Steffen Peters At 50 As Hungry As Ever For Championships
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Sept. 26, 2014
By KENNETH J. BRADDICK
Within the space of a couple of days, Steffen Peters celebrated his 50th birthday and 10th wedding anniversary that he thinks of as the best time of his life and to cap it off brought Ravel out of retirement to ride at New York’s Central Park to show off the charisma and talent that made the pair among the top in the world.
Although Steffen’s résumé includes team bronze medal from three Olympics, a team and two individual bronzes from three World Equestrian Games, a World Cup title from three Finals, a team and two individual gold medals from a single Pan American Games and the only American ever to win the prestigious CDIO title at the World Equestrian Festival in Aachen, Germany he’s thinking about the 2020 Olympics six year from now in Tokyo.
“I can tell you I’m still just as hungry as I ever was,” Steffen told dressage-news.com in reflecting on his half-century that began in Germany where his mother and sister still live but he’s become as American as, well, apple pie instead of apple strudel.
“Any time I hear the national anthem of the USA and the national anthem of Germany,” he said, “my heart beats for the American flag; I get more emotional for America.”
By the time of the next Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in 2016, it will be two decades since the first time he rode for the United States, on Udon at the Atlanta Games in 1996 to win team bronze.
“Right now it is even more enjoyable, not as nerve wracking, not as stressful,” competing at championships, he said.
“I wish I had been this calm, this relaxed at previous Olympics, World Cups and other major championship. It is so much more enjoyable these days.”
At the World Games in Normandy last month, he rode Legolas to lead the American team to an unexpectedly successful fourth place finish in the first international championship for the 12-year-old Westfalen gelding that Akiko Yamazaki and Jerry Yang bought in late 2011 as a successor to their Ravel.
Steffen described himself as “absolutely in love” with Rosamunde, the seven-year-old Rhinelander mare (Rock Forever x Fidermark) that everyone calls “Rosie,” as better reflecting her gaits that are both elegant and powerful. She showed them off in Europe this summer to log victories at small tour.
“As much as I’m anxious to put her into the Grand Prix arena for which she seems to be ready,” he said, already having a line of 15 one-tempis on video, “I want to take it easy next year and do the small tour.”
Rosie may be needed at Prix St. Georges for the U.S. team of mixed big and small tour combinations at the Pan American Games in Toronto next summer as the championships are vitally important. Only one Pan Am team will qualify for a starting place in the 2016 Rio Games. Steffen will take either Legolas at Grand Prix or Rosie at Prix St. Georges, whichever horse U.S. Chef d’Equipe Robert Dover thinks can be the most helpful.
Although Rosemande could theoretically go to Toronto at Grand Prix, the choice of the Pan Am mount will be made by Team Peters that includes Shannon and Jo Hinnemann, the long time coach based in Germany who recently bought a home near Steffen in Southern California.
The rule of the group is that decision have to be unanimous though Steffen jokes that Rosamunde gets a vote and she might be swayed by a carrot.
With two “special horses”–Legolas and he have been the United States championship pair for the past three years they have competed while Rosamunde won the Intermediate title in her first attempt this year–“after so many yars of competing, the excitement is still there, the desire to do well for the team, to fulfill that obligation.”
That team includes Akiko Yamazaki, Jerry Yang and his wife, Shannon, that he lists as major factors “to keep me going and be excited about the sport.”
“This obligation for my team has always been there. I think the Olympics, World Games and Nations Cups are competitions that are 90 per cent for the team and other 10 per cent for individual. I get a kick, as euphoric, for a team win as at a football stadium when your favorite team wins the Super Bowl.”
When Laura Graves on Verdades completed her Grand Prix Freestyle at the Normandy WEG to place fifth, Shannon “had to practically keep me in my seat,” Steffen said. “That’s just me getting excited about team sports…
“It’s always wonderful to receive but to give makes me just as happy, if not happier.”
Reflecting on his life, he describes the last 12 years as “clearly the best years of my life. I’ve learned from mistakes, and I’ve made some major mistakes. I like to look at life as very educating.”
“I definitely had one of those moments when I walked Ravel into the arena (at the Central Park Horse Show).
“What an incredibly lucky guy I am to ride horses like Ravel, Legolas and Rosie. To enter the arena at the center of the world. What a special moment to reflect and think about the last 30 years and the people who got you here, the tremendous support from Akiko and Jerry and Shannon. I know for sure I wouldn’t be here without Shannon.”
The World Cup Final in Las Vegas next April is also a target. The event has special meaning–it was a title he won on Ravel the last time it was held in the city, to become only the second American combination to claim the annual Freestyle championship.
Beyond the next two years, “the only thing I’ve thought about, my dream would be to make it to the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, if my body holds up. At that time, I’ll be 56. From there on I have to see what’s in the stars, how the universe lines up.”
His body holding up is an issue for Steffen, known for his fitness and that he didn’t have to think much about until mid-summer when he came down with pleurisy, severe pneumonia while in Europe preparing for the WEG.
“I think anybody who goes through a major health issue can tell you that you appreciate every single healthy day,” he said, “and I think I realized way late how life-threatening it really was.
“It was so wonderfully incredible to come come home. I loved being in France, everything was completely worth it. When I arrived with Akiko in San Jose (California). I was ready to kiss the ground. Even healthy people say every day you have to appreciate so much how healthy you are. It is, I think, very important to appreciate what you have and not necessarily what you want.”
The results of this year’s World Games showed that for the U.S. to be an Olympic medal contender for the first time since the 2004 Athens Olympics a third combination able to achieve about 75 per cent in the Grand Prix would be needed to match the results of he and Legolas and Laura Graves and Verdades.
He described the role of Robert Dover as the team leader as “fantastic” not just on the field but behind the scenes.
“He would fight like a lion for the team every single day and was not afraid to discuss things with the judges,” he said. “Off the field he was the first one to visit me at the hospitals. He made a few runs to get medication, and talked to the doctors. He was 100 per cent there for the team every single day.
“The last word I told him when I left France was that he wasn’t to retire before I retire.”