The French team claimed victory in the teams eventing at the Rio Olympics as the Kiwi team faded from medal contention at the end of the showjumping phase.
A nightmare showjumping round from the legendary Sir Mark Todd meant the New Zealanders slipped from a potential gold medal position to end up in fourth overall.
The Kiwis were a disappointing sixth place overall after dressage but had put themselves firmly back in medal contention with a powerful cross country performance, to sit in second place heading into the showjumping.
An early elimination on cross country for team pathfinder Tim Price and Ringwood Sky Boy, who were going well but unfortunately slipped and fell on the flat, meant the remaining three team members needed to turn in good performances to keep our medal hopes alive.
Todd stormed around the cross country clear, adding just two time penalties to finish the day sitting in fourth individually. He was followed by Olympic debutant Clarke Johnstone and the impressive Balmoral Sensation, who also jumped clear with just 4.8 time penalties. The anchor rider, Jonelle Price with Faerie Dianimo, also rose to the occasion and jumped a super clear.
But it wasn’t to be for the Kiwis, who were in contention to take the gold medal with just two riders left to showjump, including Todd and Leonidas II. An uncharacteristic round from Todd, in which four rails fell, dashed the Kiwi hopes.
The star performer was Johnstone on his lovely grey, who produced a clear first showjumping round and had two rails in the second round, to finish in sixth place individually at his first Olympics.
A clean round in the second showjumping round moved Todd back up to seventh individually, while Jonelle Price also recorded a solid performance to finish 17th overall.
The pain was clear to see. “That was really tough,” Todd said. “We fought back after the dressage to put ourselves into medal position. The other guys did their jobs. If I went clear we could have won gold.”
Todd said the horse had warmed up beautifully but tensed up as he entered the arena. “The horse got really tense and just froze. I think the atmosphere got to him.”
He contemplated not bringing the horse out for the individual final but said he didn’t want to finish on that note.
“It was too little, too late really,” he said. “It has been a real roller coaster but that is how the sport goes. It is not the fairy tale ending we had hoped for. I can only say sorry to the fans at home. The support we have had from back home has been amazing.
“That second round he jumped how he should have in the first. Seventh is some consolation but it was a bittersweet ride . . . we can only rue what might have been.”
Todd, who was competing at his eighth Olympics and could have become New Zealand’s most successful Olympian if he collected a medal, wasn’t prepared to make any decisions about his future or retirement just yet.
The French were ecstatic to win the team gold, while the German team rose up the ranks in the showjumping to take team silver and overnight leaders Australia slipped down the order to get the bronze.
In the individual competition the German juggernaut that is Michael Jung turned in two superb showjumping rounds on Sam FBW to finish on his dressage score, the only rider to do so, and take back to back Olympic gold medals.
Back to back golds is a feat only achieved by three riders, including Todd and the wonderful Charisma.
France’s Astier Nicolas and Piaf De B’Neille were individual silver medallists with Phillip Dutton (USA) and Mighty Nice taking the bronze.