This photo was taken after a long day under the Mexican sun on cross country yesterday. Eduardo, who has been so good at making up for the shortcomings of the organizers when it comes to the media’s needs, finally dropped the medicine ball last night by driving off home in his car without bothering to see if we had a bus to take us back from the Santa Sofia Golf Club – which is in the beautiful boondocks about 45 km west of the city. We waited well over an hour in a dusty parking lot with the exotic fumes of buses not meant for us idling noisily a few feet away. While we waited the police escort and convoy of all the event horses – who were moved to and from the cross country venue en masse for better security – gave us a moment of entertainment with their Darth Vader helmets and bristling machine guns. Jan the photographer was sleeping on the job so I snapped this with my BlackBerry.
I finished up my coverage last night at around 11:00 pm. Maybe it was later. So if you are wondering why I haven’t blogged about the freestyles yet, that is the reason. And I’m not going to blog about them today because the cross country is fresh in my mind, and being a freestyle freak I won’t forget the performances of last Wednesday for some time to come – at least not until I finally catch up and blog about them in the next three days (and that IS a promise, so you can all stop sending me emails asking where the freestyle blog is).
There is another reason I’m sleep deprived. We have a feline crisis at the oasis. She’s been here since we arrived – a little long haired tabby that I have managed to pick up and pat once and determine that she’s skinny but fairly healthy, as well as just possibly pregnant – even though she’s probably not six months old. But here’s the problem. This little kitty yowls. All night. At our door. Which is open because it’s hot here. We’ve tried feeding her but so has the landlord. it makes no difference. She is somewhat feral so I know she’s not crying to come in and sleep on our bed. I suspect she either wants out of this enclosed compound because she misses her family, or because she wants to start one. Yesterday morning our landlord attempted to capture and remove her – and I have no problem with that as long as it doesn’t involve a gunny sack, a rock and a river – but he’s never going to succeed. She is completely nocturnal. They couldn’t find her amid the gorgeous jungle that is our garden. If anyone out there is an expert on screamy cats and can give me a hint as to what might shut this little critter up without causing her harm, I would appreciate a comment to that effect at the bottom of this post.
But enough whining. Onto cross country. It went pretty much how everyone predicted it would. The North Americans had no difficulties – at least none based on being unprepared for a course of this calibre – and most of the others crashed and burned. The first horse on course, from Venezuela, quit out without getting his feet wet at the main water at 17. And that was at the easy option. We had a fall by the third horse, a Colombian. By the end of the day, the Latin American teams had been decimated. Only one out of four Colombians and two out of four Mexicans finished the day. Venezuela managed to finish just one as well, and that was with team coaching by Peter Gray – and individual coaching from Kyle Carter, who is the personal coach for Elena Ceballo (who sits impressively in 8th right now). Chile and Ecuador fell by the wayside as well. Only half the teams, five out of ten, got three or more horses to the finish line. 31 out of 49 horses represents a completion rate of 63%. Course designer John Williams had the gall to say in the press conference that his goal is always to see everyone finish. Well, John, you might want to spend a little more time acquainting yourself with the level of experience and talent of your field if you really mean what you said yesterday.
Cross country is my least favourite part of the Pan Am Games, even though cross country is usually my favourite part (well, it’s tied with the freestyles) of a major championship. I hate seeing horses exhausting themselves by rescuing their bad riders, who thump along with all their weight in the back of the saddle and their reins flapping in the breeze. And there was a lot of that yesterday. Williams’ course was designed to really punish tired horses at the end of the course, and tired horses outweighed the fresh ones by about ten to one. Even a couple of the Canadian and American horses looked pretty spent by the last few fences. A long pull uphill after number 17 was followed by a long downhill stretch with some big efforts on it. If there is anything more dangerous than jumping a tired horse, it’s jumping a tired horse downhill. There were a couple of falls near the end on that hill; at fence 22 one horse simply laid down and took a little break for a few minutes. An American photographer who was at that fence told me the suspicion was that the horse had suffered an aneurism or other attack and was done for good. But by the time the green screen had come down to shield this tragedy from the public, water dumped on him from dozens of personal water bottles revived the horse, who then regained his feet.
