I think I might be starting to like this logo after all, but I am getting a bit sick of purple

If Canada isn’t in the running, it’s a no-brainer for me: cheer for our imperial overlords, the Brits. Of course it doesn’t hurt that my favourite dressage horse of all time is ‘Blueberry’ (that’s Valegro’s barn name because he’s round like a  blueberry). The team scores after Grand Prix are close enough to guarantee one hell of a contest for gold on Tuesday.

It’s a strange beast, this Olympic dressage schedule.  There is a three day gap between the GP and Special, and with the Special now counting for the team medals – for the first time in history as far as I know – it gives everyone three days to either lose interest in the contest, or get increasingly anxious about it, especially if you’re a rider.  Ashley told me after her test yesterday that she would give Edward a well deserved day off today, and then take advantage of the other two days to remind him of the  ground plan of the GP Special test. She might have been a bit disappointed in her result yesterday, but she certainly wasn’t disappointed in her horse. Edward coped extraordinarily well with the arena, especially when you consider his meager amount of mileage at the level and in such an electric atmosphere.

Sadly for Jacquie, she will not go on to compete in the Special. I don’t know if a later start would have made the difference it would have taken to make the cut on its own, but I don’t doubt for a moment that her score would have been more than a smidge higher had she been further down the order of go.

Ok. Now for the judging hair-splitting I know you’ve all been waiting for. As I ride the bus both to and from the venue I have a good half hour to spend poring over the results, red pen in hand. I’d like to share with you a few things I have observed on the GP scoring. The first set of factoids is from just the first day of the GP. With detailed movement-by-movement scores for the top ten in my hand last night, I then did a second study with the more detailed info at hand.

From the first day, I looked not only at gaps between scores of over 5%, but at something that seemed perhaps even more interesting – gaps in ranking of more than five places (in other words, where judges had ranked a rider more than five placings different to one another):

– kindest judge of the day: Jean-Michel Roudier – he was the high judge for 9 rides and the low judge for only 4. He was also the judge that varied the most from the other judges overall, so he gets my Maverick Award for the GP.

– meanest judge of the day: Wim Ernes – he was the low judge for 11 rides and high judge for only 2.

– most middle-of the road judge: Gary Rockwell was never the high or low judge, not even once.  Only one time was his score the extreme high or low with the ranking: he had Mikaela Lindh and Mas Guapo ranked 7th, while Evi Eisenhardt had them 9 places lower, in 16th. I agree more with Gary’s assessment than Evi’s.

– biggest score gap of the first day: Laura B – 80.213% from Stephen Clarke (does that make him nationalistic? Pish posh!) and 73.936% from Grumpy Ernes.

– biggest variance in rider ranking: our own Jacquie and D Niro, who were ranked after the first day in 11th by Evi and 22nd by Monsieur Roudier. Can you see why I find the ranking stuff interesting? 11 places is quite a divergent assessment of how she fared against the field.

One thing I found rather interesting is that Leif Tornblad was one of the judges who kept his head down, with only three high-low rankings and one score out by more than 5% from the judge at the other end of the scale. Why do I find that interesting? Well, because two years ago, Leif said something at the Global Dressage Forum that subsequently caused me to question whether criticizing judges for not all scoring within five percent of one another is valid.  He said he used to be proud of the fact that he was not afraid to disagree with other judges, even all the other judges, when he really believed what he was seeing was much better or much worse than they did. And I’m starting to think that maybe he’s got a point. Now, Leif is one of the judges who, like Eric Lette, virtually disappeared from the scene during the Reign of Mariette, returning to the booth at the big shows only after her dethroning. It was really Mariette who drilled the concept of all the judges needing to ‘fall into line’ into us. Things that make you go hmmm.

Before I move onto the deets of what I circled in red pen from the second day of the GP, I’d like to say that overall, what I noticed over the two days was that the judges did not ‘fall into line’ more on the second day than the first. If anything, there were more differences – if not greater differences – on the second day than on the first. And I think that’s a good sign. It probably means there wasn’t any 1 am secret chefs’ meeting where the judges were told to shape up or ship out.

