USA Olympic Dressage Team Out of Isolation to Escape Distractions, Hopeful of Contending for Medals
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By KENNETH J. BRADDICK
LONDON, July 28–The United States dressage team came out of their self-imposed isolation to escape the distractions that have come with the fame of Rafalca owned in part by prospective First Lady Ann Romney and hoping to be in the hunt for medals in the Olympic dressage competition starting five days from Saturday.
Ravel, the top American horse competing in his second Olympics and one of only a half-dozen who are competing at these Games to exceed 80 per cent in international Grand Prix this year, has been “phenomenal” in training, according to rider Steffen Peters.
“I have to agree with (U.S. coach) Anne Gribbons’ exitement that he’s fit and ready to go,” said Steffen, the only Olympic veteran on the U.S. squad with London being his third Games. “If Ravel goes as well as he has in the last couple of weeks I can’t ask for anything more,”
Members of the U.S. team–Steffen of San Diego, California; Jan Ebeling of Moorpark, California and Tina Konyot of Palm City, Florida and individual Adrienne Lyle of Ketchum, Idaho–met with the media at Olympic Park Saturday, the day after participating in the opening ceremony and moving into the Village which is home for 10,000 athletes from around the world for two weeks.
All of the Amrican riders agree with the general consesus and the odds makers that the gold medal in the team competition will be fought out between Great Britain and Germany, an amazing accomplishment for the host nation that has never won a medal of any color in 100 years of dressage being a part of the Olympics and while Germany has won every team gold from 1984 in Los Angeles to 2008 in Beijing.
However, the U.S. riders have trained hard to put the team in the mix with the Netherlands, Denmark, Spain and Sweden for bronze.
Since 1992, the first Games after the Cold War, the U.S. has won four team bronze medals that places the country third behind only Germany and Holland in the overall medal tally.
The Team contest comprises the Grand Prix on Aug. 2-3 and the Grand Prix Special Aug. 7. The Musical Freestyle will be the equestrian competition finale on Aug. 9.
Steffen and Ravel, a 14-year-old KWPN gelding (Contango x Hautain x Democraat) owned by Akiko Yamazaki, fourth individually in Hong Kong in 2008, World Cup champion and in 2009 and double individual bronze medalist at the 2010 World Equestrian Games, have competed in only two shows this year, but scored 81.383 per cent in a Grand Prix in Florida in January.
The only other combinations that are competing at these Games to have broken the 80 per cent barrier at Grand Prix in 2012 are Great Britain’s Charlotte Dujardin on Valegro (twice) and Laura Bechtolsheimer and Mistral Hojris; Germany’s Kristina Sprehe and Desperados and Holland’s Adelinde Cornelissen and Parzival, the 2011 and 2012 World Cup champion. Other horses and riders considered medal contenders are Carl Hester of Great Britain and Uthopia and Helen Langehanenberg of Germany and Damon Hill NRW.
The U.S. has only ever won one individual dressage medal, Col. Hiram Tuttle on the aptly named Olympic captured bronze at Los Angeles in 1932.
“Individually, it is really hard to pick,” STeffen said. “The neat thing is that any of the top five or so could be in the medals.”
“So many of these horses are a little newer on the international scene,” Adrienne said. “There are so many new and exciting riders to watch. There’s no clear favorite.”
Jan said, “This is the first time in dressage history there has been such a large number of very high quality horses.”
Jan, whose mare, Rafalca, a 15-year-old Oldenburg mare (Argentinius x Ratine – Rubinstein) is owned by three partners, Ann Romney, Beth Meyer and Amy Ebeling, Jan’s wife, said the team imposed its ban on media visitors because of numerous demands for interviews.
“We wanted to make a point we are really focusing on our game,” he said. “Some of owners have high visibility, and it was so overwhelming to have so many requests for interviews.
“The high visibility gives a lot of room for distraction. For myself. over the years I have worked on perfecting the mental game. Once I go into the bubble I stay within myself.”
The publicity dressage has received as a result of Ann Romney’s part ownership of Rafalca “has been absoluely wonderful,” he said.
Tina Konyot, who rides Calecto V, her World Equestrian Games stallion, said the team also wanted to respect the privacy of Americans Jack and Linda Keenan who own Layham Hall near Ipswich, England, where the team was based before moving to the stables at London’s Greenwich Park competition facility.
Ann Romney, who husband, Mitt, is the presumptive Republican candidate to challenge Barack Obama for the presidency, will attend the dressage team competition. It is not known whether Mitt Romney will be on hand.