It was certainly a day of surprises at the 2004 Athens final day of eventing competition as a series of confusions left the final standings and the Olympic Team medal up in the air for more than an hour. The concern centered around German rider Bettina Hoy and whether or not she should have been assigned penalty points for, what she is saying, was unknowingly causing a technical refusal when she crossed the start line once, and then crossed it a second time, believing that the second cross was the official start of her qualifying round of the show jumping phase. This left the Ground Jury and the Appeals Committee involved in sorting out exactly what had happened and making a call to, at first, add time penalties to her score. The FEI officials then retracted the penalties saying that the rider’s time clock had been restarted, “resulting in a clear injustice to the rider concerned. The committee, therefore, removed the time penalties,” according to Freddy Serpieri, vice president of the International Equestrian Federation (FEI) and president of the Appeals Committee, in a jam-packed post-medal awards ceremony press conference.
According to Hugh Thomas, a member of the Eventing Appeals Committee, the infraction was originally noticed by a member of the Ground Jury – not brought up by one of the Team camps for a competing country as was widely suspected – and that once the Ground Jury noticed the infraction, it was acted upon and discussed for a period of an hour-and-a-half before a final determination was made.
German teammate Hoy, who had posted a 35.60 coming into the qualifier, was left dazed when the 14 faults were added to her score for the supposedly inadvertent infraction. She stood, for the time being, with a score of 49.60. The decision knocked the German team off the medal podium and into a sobering and extraordinarily disappointing fourth place finish. But that was only for a while. In the stunning turn of events, the Olympic officials recalled their earlier addition of 14 penalties to Hoy’s score. In the end, it was a questionable double Gold victory for the German contingent in a circus-like atmosphere.
The pairing of Hoy and her horse Ringwood Cockatoo also received the Individual Gold medal during the medal presentations by HRH Princess Anne of Great Britain.
Call it “momentary alchemy” – the French watched their Silver medal turn into Olympic Gold; the British contingent took a tentative step up the podium to land at Silver and a cautiously happy American team welcomed the step up from fourth to a satisfying Bronze medal finish. But as quickly as it came, it all changed.
If one thing was for certain about the final day of the eventing competition at the 2004 Athens Olympics, it was that nothing was certain. It was definitely one of the most interesting and surprising moments that came out of the 2004 Athens Olympics thus far, and the only topic of conversation on the lips of the thousands of fans who made their way to Markopoulo Equestrian Center, not to mention the throngs of international journalists who saw a press room turned on its ear. And it is not over yet.
In a joint statement released on Thursday by French, British and U.S. Olympic Teams it was announced that there would be an appeal.
“The Chef’s de Mission from France, Great Britain and the United States met in the Olympic Village this morning to discuss the controversy surrounding the result of the equestrian three-day eventing competition last night. In the interests of the athletes, fair play and the integrity of sport, all parties have agreed to jointly pursue all available avenues of appeal, and, if necessary, to take this matter to the Court of Arbitration for Sport,” the statement read.
The three teams have informed the International Equestrian Federation (FEI) of their decision to proceed, and legal teams representing the French, British and American delegations are currently preparing the case, which they expect to lodge over the coming days.
Regardless, at the end of the night of eventing competition at Markopoulo Equestrian Center, it was a Team Gold medal for Germany (133.80); a Silver medal for France (140.40); and a Bronze medal for Great Britain (143.00). The Americans finished the competition with a score of 145.60 – less than one rail’s difference of a medal.
Before anyone’s medal dreams could be realized, and before the string of bizarre events, the riders faced the qualifying round to narrow the field to 25 riders to face off in a battle royale for individual honors. The Americans began the day with all five of their riders seated in the top half of the remaining eventers tackling the jumping course (a total of 69 showed for the qualifier). Three of them – Darren Chiacchia, Amy Tryon and Kim Severson made it into the Finals. An expected finalist was to be German rider Ingrid Klimke, however she did not show her horse Sleep Late in a last minute decision in the barn due to a stifle injury. And earlier in the day, before the final horse inspection, the British horse Tamarillo, ridden by William Fox-Pitt, was withheld from competition. The Arabian/Thoroughbred gelding also suffered from a stifle problem, causing his elimination, leaving British team member Fox-Pitt, who was to go into the final day of show jumping in fifth place with a score of 38.60, out of the Individual medal run (he later received a Bronze medal as part of the British team).
America’s first to go around the 13 obstacle course (including a double at fence #9 and a triple at fence #12) was Georgia’s Julie Richards and Jacob Two Two. Putting in a 67.0 for her final score, she felt good about her round and the condition of her horse. The eventer, whose strength is in her show jumping, said, “My goal was to have a nice easy round and make my next four teammates feel like it was easy and have confidence so they can go in and do the same.” She was obviously relieved that her Olympic work was done. Richards and Jacob Two Two finished the qualifier in a three-way tie for 23rd and a final standing of the same on 67.00.
