TRYON, N.C.--The U.S. show jumping team of Devin Ryan on Eddie Blue, Adrienne Sternlicht on Cristalline, Laura Kraut on Zeremonie and McLain Ward on Clinta, led by Chef d’Equipe Robert Ridland, won the gold medal on Friday, Sept. 22, but they had to win over Sweden in a jump-off after a wild three days of competition during which the lead kept changing almost round by round, and it isn't over yet.
The final two rounds of competition on Sunday among the top 25 individuals will decide the individual medals, and the U.S. has four riders in the top 25, the only country to qualify all four teammates.
The win qualifies the U.S. for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and was the first gold medal for the show jumping team in the WEG since the team won on 1986.
“It was unbelievable. To start with, this is our sport at its best,” said Ridland, who has held the U.S. Jumping Chef d’Equipe position for five years. “The odds were miniscule that there would be a jump-off for first place. We realized this was a possibility. It wasn’t what we were looking for, but the sport doesn’t get any better than that.”
After the first individual speed class, all the riders are given faults according to their times, with rider with the fastest time being given 0 faults, and that system is used just so that there won't be a tie at the end of three rounds.
"I THINK Adrienne said it best, ‘Let’s not wake up from this dream,’" said Ridland. "This is what we do it for. When you’re sitting here with what you’ve been dreaming about for so long, you have to think back to where it all started. For us, this journey really began when we started the selection procedure in June of 2017. We had a tremendous group of veteran and young riders. If we could really prepare them through the lead-up to this and test them with fire, we thought we had a good chance.”
In the first speed class, both Ryan and Sternlicht had fast times but a rail down to add 4 seconds, so finished on 3.64 and 4.25 respectively, and Kraut and Ward, both clean, ended with 1.87 faults and 1.08 faults respectively, putting the team fourth on 6.59 behind Switzerland, 2.64, Netherlands, 4.36, and Brazil, 6.42, and ahead of surprisingly good Australia, 7.32, France, 7.76, Sweden, 8.59, and Germany, 9.09, followed by Colombia, Ireland, Israel, Canada, Belgium, Egypt, New Zealand, Great Britain, Italy, Mexico, Japan, Argentina, Hungary, Chile, Portugal, Spain and Venezuela.
Then in the second competition, Kraut had a disappointing and uncharacteristic 8 faults for the drop score, Ryan had one rail for four faults, Sternlicht delivered a critical, team saving clean round with one time fault and Ward also had one fault to go into the final round with 12.59 faults in second behind Switzerland with 11.64, followed by German, 18.09, Sweden, 20.59. Netherlands, 24.35, Ireland, 27.12 , France, 27.76, Australia, 28.32, Great Britain, 31.04, and Canada, 32.89.
The the fireworks began.
Three Swedish riders, Henrik von Eckerman, Malin Baryard-Johnsson and Fredrik Jonsson, all were clean to keep the Swedes on 20.59.
Switzerland's first rider, Werner Muff, had 13 faults and then the second rider, Janika Sprunger, stopped out at the second fence for and extraordinary elimination, Steve Gurdat added 4 faults with Martin Fuchs clean for the team to end on 28.64, dropping it to fourth.
Ryan of Long Valley, N.J.. and Eddie Blue, LL Show Jumpers, LLC’s nine-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding, had four faults performance., and Sternlicht of Greenwich, Conn.. and Cristalline, Starlight Farm LLC’s 10-year-old Bavarian Warmblood mare, also had four faults.
Kraut of Wellington, Fla., and Zeremonie, Old Willow Farms LLC’s 11-year-old Holsteiner mare, scored an all-important clear round.
It all came down to Ward of Brewster, N.Y., on Clinta, an 11-year-old Oldenburg mare he owns with Sagamore Farm.
A clear round and the team wins the gold medal, but he met the seventh fence too long and, try as Clinta did, she had it down for 4 four faults, putting the team into a tie with Sweden and forcing a jump-off.