Another low point of yesterday’s cross country was watching a tired but game horse attempt the corner after the water at 17 even though his rider steered him to the middle of the parallelogram, at its widest point which was a good ten feet across and was never meant to be jumped by anything wearing a saddle. He ‘banked’ it on his belly and somehow managed to be upright on landing. Since he had not passed through either set of flags on the corner edges that were meant to be jumped, he was pulled up and eliminated. Thank goodness.
The problem with the Pan Am eventing is that riders really want to finish for their countries (well, and let’s be honest – some of them are doing it for their egos), and they will do it at the expense of their horses. I saw whipping, I heard yelling. And that was just to get the horses to gallop when what they really wanted to do was walk – never mind jump. I even saw one horse actually drop to a walk before struggling over the small option at 22.
Cross country is meant to look like the Americans made it look (sorry Canada, but they were better than you yesterday). All five of them went clear and within the time. I never saw a truly scary moment among them, though I will admit that by mid afternoon my eye had been desensitized by some pretty dire performances. The Americans are going to win this thing, and they truly deserve to. And how about Canada? Well, it could have been better, but it could have been worse. Five horses completed and none of them appeared worse for wear, other than what you’d expect from their efforts over 9 and a half minutes and 35 jumping efforts. James toured around and got back clear and safe, if a bit slow, as one would expect from the team path finder. Jessie would have been told to go for it and hold onto her gold medal position, both of which she did. Her style was sometimes a bit wild, particularly at the last fence – which made me almost swallow my tongue when I saw her nearly fall on landing – but she accomplished her mission, and she didn’t go too fast. The only rider who got closer to optimum was Selena, who nailed it right on the money in spite of having a run out at the water.
Rebecca looked masterful and completely in charge of herself and her horse. Rocky looked tired toward the end but Rebecca kept him together and finished with just a couple of time penalties. And then things went a bit sideways for Canada. Hawley looked fabulous at the water and Chunky appeared fresh right to the end, which made it all the more surprising when I heard she had 20 penalties and time to add to her score, thanks to a silly little run out at 7a. I don’t have a fence report but I’m pretty sure that was the only problem there all day. Selena looked wonderful and like she was giving young Foxwood High a confidence building experience, but he had a ‘whoa what’s that?’ moment at the top of the hill at the water at 17. Selena was thinking quickly and took an option so efficiently she still made the optimum time – to the second – but the damage was done to the team’s score.
Canada is still second, and we have a good margin ahead of Brazil in third (the only other teams still in the race are Argentina and Guatemaala). But I don’t think a single member of our team thinks everything was just peachy at this Pan Am Games. Canada could have challenged the US for gold, but they didn’t.
Here are a few cross country odds and ends that I scribbled in the margins of my notes yesterday. You might find some of them amusing or interesting.
Official reports of the crowd at the cross country yesterday are claiming 30,000 spectators, but I know what that looks like from being at WEG, and this course was a much smaller piece of real estate than Lexington. There WERE a lot of people though, and I found out why when I asked some friendly locals – all the locals are in fact friendly – how much they had paid to get in: 20 pesos. That’s about $1.60. Apparently cross country and water polo were the cheapest tickets to be had at the Pan Ams. At least the folks who came to cross country had a nice outing to the countryside and got to see more than a bunch of heads and arms.
There were no controlled lane crossings on cross country, so the poor announcer had to keep telling people to stay on the other side of the white cord which kept falling off its posts. She had to scream a few times when Mexicans who had no idea of the peril into which they were putting themselves and the competitors, wandered into the lanes. I HAD to cross lanes to get from one place to another so i tried to pick spots where there were as few spectators as possible to witness my bad example.
Ecuador, poor Ecuador. This is the first time that adorable little nation has sent teams in all three disciplines. With only three members on the eventing team, they didn’t have anything to spare. Two of them finished, and Ronald on Wiseguy (a horse he loves so much he cloned it – you can read about that on Eventing Nation) did an impressive job on cross country. He is sitting ninth.
Looking at the breeding info on the start lists, I thought half the horses were sired by some amazing eventing sire called Desconocido. Until I realized that’s Spanish for ‘unknown’.
Yesterday’s post cross country press conference took place in the chapel at the Santa Sofia Hacienda. It was a strange venue. And I just didn’t feel right taking my beer in there with me.