Here are the items of note from the second day:

– most tens: Charlotte and Valegro of course! A total of 12, with 10 of them coming in the movements and two (for rider position) in the collectives. And what did Valegro perform well enough to receive that score which says ‘excellent’? She got one from Roudier for the second extended trot; four out of seven judges gave her a ten for the two tempis (I agree!); three put down double digits for the last extended trot, and Leif thought her last passage to G was ten-worthy.

– the only other tens: I doubt there are any lurking in the tests of those not in the top ten, but I do admit that I have only printed and analyzed the top ten individuals. Adelinde got a total of three: Leif gave ten for the piaffe at D, Evi gave the same for the one at I, and she also thought Adelinde’s riding was worth the top mark. Helen and Damon Hill got one ten from Maribel Alonso for their right canter pirouette. Carl and Uthopia got one ten, again from Maribel, for their last extended trot (agree!).

– final note on 10’s – in line with what I observed the last time I looked at tens – which I believe was Edward and Totilas (Totilas oh Totilas, we miss you in your Dutch orange bell boots), in every instance of a ten being given out for a movement yesterday, there is a variance of at least 1.5 marks between the ten and the lowest judge (oh another little obervation – everyone is making ample use of half marks). The biggest gap is for Helen’s ten for the pirouette. Wim at E thought it was only good enough for 7.5. Actually, Maribel stuck her neck out a little on that one. No one  else gave higher than an 8.5.

– test with most variance from judge to judge on individual movements: I noted each movement on each of the top three tests that had a variance of 1.5 marks, 2 marks and more than 2 marks. I didn’t include the collectives, just the movements. Then I added them all up. Charlotte’s test had the most swing in her voters. Only 9 out of 33 movements had a range of not more than one mark, and there wasn’t a single movement where all 7 judges gave the same mark. 17 movements (just over half) had a variance of 1.5 and 6 varied by 2 marks. The transition to passage from the walk had the greatest disagreement: Leif at H gave her 6.5 and Maribel at B gave a 9.

– best agreement of top three: it’s close between Adelinde and Helen, but I’m going to give the ‘same page’ prize to Adelinde. She had two movements where all the judges gave the same – 8’s across the board for the extended walk and for the last extended trot. Helen had one movement with unanimous agreement: eights for the collected walk. They tied for number of movements that varied by only 1 mark at 17.

All in all, I am going to give the judges a tentative two thumbs up overall.  As arrogant and condescending as that may sound, I’ve made a name for myself as being loved and hated by the judges (alright, maybe more hate than love, but I’m ok with that), because I’m not afraid to say what I believe. I did raise my eye brows here and there, but I think the team rankings – and a tantalizingly close race for gold, which I fully admit I did not anticipate – are correct. At first I was a bit miffed that Helen wasn’t second individually, but on further reflection and study of her individual marks, I confess my preference for her and the dynamic little package Damon Hill was probably an emotional one.

The first day of jumping has just passed with some surprises, none greater than Beezie refusing out at the B element of number 9. If I understand the Byzantine Olympic Jumping rules correctly, she’ll still compete for the team in the Nations’ Cup, but she’s been slapped with so many penalties that she’s out as an individual.

In the Canadian camp the news is better,  but only in comparison to our eventers and dressagers. Jill went first with a rail and a time fault, Tiffany took two, Captain L’Amazing went clear and quite fast, and Ian had the second last down. This round – just to make the Olympics even a bit more complicated still – counts in the teams only to set order of go for tomorrow, but the points carry forward for the individual competition until the individual final, where they start again on a clean slate. I don’t bother memorizing the Olympic format for any of the disciplines because it would take too much grey matter, and it changes every four years anyway.

Well, I’m off for the day to enjoy an early finish. I see a gin and tonic in my near future, along with a bag of these awesome salt and chardonnay wine vinegar chips I’ve discovered. Don’t forget to keep checking Low-Down for posts too. Today I took a virtual walk through my daily Olympic routine on that blog.

Sorry about the closed eyes Tiffany, but they're also closed in the other photo I have from the team press conference