TRYON, N.C.--Chester Weber delivered a critical clean cones test with only 2.77 time penalties to cement the gold medal win for the U.S. team that included James "Jimmy" Fairclough and Misdee Wrigley Miller.
It was the first ever four-in-hand team gold medal for the U.S. that the team won on Sunday, Sept. 23 after leading through all three phases.
The team ended with 353.39 penalties following the three phases of competition.
The Netherlands won the silver medal with 356.79 penalties and Belgium won bronze with 364.089 penalties.
In addition, Weber earned his second career individual WEG silver medal, ending on 163.38 penalties behind Australia’s Boyd Excell, who won gold with 154.14 penalties and in front of Belgium’s Edouard Simonet who won bronze with 174.15 penalties.
Wrigley Miller's dressage score of 42 and Weber's of 36.2 counted in that phase, while Fairclough's and Weber's scores counted in Marathon and Cones
“This was brilliant, unexpected really," said chef d’equipe Barry Hunter. "Everyone played their part, a true team effort.”
"WHAT ALSO makes this team gold medal extra special to the three U.S. drivers, there was a wonderful man who passed away a year ago, (former chef d’equipe) Ed Young," said Weber. "He was the force around U.S. Equestrian’s program and led the way for a number of years, and today, when the reality was there that we won team gold, to me personally, for me and this team medal, that’s for Ed Young.”
The U.S. team held the gold-medal position heading into Sunday’s cones phase on 338.55 penalties.
Richard Nicoll constructed a challenging, technical course, dependent on precision and accuracy.
Wrigley Miller of Lakewood Ranch, Fla., with her team of Beau, her 12-year-old KWPN gelding; Bravour 54, her 12-year-old KWPN gelding; Bolino D, her 12-year-old KWPN gelding; and Calipso 86, her 11-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding, were the first on course for the U.S.
Serving as the pathfinder, she helped the team gain a solid understanding of the tough course at hand, but she added an unfortunate 32.93 penalties to their score to end with 230.87 for 16th place overall.
“It was wild in there, really tight," said Wrigley Miller. "My horses were so responsive and wonderful and made the most of a really tough course. There was one spot to make up some time, but it was followed by so many sharp turns. But my horses were brilliant.”
“It has been an amazing journey, learning about horsemanship, about finding the right combination of horses, and trying to learn new skills," said Wrigley Miller. "It has been so much fun. I’ve put my life on hold the past year because this was my goal and focus. It was worth every second.”
Fairclough of Newton, N.J., and his team of Bento V, his 12-year old Dutch Warmblood gelding; Citens, his 11-year-old KWPN gelding; Dapper, his 10-year old Dutch Warmblood gelding; and Zenden, his 14-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding, followed for the U.S.
He encountered a minor incident on course when the left wheeler broke a noseband.
This caused the team to stall a bit and, as a result, they dropped two balls and added 6.07 time penalties, adding 12.07 penalties to end with 201.16 for 11th place overall.
“I had a hard time on course today," said Fairclough. "They were fighting me a little bit, and they got really strong, I couldn’t figure out why it was so heavy. It was a very technical course, so that already makes it a little difficult to be quick, and I felt myself a little late. I was hoping it would be a little smoother than it was, but it got rough and a little jerky, but that’s the name of the game.”
The U.S. sat in the bronze-medal position with Weber of Ocala, Fla., as the second from last in the order.
The team gold medal depended on a cautious completion with Splash, Jane Clark’s 15-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding; First Edition, his nine-year-old KWPN gelding; Reno, his nine-year-old Hungarian gelding; and Boris W, his 12-year-old KWPN gelding.
The double WEG silver medalist and his team delivered in true fashion, adding only 2.77 time penalties to solidify the gold medal.
“It is a lot of fun to be on this team," said Weber. "When I was introduced to combined driving, Jimmy was my teacher. I was 13 years old. I remember when Misdee came up to me at the Florida State Fair and wanted to get into carriage driving, so it was really humbling and nice to be here. Winning gold was a surprise. I thought we came here with a chance at a medal, but if you asked me to bet on if we would be the world champions at the end of the week, I would have said ‘I’m not sure.'"
Fairclough already has an eye on the future after the USA beat the Netherlands, the 2010 and 2014 champions, into second and Belgium into third.
“I hope it’s going to inspire a lot of people to come forward and try the sport," said Fairclough. "It’s a great boost for us.”
BOYD EXCELL of Australia proved he remains in a league of his own by securing a third successive individual WEG gold medal.
No one was able to rival Exell from the moment he entered the dressage arena on day one.
First in the dressage, third in the marathon stage despite driving with broken brakes and second in the closing cones phase, Exell finished with an overall score of 154.14, almost 10 points clear of Weber.
Edouard Simonet, the 29-year-old Belgian who was once a back-stepper for Exell, took the bronze medal with a final score of 174.15.
"I love training horses," said Excell. "It's a relief to win, I have a huge team of people who have been with me 20 years"
Delighted with winning a WEG bronze medal to go with their 2017 European team bronze, the Belgium team also served notice of their intention to change driving’s established order.
“We are the future not only of Belgium driving but of international driving,” said Glenn Geerts, who like individual bronze medal winner Simonet is 29 years old, while Dries Degrieck, the third member of the team, is just 23.
In comparison, the traditional powerhouse, the Netherlands, finished Tryon lamenting unexpectedly poor marathon performances from their often all-conquering father and son duo of Ijsbrand and Bram Chardon.
The pair did come out firing on the final day, with 25-year-old Bram Chardon producing the only double clear round.
But it was not enough to deliver a third successive team gold.
“We wanted to get our spot back, that spot was meant for us,” said a dejected Bram Chardon.