Colombia’s Campaign for 1st Olympic Team Pays Off

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Colombia's medal winning team at the Pan American Games in Guadalajara. © 2011 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

By KENNETH J. BRADDICK

GUADALAJARA, Mexico, Oct. 17–When Marco Bernal and Farewell IV entered the arena as the second last combination in the Pan American Games Prix St. Georges to qualify a team for next year’s London Olympics, he could go for it and possibly beat Canada for silver but too much and be out of the medals altogether, making or breaking 12 years of hopes and dreams for Colombia dressage.

The 49-year-old family man based in Wellington, Florida, who had been selected as anchor because of his experience and coolness under pressure played it safe and turned in a harmonious and correct performance to score 70.237 per cent, one of nine out of 47 starters to breach the 70 per cent barrier.

The result was enough to give Colombia the bronze medal and its first ever Olympic team qualification.

The Colombian team included two 70 per cent combinations–Constanza Jaramillo in her first ever championship rode the Ulla Salzgeber-trained Wakana to 72.158 per cent for a third place individual finish behind Steffen Peters and Weltino’s Magic and Heather Blitz and Paragon of the U.S. And three Colombian pairs made it to the 25 to contest the Intermediaire.

Colombia achieved success with an effort that remained under the radar, with the home side of Mexico or the 2007 bronze medalist Brazil given the best shot at winning a medal–but they finished fourth and fifth, respectively, behind the U.S., Canada and Colombia.

Marco Bernal and Farewell IV at the Pan American Games. © Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

The dream of a Colombian team in the Olympics began at the Pan American Games in Winnipeg in 1999 when Marco was a member of the Colombian team that won silver and the country believed it was ready for the world stage.

But the reality of turning a dream of sending a team to the Olympics was deferred.

A team effort at Santo Domingo in 2003 and an individual effort by Marco at Rio de Janeiro in 2007 failed to produce any medals.

Although Marco operates a substantial business out of his farm in the heart of Wellington’s horse country and trains his 14-year-old son, Marco, Jr. who wants pursue a career in dressage with hopes of joining his father on a Colombian team one day, he persisted in competing at championships.

This year, he said. everything changed.

Marco’s three gold medals at the Central American Games in San Juan, Puerto Rico, in 2010 on Farewell IV ignited a desire by individual Colombians to end the drought at bigger championships. Farewell was a horse he traind from a four-year-old and bought shortly after the stallion exhibited spectacular gaits.

“There was big support from individual Colombians,” he told dressage-news.com. “With the purchase of the important horse, Wakana, and Farewell we now have four or five horses for a team that can compete internationally.”

Wakana, the 11-year-old mare from Ulla Salzgeber who had trained it up to Grand Prix and competed on both sides of the Atlantic with scores well above 70 per cent at top European shows, was bought this summer for Constanza to ride. Constanza works with Ulla in Germany and the Olympic gold medalist was in Mexico coaching her.

“The goal was to win silver and get close to gold,” Marco said, “but definitely to medal so we would go London as a team.”

The mix of Colombian riders, Ulla as Constanza’s coach, longtime team coach Thomas von Samson of Germany and Margit Otto-Crepin, a four-time Olympian for France, as chef d’equipe worked well. Although Ulla was focused on Constanza and Wakana, she also offered tips to the other team members, an invaluable resource.

Margit Otto-Crepin with Marco, Marco Jr. and Charlotte Bernal. © 2011 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

Marco said he was surprised at the outpouring of congratulations at Colombia’s Pan Am medal, with much of it coming from Europe.

Now, attention has turned to Olympic preparations.

When ridden by Ulla, Wakana scored well above 70 per cent in the Grand Prix at top CDIs in Europe. Ulla gave all the credit to Constanza for the result at the Pan Ams, although it is small tour, and said that she was confident the Colombian rider would be ready for the Olympics next July.

Marco has bought a new horse, Don Akzentus, that was competed at small tour in Germany but is of higher quality than Farewell.

The nine-year-old stallion arrived in Wellington this week.

“So I will have two possible Grand Prix horses,” he said.

The possibility of two other Colombian riders going to Germany and training and competing on leased Grand Prix horses has been discussed.

Either way, Marco said, the tentative plan is for the prospective Colombian team to be based out of his farm in Wellington next winter and take advantage of the 11 CDIs including a CDIO Nations Cup on the winter caendar.

“All the pieces are falling into place,” he said. “We are off to a good start.”