Up next for the United States was Washington state firefighter Amy Tryon and Poggio II, posting a 51.80 for a 11th place spot and a ride in the night’s final. The pair’s clean round added no penalties to her previous day’s score, and she completed the course well within the 90-second time limit.
“I couldn’t have asked for anything better…He [Poggio II] was jumping out of his skin out there, and I just couldn’t be happier,” she said with a laugh. She compared her experiences as a firefighter with the stress of being in the hot seat of competing for a Team medal and a place in the Individual finals.
“It’s a different kind of pressure,” she said. “But it’s sort of the same…you are under the gun and having to perform. The difference is that being a firefighter, you have 10 great people behind you on the hose line willing to help you if you get into trouble, whereas in this you are kind of out there by yourself.” She thanked her co-workers who rearranged their own schedules to allow Tryon to make the trip to Athens to realize her Olympic dreams. “I couldn’t have been here without them,” she shared.
In the final jump off, Tryon posted a clean round and finished her first Olympic appearance with a score of 51.80 for a seventh place finish. Commenting on the events of the day, she expressed sadness for Hoy, but said that “a rule is a rule,” and that a protest was likely to come.
Pulling three rails down and taking on 12 penalties was Virginia’s John Williams and Carrick. Obviously disappointed in his round, he simply said, referring to his horse, “He just didn’t jump high enough.” He noted that his horse prefers a prepared surface as opposed to the turf. He also added that his horse was a bit “mouthy” after the cross-country phase.
“I would have liked to have seen a bigger course. He [Carrick] tries harder when he has to, and this is all too easy for him. He just didn’t see anything too difficult for him,” he candidly said, noting that his horse is not one to shy away from the bigger more difficult courses and performs better when pushed to his limits.
Nonetheless, Williams landed in 21st place with a score of 60.80 after his three rails down in the qualifier.
From the Buffalo, NY-area, Darren Chiacchia took his Windfall 2 across the course dropping two rails and gaining a spot in the final 25 riders of the night for an Individual medal. It was only after the ride through the course that Chiacchia realized that he had downed the two rails to pick up eight penalty points. He finished the qualifier round a spot behind teammate Tryon, posting a 52.60 at 12th place.
“I’m very pleased with Windfall. He jumped a class round. I didn’t even know he had the rails. He just barely touched them,” he said. “Those things happen – sometimes you bounce one right out of the cups and it lands back in, and other times you breathe on it and it rolls out. That’s just part of the sport.”
In the final jump-off, Chiacchia was thrilled with his performance. On the controversy, he added with good character that, “Well…people love sport, and they love drama.”
Chiacchia ended his Olympic journey posting a final score of 60.60 after the night’s jump-off and standing at a 12th place finish in Athens.
The final American rider in the qualifier was Kim Severson from Virginia and her Winsome Adante. Knocking down one plank – tallying four penalties – she then tacked on a one-point time penalty to leave her within arm’s reach of the top spot in the qualifier – finishing it on 41.20 points.
A downed rail on the final round of show jumping added four points to Severson’s score – leaving her with the Individual Bronze medal position on the podium and a score of 45.20.
Visibly displeased, Severson said little after the qualifying round, preferring to watch the final riders take their turn at the course. “Mark [referring to team coach Capt. Mark Phillips] said I just got there early,” referring to the downed rail at the end of the course. Severson was upbeat, however, in describing her overall Olympic experience, “It’s really been great.”
After her final round, Severson was tempered in her response saying, “I still can’t believe it. I just can’t believe it. I was originally going after Bettina, and then I was going before Bettina.” Hoy’s pole position was changed due to the strange circumstances, allowing her to be moved closer to the end of the round, moving her from her originally scheduled spot of entering the ring 18th in the jump off.
“It was pretty crazy,” she added. “It’s not black-and-white at all. This is obviously going to be a long-term thing…Mark [Phillips, team coach] said that this is something that we will go to the Appeals Committee with.” A similar situation occurred with another rider at the World Equestrian Games in 1998. “I don’t know whether to be happy or not,” she added, half-jokingly.
Severson did say that overall, her experience was an excellent one and that she, ultimately, did this for her and her horse and the horse’s owners.
So….at the end of a most unforgettable day, and with little more than one rail separating them, the final honors were a double Gold for Germany and an Individual Gold for Bettina Hoy and Ringwood Cockatoo (41.60); an Individual Silver medal for Britain’s Leslie Law and his horse Shear L’Eau (44.40); and an Individual Bronze medal for American Kim Severson and Winsome Adante (45.20).