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Show Jumping Finale Ends for Team USA in a Series of Strange Events

Equestrian Olympics

The last day of show jumping, and the last day of equestrian competition at the 2004 Athens Olympic Games for that matter, saw 46 riders in the day’s Round A start out to qualify for the cut and a chance to compete for the Individual medal. It was their final effort in securing their names being recorded in the history books of the sport. After the first of two rounds, 29 riders were admitted into the last round to determine the final standings and who would leave Athens with Gold, Silver and Bronze around their necks.

Unfortunately, all that suddenly turned second for fans of U.S. show jumper Chris Kappler and his Dutch Warmblood stallion Royal Kaliber. Having made it through Round A to make the cut for the final round – Round B – the horse was pulled up while on the course in a jump-off to determine who would win the Silver and who would take the Bronze medal. Kappler was pitted against Brazilian rider Rodrigo Pessoa and his Baloubet du Rouet. Many remember Pessoa’s 2000 Sydney Games disappointment when the same mount he competed at Athens balked at a fence three times during the jump-off to determine the Individual medal winners. In Sydney, Pessoa found himself disqualified.

Not quite the same story for Kappler, but the disappointment was there. Four years later here at the 2004 Athens Olympics, the rider from New Jersey found himself competing in a jump-off to determine which medal he would carry home with him – Silver or Bronze. He found himself after Round 2 of the final night of show jumping in a two-way tie with Pessoa – both riders having posted eight faults by the end of the round. Irish rider Cian O’Connor and his mount Waterford Crystal were victorious in their quest for Gold, admittedly very happy underdogs at the Games. It was the first medal for Ireland at the 2004 Athens Games.

Before the jump-off, Kappler spoke to the test that the course was presenting. “It’s going to be very difficult for everybody second round,” he said. “A lot of big jumps…very careful.”

But it was in the jump-off that he found out exactly what was in store. While on course to take the Silver medal, Royal Kaliber pulled up lame during the jump-off and was taken off the course to the veterinary clinic. Kappler knew what he had to do – retire his 12-year-old partner from the jump-off.

“He was jumping unbelievable with only two fences to go,” said Kappler of his round. “[It was] something at oxer fence #15, before the double verticals in the jump-off. He just seemed to land and take a funny step. I was hoping he just stung himself a little, and he didn’t feel bad going into the double vertical, but then he took a funny step in the double verticals there. I knew right away I had to pull him up.” There was no second thought or guessing as far as Kappler was concerned – the horse must come first. “He must have just put a foot wrong.”

During a post-medal ceremony press conference, Professor Leo Jeffcott spoke to the events and then gave an update on the condition of Royal Kaliber.

“The horse went acutely lame on landing in the jumping round, on the left forelimb,” said Jeffcott. “We were able to put a splint on the horse…and x-rays were taken. Reviewing these, there was no evidence of fracture.” Swelling was treated with analgesic (pain-killing) drugs, anti-inflammatory medications and ice. “Although it is extremely serious, there is no need for further intervention certainly this evening,” said Jeffcott.

The condition of the going at Markopoulo Center has been a concern for some riders and critics. Royal Kaliber was the third horse to suffer from injuries during the week.

Pessoa said, “It’s a disappointment to see horses like this go away in an ambulance. I would say the ground is not perfect. It’s not normal for horses that are super athletes, trained to do this, go out like this.” He finished by saying that a strong investigation should be done concerning the ground and reasons for the series of injuries.

Kappler commented that, “The horse being at the extreme of the sport – jumping very high and very wide, over many days and long courses. But, in addition to that, the ground has to be 110%, and I think that has to be looked into for the future.

The last word of the day from Dr. Tim Ober, one of the Team USA veterinarians, was that the horse would recover.

Back to the Action
Of the 29 riders, two members of Team USA made the cut. Surprisingly, the woman going into the final with no faults in her Olympic appearance was not one of them. New York’s Beezie Madden, during Round A, tallied 12 faults, leaving her waiting another four years before she could make another bid for the coveted medal.

The other member of Team USA to make the grade was McLain Ward and Sapphire totaling eight faults going into the final round. Ward made the cut to the top 20, where actually 29 riders competed as ties ballooned the number. It was in Round B that Ward found his own problems for the night. During his round, the horse’s bridle broke causing elimination from the competition and an end to his Olympic bid for a medal. Ward was unavailable for comment after the incident.

Madden suffered her own misfortune earlier in the evening. In Round A, Madden and her Authentic (Dutch Warmblood gelding) were high among the expected riders to be atop the medal podium. However, when she pulled her third rail of the Round A, those hopes floated out of Markopoulo Equestrian Center on the heavy breeze that dominated the late afternoon and evening. The opportunity to become the first woman to wear the Individual Gold medal for the sport would have to wait.

“We had a great day in the Nation’s Cup [earlier in the week], and that’s what we came here for mostly,” said Madden, showing a bit of disappointment. “It’s a young horse, and he put in a fantastic effort…I can’t be anything but happy with him,” she said of her mount, Authentic.

Troubles set in for the pairing at the water. “I rode the water quite strong, and he’s a little bit green about that,” she continued. “Maybe it was a little aggressive for the next fence, and he put it back together really well for the next two.” At the following triple combination, the pair experienced more troubles. “Maybe it was a little bit of inexperience…he’s had a lot thrown at him this week for a nine-year-old,” she concluded.

At the end of a strange and somewhat scary night for Team USA, the team is thankful for their successes.

Ward perhaps said it best. “This is an incredible team to be a part of, and the team showed that all summer. Whether it be the challenges we faced, which we showed on Tuesday night [during the Team medal contest]. Everyone contributed, and certainly we were thrilled to win the Silver [Team] medal.”

So at the end of the Individual show jumping competition in Athens, the results stand as follows:

Individual Show Jumping Final Placings
(Placing, Rider, Horse, Country, Total Faults)
1. Cian O’Connor, Waterford Crystal, Ireland, 4 faults
2. Rodrigo Pessoa, Baloubet du Rouet, Brazil, 8 faults (Jump-off, 4 faults, 49.42 seconds)
3. Chris Kappler, Royal Kaliber, United States, 8 faults (Jump-off, Retired)
4. Marco Katscher, Montender, Germany, 9 faults
5. Robert Smith, Mr. Springfield, Great Britain, 12 faults
5. Peder Fredericson, Magic Bengtsson, Sweden, 12 faults
5. Kevin Babington, Carling King, Ireland, 12 faults
5. Rolf-Goran Bengtsson, Mac Kinley, Sweden, 12 faults
5. Ludo Philippaerts, Parco, Belgium, 12 faults