A healthy breeze forced the flags to attention in the Baji Koen Equestrian Park last evening as the top 18 horse-and-rider pairs in the dressage competition at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 took their turns dancing in the sand in the freestyle. Perhaps leftover from the typhoon that made landfall about 100 miles away from Tokyo, it was actually a welcome respite from the high temperatures and humidity that have been the norm here in Tokyo.
In the Freestyle, not only technical execution of the movements counts, but also artistic impression figures into the score. As the sun sunk into the horizon, the competitors started their tests and a small crowd of volunteers, Games staff, the riders’ support crews, and media settled into their seats for an entertaining evening. The individual Olympic dressage medals were on the line.
While all three U.S. riders had qualified for the freestyle, there was a last-minute withdrawal by the U.S.A.’s Adrienne Lyle. She had to pull Betsy Juliano’s 14-year-old Hanoverian stallion Salvino from the line up for the horse’s welfare, stating that the horse did not “feel quite like his usual self.”
Because of that, Canada’s Brittany Fraser-Beaulieu and her 16-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding All In moved on to the roster since theirs had been the next highest Grand Prix score. They laid down a solid test and scored 76.404%.
By the end of this fourth evening of dressage competition in Tokyo, at least two key riders had achieved personal bests in the Grand Prix Freestyle, which landed them square in the spotlight. The first was the U.S.A.’s Sabine Schut-Kery with Alice Womble’s 15-year-old stallion Hanoverian stallion Sanceo. Performing seventh in the ring, they glided gracefully to their best result to date, earning an 84.300 % which earned them a fifth-place individual finish, the highest by an American rider.
Sanceo and Schut-Kery have become a bit of a sensation at these Games. The judges seem to love Sanceo, and his performance seems to be peaking at just the right time. U.S. teammate Steffen Peters saw Sanceo’s potential in a mixed zone interview after his freestyle ride. “I’ve known Sabine for a long time and remember when she got the horse when he was three years old,” said Peters. “In the training camp for the Games, we could all see that there was more in the horse.”
Peters and Akiko Yamazaki’s 13-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding Suppenkasper were second to go in the freestyle order yesterday right after Fraser-Beaulieu and All In. Peters shared in an interview after his ride that their accompanying music was filled with selections that had special meaning for him. The judges rewarded their clean and enjoyable test with an 80.968%, and they finished in tenth place.
The second horse-and-rider combo to achieve a personal best yesterday performed late in the order. Germany’s Jessica von Bredow-Werndl piloted the 14-year-old Trakehner mare TSF Dalera to a 91.732%. This score, their first-ever over 90%, clinched the gold medal.
The silver medal went to German teammate, and the top-ranked dressage rider in the world going into the Games, Isabell Werth and the 17-year-old Westphalian mare Bella Rose, who took their turn in the ring two slots after von Bredow-Werndl and Dalera. Werth is a true competitor and winner of 12 Olympic medals, including the silver at these Games, but she and Bella Rose fell slightly short of gold when they garnered an 89.657%.
The bronze medal went to reigning Olympic champion Charlotte Dujardin of Great Britain, who had captured gold at the 2016 Rio Olympics with Valegro. This time around, her Olympic partner was the 10-year-old chestnut Dutch Warmblood gelding, Gio. The judges placed Dujardin and Gio just 1.114 points less than Werth and Bella Rose for a total score of 88.543%, which is quite an accomplishment for such a young horse.
Von Bredow-Werndl and Dalera were the only competitors to top 90% in Olympic competition yesterday and joined an elite club of “90 percenters” who have ever achieved this score in competition at any time. The list also includes Isabell Werth (on both Bella Rose in previous competition and Weihegold OLD), Edward Gal on Totilas, Dujardin on Valegro, Sönke Rothenberger on Cosmo, and Dorothee Schneider on Showtime (in previous competition).
Most of the foreign dressage horses are leaving either today or very shortly this week with riders, grooms and the rest of the human support staff following suit, too. The eventers are already here and many of them have slipped into the grandstands to watch their dressage teammates compete in dressage over the last few days.
Find complete results here for the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 Dressage Grand Prix Freestyle.