Pan American Games Equestrian Competition Opens with Dressage Sunday

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The dressage competition arena ready for Pan American Games competition at the Guadalajara Country Club. Photo courtesy Steffen Peters

By KENNETH J. BRADDICK

GUADALAJARA, Mexico, Oct. 15–Equestrian competition at the Pan American Games, second only to the Olympics as the world’s largest sporting event, opens Sunday with dressage and a record 12 countries and three individuals battling for three team and three individual medals and the coveted two team berths at the 2012 London Games.

Overall, more than 6,000 athletes from 42 nations are competing in 36 sports, including all 28 Olympic sports, at these Pan Ams.

Heavy rain from Hurrican Jova for the past week and forecast through the middle of next week has not impacted the spirit of the Games and does not appear to have affected the arenas that will be used for dressage and jumping over the next two weeks.

The 47 horses and riders scheduled to begin the dressage team competition at Prix St. Georges have traveled from training bases in Europe and throughout the Americas, along with trainers and support staff such as Ulla Salzgeber of Germany, Diederik Wigmans of The Netherlands and Margit Otto-Crepin of France for the championship held only once every four years at small tour. This is intended to be the last time that team qualification for the Olympics will be at Prix St. Georges/Intermediaire. In 2015, a year before the Games in Rio de Janiero, qualification will be at Grand Prix level as it is at the European Championships.

The United States, the only team from the Americas to have already qualified for London which it did at the World Equestrian Games in 2010, is heavily favored to win an historic fourth straight team gold. The team is led by top ranked two-time Olympian rider Steffen Peters of San Diego, Caifornia, on Weltino’s Magic and includes Heather Blitz of Wellington, Florida, on Paragon who has competed extensively in Europe, former Colombian equestrian star Cesar Parra of Whitehouse Station, New Jersey, on Grandioso as well as rookie Marisa Festerling of Moorpark, California, on Big Tyme.

Cesar Parra and Grandioso at veterinary inspectaion. © 2011 Anthony Trollope/stockimageservices.com.

“This is absolutely the time of my life,” Hearther said. “I knew it would be exciting and fun but I didn’t know it would be this exciting and fun. I am really happy with how my horse is going. I couldn’t be happier with that. I also couldn’t be happier with how the other horses are going. It’s all good.”

Steffen Peters, who rode Weltino’s Magic to sweep the small tour at the World Equestrian Festival CHIO in Aachen, Germany, just three months ago, said: “I love the facility, I love the footing… to be honest I didn’t expect it to be this perfect. But it just turned out absolutely outstanding. I had the chance to watch all the horses in training camp and everybody got better and better and I think it’s going to be a very, very exciting show. We have a hell of a team and I can’t wait for tomorrow to come around.”

The 11 nations vying for Olympic team spots are: Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, Mexico, Puerto Rico and Venezuela. All but the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico have sent teams of four riders to the Games. As three scores count, squads with four combinations can discard the lowest result.

Several teams include riders who have competed at the top levels of the sport internationally, including Luiza de Almeida Tavare of Brazil, Bernadette Pujals of Mexico, Marco Bernal of Colombia, Tom Dvorak of Canada and Yvonne Losos de Muñiz of the Dominican Republic, the winner of individual bronze medals at the last two Pan Ams.

Tom Dvorak and Viva's Salieri at veterinary inspection. © 2011 Jan Beran

The two dressage teams successful in qualifying at these Pan Ams will join host Great Britain, Germany, The Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, Spain and the United States at the Olympics in London next year. Two nations from Asia, Africa and Oceania will qualify in competitions in Sydney, Australia Oct. 28 and Ermelo, The Netherlands on Nov. 2.

The United States has won the last three Pan Am team gold medals, as it did from 1975 to 1983, matching a three-peat by Chile in the first three Games beginning with the inaugural championship 60 years ago. The U.S. team has also won team gold and individual gold and silver, the most that can be awarded to a single country, on three previous occasions. Pan Am rules preclude a single nation from winning all three individual medals.

Dressage competition begins on Sunday, Oct. 16 with the team competition at Prix St. Georges. Individual competition starts with the Intermediaire on Monday, Oct. 17 and ends Wednsday, Oct. 19 with the Intermediaire Freestyle.