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Friday, June 15, 2012

Doin' the Colbert Bump

The crowd at the 2012 US Equestrian Federation Dressage Festival of Champions in Gladstone, NJ, was reveling in the "Colbert Bump."
Good sport: Jan Ebeling does his Stephen Colbert imitation of Jan Ebeling. Photo by Jennifer Bryant.

That would be the "Dressage: Sport of the Summer!" feature by Comedy Central's Stephen Colbert, highlighting presidential candidate Mitt Romney's ties to our sport via wife Ann's co-ownership of Olympic contender Rafalca. (Did you miss it? Watch it and read my blog post here.)

Everybody at Gladstone, including Rafalca's rider, Jan Ebeling, is enjoying dressage's newfound status as household name. The excitement seemed to bubble over in the form of markedly higher scores in today's FEI Grand Prix, the first test in this second and final weekend of Olympic selection-trials competition.

After playing "always a bridesmaid" to Steffen Peters both at the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games and last weekend at Gladstone, today Tina Konyot was finally a bride. Aboard her Danish Warmblood stallion, Calecto V, Tina achieved a career high GP score of 80.149 percent to beat Steffen on Legolas (78.660).

Tina Konyot and Calecto V pirouette their way to Grand Prix victory. Photo by Jennifer Bryant.

Calecto showed tremendous adjustability, power, and suppleness. Steffen Peters praised the stallion's superior canter work as helping to give him the edge over the inexperienced Legolas today.

With a solid and steady performance marred only by a mistake in the one-tempis ("It was my mistake," Jan Ebeling said), Rafalca also achieved a career best GP score, 75.255 percent, to put them in third place today.

The exciting new combination of Adrienne Lyle and Wizard put in a dynamic test that showcased the horse's incredible reach and uphill movement to finish fourth with 73.298 percent. WEG veterans Todd Flettich and Otto had a few bobbles, including an uncharacteristic reluctance to piaffe, putting them in fifth place with 73.106 percent.

FEI 5* judge Axel Steiner, who was today's expert commentator, said of the competitors afterward: "Everybody started peaking at the right time. Several people really pushed up their scores from last week to this week." He pointed out that Tina Konyot started out her test with an average of 92 percent, having earned two marks of 10 within the first five movements.

Tina Konyot lets Calecto V go in their Grand Prix victory gallop. Photo by Jennifer Bryant.

With just one more test--tomorrow's Olympic Grand Prix Special--remaining in the quest to make the US Olympic dressage team, Steffen Peters on Legolas currently stand in first place, followed by Tina Konyot, Jan Ebeling, Todd Flettrich, Adrienne Lyle, and Heather Blitz. (I'm not counting Steffen on Ravel, who already hold the #1 team slot through a bye.)

"I think the final decision is going to be tomorrow," said Axel Steiner. "It's very tight." It sure is: Less than one-tenths of a percentage point currently separates Legolas from Calecto V.

Steiner offered a reality check in the midst of pre-Olympic euphoria. Even with our top riders hitting the 80-percent mark, nations such as Germany, the Netherlands, and Great Britain are hitting even higher octaves.

"Denmark had an over-80-percent ride just last week," he said. "The Swedes are coming on strong too."

So what are the Americans' Olympic dressage medal chances? Steiner said it's realistic to hope for "a strong showing as a team, maybe sneak some people in in the individual [competition]. Are we in the top three right now? Probably not.

"Eighty percent won't be enough," Steiner continued. Especially in the individual competition, winning scores should be in the mid- to high 80s, he said.

"We can expect big scores," Steiner said.

Stay tuned for tomorrow's Olympic Grand Prix Special, which begins at 8:30 a.m. Live-stream the competition via the USEF Network.

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