Mark Phillips: Experience proves decisive *H&H VIP*

  • After watching a lot of the dressage and most of the cross-country, a lot of it twice, I’m struggling to convince myself that the sport has had a good Olympic Games. I was sorry to see the dressage in front of near-vacant stands and when only 40% of the riders were clear across country, I couldn’t help feeling a little sad.

    I suspect many of the teams spent too long studying the 2020 Agenda and not long enough thinking about Pierre Michelet. I wrote some time ago that Pierre is a law unto himself and sure enough we got the most technically difficult cross-country ever seen at an Olympics. Many selectors must now wish they had picked horses more for the cross-country and less for the dressage and showjumping.

    There is an old saying, “experience is what you get just after you discovered you needed it”. In Rio riders had to fight for their clear rounds and experience sure did help. Who would have thought that Michael Jung would be the only member of the German team to jump clear?

    I cannot remember the Brits failing to produce a single clear round and finishing cross-country more than 100 marks behind the leaders. It was a sad way for Yogi Breisner to finish his time at the helm, an era that has been jam-packed with medals.

    Dark horses to the fore

    You have to hand it to the Aussies — and Christopher Burton and Sam Griffiths in particular. Theirs were magnificent performances.

    I could have predicted the Kiwis, led by Mark Todd and Jonelle Price, would give the Germans a run for their money, but I’m not sure I expected them to be battling it out with the Aussies.

    The French were always the dark horses of these Games. They spend most of their lives jumping Pierre Michelet courses and it certainly proved to be an advantage.

    A lot of people will be kicking themselves for silly mistakes and bad decisions, none more so than the Americans. Boyd Martin and Phillip Dutton were magnificent. Lauren Kieffer only had to jump round and a medal was theirs, even after Clark Montgomery’s disappointment. Why she decided not to go the long way at the difficult gate is a mystery. Similarly, I’ll never understand why William Fox-Pitt turned right and not left when in trouble. He could have collected a medal instead of 20 penalties for crossing his tracks.

    It may have been a super-tough day but at the end of it all the marks at the top were very close, setting up an exciting and influential showjumping.

    A sensational finale

    The Brits swept away some of the cross-country blues as they moved up to fifth from eighth, fractionally ahead of the Netherlands. Clears moved France from bronze to gold, and Germany from fourth to silver. Four down from Stuart Tinney meant the Aussies were heading from gold to bronze, and four down for Mark Todd dropped the Kiwis out of the medals. It was truly nail biting, edge-of-your seat stuff.

    As far as individual medals were concerned, having worked with him for more than 10 years as USA coach, I was thrilled for Phillip Dutton. But really it was all about Michael Jung. If Mark Todd was the rider of the 20th century, surely Michael already has one hand on the honour in the 21st.

    Ref Horse & Hound; 11 August 2016