
Canada, as the defending Olympic silver medalists in the team event, entered the final Monday sitting sixth with little chance of winning any kind of medal. Jill Henselwood, Eric Lamaze and Ian Millar did what they could, got a little help but wound up fifth – not the finish they were looking for but one that was almost sealed by developments Sunday.
When Tiffany Foster’s horse was ruled unfit for medical reasons, it angered and hamstrung the Canadians. The other seven competing nations had four riders and could drop their worst score. Canada had to keep everything the three remaining riders posted. Henselwood went first Monday and had nine faults. Lamaze went second and had eight. Millar brought it home knocking down only a single rail for four faults.
It was enough to qualify Lamaze and Millar for the individual event (which starts Wednesday) but not nearly enough to rekindle the good karma of the 2008 Games in Beijing, where Canada, down to three riders because of an injured horse, found a way to persevere and succeed all the way to the podium.
“It’s a huge disadvantage,” Millar said of going three against four. “Imagine if you were playing baseball, everybody else had four strikes and you only had three strikes. It’s a different game.”
The Canadians produced a different mood when asked about how the banning of Foster’s horse because of a hypersensitive front left hoof had affected them emotionally. Millar lamented for Foster, the first-time Olympian who never got her fair shot.
Lamaze, who had originally called the International Equestrian Federation’s call to ban “insane … a joke,” was suddenly more tight-lipped saying only, “We’re not going to dwell on it. We’ll deal with that when this is all over.”
Henselwood addressed the issue by pointing to another.
“It’s amazing to me that with the great riders in our country that we haven’t got a more solid depth in our team yet,” she said. “We have great horses, we have some good riders out there for sure – and experienced riders. Mac Cone, we left at home with a small injury on his horse. Beth Underhill, an amazing rider for Canada. She’s got a young horse but not here. Jonathan Asselin … I mean, we need to keep creating the same support and bring those young people on.”
Millar, the 65-year-old physical marvel, has long been the Canadian equestrian team’s go-to rider – its surest, safest bet. Given the way his horse Star Power, an 11-year-old Dutch-bred gelding, performed here there is reason to think Millar will carry on to the 2016 Games at Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. By then, Star Power and Lamaze’s horse, Derly Chin de Muze, and Henselwood’s George will be more seasoned and ready for the monster jumps of an Olympic course. Add another young rider to the mix and Canada’s jumping fortunes good change for the better.
For the Britons, it will be awfully tough to top what happened on their home soil. The Olympic gold medal in show jumping was their first in 50 years. Not only was the team led by the ever-popular Nick Skelton, the medal came when the Gerco Schroder of the Netherlands, riding a horse named London, knocked down a rail. That opened the door for Peter Charles to go clear and send the crowd home happy.
Many stopped at the Champagne & Seafood to celebrate. Canada’s riders were tending to their horses and thinking of a new day.