Britain wins 1st Olympic team dressage medal: gold

Britain wins 1st Olympic team dressage medal: gold

Credit: Getty Images

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 07: Jan Ebeling of the United States riding Rafalca competes in the Team Dressage Grand Prix Special on Day 11 of the London 2012 Olympic Games at Greenwich Park on August 7, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)

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Associated Press

Posted on August 7, 2012 at 10:31 AM

Updated Tuesday, Aug 7 at 12:04 PM

LONDON (AP) — Britain ended Germany's decades-long domination of equestrian team dressage by winning the Olympic gold medal at Greenwich Park on Tuesday, adding to its first team show jumping gold in 60 years that it won a day earlier.

Germany took the silver and the Netherlands got the bronze.

It was Britain's first dressage medal ever and capped an equestrian competition that saw the home team win a medal in every team discipline: gold in dressage and show jumping and silver in eventing.

"I hope it doesn't end here. I hope it's the start of the team evolving," said Britain's Laura Belchtolsheimer, who rode Mistral Hojris.

In dressage, the horse performs a carefully choreographed routine of movements that showcases the animal's training: prancing trots, extended strides, twirling pirouettes and a move called the flying change, which looks like the horse is skipping.

The competition received unusual attention in the London Games because the U.S. team featured Rafalca, a horse co-owned by the wife of the Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. The U.S. finished sixth and Rafalca, ridden by Jan Ebeling, ended Tuesday in 28th place and out of contention for the individual medal competition.

Ann Romney was in the VIP stands, as was Princess Anne, whose daughter Zara Phillips was part of the silver-winning British equestrian eventing team.

Germany has won every Olympic team gold in dressage since 1976, with the exception of the boycotted Moscow Games in 1980, and Britain has never won a dressage medal, period. In perhaps a first for any dressage event, which are usually rather staid affairs, the crowd in the stands went through several rounds of the wave after it became clear Britain had won.

The final team totals were Britain with 79.979 percent, Germany with 78.216 percent and the Netherlands with 77.124 percent.

It was a back-to-back win for Britain, which won its first team show jumping medal in 60 years in the same arena Monday. Led by Nick Skelton, who returned to the sport after breaking his neck in a 2000 competition fall, the British team rode clear rounds in a jumpoff to give the host team victory over the Netherlands. Saudi Arabia, a relative newcomer to the sport, was a surprising third.

The 18 highest scoring individuals in the team dressage competition advance to perform a freestyle test on Thursday, with movements and music of the rider's own choosing, similar to freestyle ice skating or the floor exercise in gymnastics.

Going into the freestyle event, Germany and Britain both have their three riders in the top eight, which also includes current world leader Adelinde Cornelissen from the Netherlands riding Parzival and the top U.S. rider, Steffen Peters on Ravel.

After Tuesday's Grand Prix Special, Britain's Charlotte Dujardin was in first place on Valegro with 83.286 percent; Cornelissen was second with a score of 81.968 percent and Britain's Carl Hester on Uthopia was in third place with 80.571 percent.

Scoring for the individual medals starts from scratch on Thursday.

Dressage has gotten more attention than usual in the U.S. this year because of Rafalca's participation on the U.S. team. The 15-year-old bay has inspired political jokes about Mitt Romney's wealth and Republican presidential ambitions.

On Tuesday, Rafalca had a solid performance although rider Ebeling said he wished the score of 69.302 percent could have been higher.

"It was wonderful," Mrs. Romney said. "She was elegant and consistent again. We just love her."

She said after Ebeling competes for another year or two, she would probably try breeding the German-bred mare. A mare as famous and accomplished as Rafalca could be valuable on the horse breeding market.

One of the biggest secrets in the U.S. political campaign has been whom Mitt Romney will select as his vice presidential candidate. With the Republican National Convention just weeks away, some political reporters had been charting Rafalca's progress in London to determine when Mrs. Romney might return home, since her husband probably wouldn't announce his vice presidential pick without her at his side.

After a lunch break, Mrs. Romney returned to the stands in a blue jacket with "U.S.A." on the back and watched the rest of the competition.

Ebeling welcomed the attention that Rafalca generated, even though some of it has focused on the impression that dressage is a sport for the wealthy.

"If one kid picks up the sport and makes it all the way to the top, to the Olympics, I will have done my job," Ebeling said.

"In my sport there's money, but in any sport there's money. You can't say it's an elitist sport at all. I have wonderful clients who support me and want me to succeed," Ebeling said.

During Tuesday's Grand Prix Special, soft elevator music played in the background as the horses walked, trotted and cantered in the arena. A handful of the riders wore helmets instead of the typical top hat and tails that are the norm for upper level dressage competition. This is the first Olympics where helmets have appeared in the dressage arena. Two years ago, Courtney King-Dye, an American dressage rider in the 2008 Olympics, sustained a devastating head injury while not wearing a helmet.

The Romneys' visit to London was clouded by the GOP candidate's gaffe upon arrival at the start of the Olympics, when he said Britain's preparations for the games were "disconcerting."

The comment rallied the British behind their games and forced Romney to backpedal.

In an indication his sin was not yet forgiven, the Guardian newspaper headlined its coverage of Rafalca's debut: "Ann Romney's Horse Fails to Win Dressage but Avoids Offending British."

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Margaret Freeman contributed.

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Follow Nicole Winfield at www.twitter.com/nwinfield

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