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US, Swiss riders lead show jumping in Olympics

18 August 2008

HONG KONG – US and Swiss riders took the early lead in Olympic equestrian team show jumping here Sunday, with a crowded field of five other teams close behind.

McLain Ward and Sapphire lead off for the Americans and provided their only clear round of the evening. Ward and Sapphire are veterans of the team that won Olympic gold in 2004.

"The team’s been building for this for a year, a hundred people really working in one direction," Ward said. "The course was very technical and you had to be careful. Sapphire didn’t touch a fence."

The Americans and Swiss are tied with 12 jumping faults each, followed right behind by Sweden with 13. Britain and Canada are nudging them with 16, barely in front of the Netherlands and Norway with 17.

The 16 teams in the competition will jump a second round Monday, with the total faults from the two rounds to decide the medals.

US rider Laura Kraut, who dropped the last fence on the course and scored four faults on Cedric, said team spirit was really high.

"We’re really confident in each other, she said. "It helps when we can rely on each other."

The German riders, who are usually dominant in show jumping, looked stunned when none of their riders scored a clean round, finishing the evening with 20 faults.

"It wasn’t our night," said Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum, who had the best German round with four faults. Last week here, Germany won two golds in eventing and one in dressage.

Besides Ward, only four of the 77 riders completed the course without penalties. They included Rolf-Goran Bengtsson of Sweden on Ninja, Eric Lamaze of Canada on Hickstead, Edwina Alexander of Australia on Itot du Chateau, and Rodrigo Pessoa of Brazil on Rufus.

Lamaze said he faced extra pressure to go clear because of the penalties collected by his teammates up to that point.

"Hickstead is such a competitor," Lamaze said. "It was even more nerve-wracking having to go clear."

Four riders compete for each team with the best three rounds to count. When a fence is knocked down, the horse steps in the water jump or refuses a fence, it counts four faults.

There are also penalties for exceeding the time limit.

In one of the early rounds, Jamal Rahimov from Azerbaijan was pitched to the ground and then limped off the course after his horse crashed through a fence. He was released after being checked out in a hospital.

[AP / Expatica]

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