No less an authority than Olaf Petersen, chairman of the FEI show jumping committee and the course-designer for the Olympics, believes that the US is “one of the favourites” for Athens.

Since dominating the 1984 Olympics, where they took team gold and Joe Fargis and Conrad Homfeld won individual gold and silver, American riders have captured only two Olympic show jumping team medals (silver in Seoul and Atlanta) and two individual medals — silver for Greg Best in Seoul (Gem Twist) and bronze for Norman Dello Joio (Irish) in Barcelona.

Although US riders took team gold and individual silver (Conrad Homfeld again) at the World Championships in 1986, they have failed to win a world team medal since — an indication that the nation’s strength had ebbed dramatically. But a new era could be launched in Greece, where six-times Olympian Frank Chapot makes his final bow as chef d’equipe after two decades.

America has a strong hand this time through Beezie Madden, the world’s leading lady rider, on Authentic; Peter Wylde (Fein Cera), individual bronze medallist at the 2002 WEG; seasoned competitor McLain Ward (Sapphire), and Chris Kappler (Royal Kaliber), whose outstanding record prompted selectors to excuse him from the arduous selection trials in California.

American riders could also be in line for individual honours. Beezie and Peter appear the most likely for that distinction. Although Beezie’s horse is only a nine-year-old, he gained some European experience last autumn. Peter is based in Europe and when he took his WEG bronze medal, his mount was also voted the best horse.

Chris should make a strong team showing because he seems to specialise in Nations Cup clear rounds. McLain’s horse has been doing grands prix for only a year and has no European experience at top level. That would make McLain a long shot for an individual medal, although his mare did show great talent at the selection trials.

In addition to talent, this team has compatibility going for it. The riders — including reserve Alison Firestone (Casanova) — are all friends and sing from the same hymn sheet. They warmed up at Germany’s Hachenburg show on their arrival in Europe, and are now eagerly awaiting to compete in Athens against the world’s best.

Although there has been some controversy over a trials format that left good horses on the sidelines, there is also widespread opinion that “the cream rose to the top” over those two weekends of jumping.

“I think our team is incredibly strong,” says Peter Wylde. “This has worked out as well as we could have hoped.”

  • This profile was first published in Horse & Hound (22 July)


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