For the first time in 32 years, the U.S. Jumping Team presented by NetJets got to stand on the top step of the podium holding a gold medal for the Bank of America Merrill Lynch Jumping Championship at the FEI World Equestrian Games Tryon 2018 (WEG) at the Tryon International Equestrian Center (TIEC).
The last time Team USA won a jumping World Championship was 1986, before the games were officially established. With this win, the United States Jumping Team also secured their qualification for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
After the first round of competition on Wednesday, Switzerland was sitting in the gold medal spot overnight, with great performances by Guerdat, Fuchs, Sprunger, and Muff. A brilliant performance by the London Olympic Champion Steve Guerdat on 12-year-old mare Bianca had propelled Switzerland to the top spot, in perfect position to race for gold on Friday.
Guerdat finished the course in 76.33 seconds for the top prize of the opening competition of the Bank of America Merrill Lynch Jumping Championship, the speed class, with Pedro Veniss in second and Rowan Willis in third.
The members of Team USA had good rides on Wednesday, with only one rail for Sternlicht and Ryan, and with the team sitting in 4th place overnight. On Thursday, they advanced to 2nd place behind Switzerland.
But it was on Friday that they really got to shine.
Laura Kraut posted a clean round with Zeremonie, and misfortune troubled the Swiss Team when Sprunger got eliminated as Bacardi VDL, uncharacteristically, refused a jump twice. Switzerland dropped down in the team standings and it came down to Sweden against the USA for the team title.
McLain Ward and Clinta had posted clean rounds, but they clipped a rail, ending in a tie with the Swedish team at the end of the round, requiring a jump-off to determine the winner.
The jump-off started side to side between the two teams. Henrik Von Eckermann with Toveks Mary Lou and Devin Ryan with Eddie Blue posted clear rounds, while Malin Baryard-Johnsson with H&M Indiana and Adrienne Sternlicht with Cristalline both had four faults for one rail down. Fredrick Jonsson with Cold Play and Laura Kraut with Zeremonie also posted clear rounds, and it was up to Ward and Fredricson to decide the winner of the Championship.
European Champion Peder Fredricson posted a clear round with H&M Christian K in 34.43, then McLain Ward and Clinta followed, breezing down the course and closing in 32.58 with a clear round, for the top spot.
The World Championship had never been decided on a jump-off before – although this had happened at the Olympics in Beijing in 2008 when the United States, with both Ward and Kraut on the team, won Olympic gold in a jump-off with Canada.
In third place was the German team with Simone Blum, Laura Klaphake, Maurice Tebbel, and Marcus Ehning.
The leading 25 riders from the three days of competition earned a place in Sunday’s individual show jumping final.
Simone Blum, in the lead with DSP Alice, carried a score of just 2.47 penalties. The top leaders going into Sunday included Ward, Kuhner, O’Connor, Goldstein, and Steve Guerdat. Closely following were Kraut, Ryan, and Smolders.
In the individual, McLain Ward and Laura Kraut had good rounds, but it was Simone Blum that once again set the top ride with a clear round, followed by two members of the Swiss team: Martin Fuchs and Steve Guerdat.
Simone Blum is the first woman to win the show jumping World Championship since the Games were established, and did so by posting all clear rounds during the week of competition in Tryon. Although Gail Greenough had won a World Jumping Championship for Canada in 1986, that was before the games were officially established as an event, and Blum is in fact the first female winning a jumping gold at the WEG.
The American’s quest for the individual gold will have to wait another four years for another try. The only American rider to have won an individual medal at the World Equestrian Games is Beezie Madden who took silver in 2006 and bronze in Normandie in 2014.