First to go in the jump-off, von Eckerman was clean in 32.99.
The atmosphere was electric and filled with anticipation as Ryan entered the ring, and he was clean in 34.88.
Baryard-Johnsson had a very rough turn to the last fence and had it down for 4 faults in 35.39 to be the team's drop score, and Sternlicht also had a rail down to be the drop score for the U.S.
Jonson was clean in 35.32, and Kraut delivered a clean round in 33.21, followed by a clean round from Fredricson in 34.43.
Once again, it all came down to Ward.
He knew what he had to do, and he did it.
He delivered a masterful clear round in the fastest time of the day, 32.58 seconds, to win this historic gold medal for the United States.
While faults were equal between the U.S. and Sweden, their cumulative times were 102.73 seconds for Sweden and 100.67 seconds for the U.S.
“I knew the situation going in," said Ward of his first round. "I knew a clear would win. I’m very grateful that I have such a great team, delivering great scores. Laura was clutch today. I’m glad I got a second opportunity to help our team win."
“In that moment, you’ve got to do your best,” he said. “I’m very grateful to Robert. I’m very proud of my student Adrienne. I believed in Devin, and Laura’s always been brilliant. They came through brilliantly. This is what’s great about America; many different personalities, many different people, trying to be great, fighting, trying to be their absolute best. In the end, I’m so proud of that and to be American today. This is truly who we are.”
Speaking through her “tears of joy,” Sternlicht said, “I really, really, really don’t want to be woken up from this dream. I love this horse so, so much. McLain is the most unbelievable mentor for me and such an important part of my life. For me, it’s been a battle of overcoming my own mind. I’m so grateful that Robert trusted me to put me on this team. To be with Laura and McLain and Devin, honestly, three riders that I’ve looked up to my entire life for various reasons, it’s invaluable experience. I can only grow from this and I’m so grateful for this opportunity.”
Ryan, who is riding in his first championship along with Sternlicht, acknowledged the incredible year he has had leading up to this gold-medal moment.
“A lot has changed over the past 12 months for me,” said Ryan, who was also runner-up in the 2018 World Cup Jumping Final with Eddie Blue. “It was my breakthrough year. I’ve been working my way up the ranks building a business, bringing along young horses, and it’s finally paid off a bit. I’ve learned a lot this week. It’s my first real championship, and this year is the first year I’ve actually been on a team. The team starts with my family, my owners, and all of these guys. It felt good to be able to produce that clean round for the jump-off.”
Kraut reminisced of her last gold medal-winning performance in the 2008 Hong Kong Olympic Games, which was also won in a jump-off, and felt that winning in the United States in front of a home crowd made it even more special.
“It was amazing sport. I don’t think we’ll ever see something like this again,” she said. “Thanks to everyone here and our supporters and owners for this opportunity. At my age, it’s great! I’m going to brag; I think we have the best support system in the world, for sure. The list is endless of the people that are making this happen for us. They do everything to make our job as easy as possible and they’re incredible. I still can’t believe it.”
With the U.S. in gold and Sweden winning the silver, Germany rounded out the podium in bronze.
Some of the surprises were Netherlands, the defending gold medalists, finishing fifth, Australia finishing sixth and qualifying for the 2020 Olympics, Great Britain finishing eighth, Canada finishing 10th and Brazil finishing14th.
All four U.S. riders will advance to Sunday’s individual final. They sit in the following places with accumulated penalties, and those totals do not include the jump-off as that was an extra competition:
McLain Ward and Clinta: 6.08 penalties, sixth place
Laura Kraut and Zeremonie: 9.87 penalties, 17th place
Adrienne Sternlicht and Cristalline: 10.26 penalties, 20th place
Devin Ryan and Eddie Blue: 11.64 penalties, 24th place
The team will compete on Sunday, Sept. 23, at 9:45 a.m. for the individual final.
The top 12 return for a second round on Sunday to determine the individual medals