It’s impossible to be at a competition like the Pan Am Games and not be swept up by patriotic pride, especially when your country’s team comports itself as splendidly as our dressage team did yesterday. Even a cynic like me got all teary eyed when a teary eyed Kerri McGregor told the riders how proud she was to watch them in action. Plain and simple: they were stars. The three ladies have never competed at a championship of this size and importance, but you would never know it to watch them. And Tom, going last, didn’t betray even an ounce of the pressure he later told me he felt.
There was a lot at stake, and I don’t think any of us anticipated the heat that Colombia and Mexico would put on Canada. We needed that Olympic qualification, and we wanted that silver medal. Gold was clearly out of the question. The Americans were so strong they didn’t even need Steffen to win it. As the day wound along everyone other than the Americans started doing a lot of math. Berna Pujals delivered a 70+ ride that kept Mexico in the medal race, but it was the Colombian Constanza Jaramillo who really gave us a fright. I remember seeing the announcement on Eurodressage in June that she had bought Wakana from Ulla but didn’t pay much attention. Not until she appeared in the arena yesterday, that is. Nothing like buying an international Grand Prix horse to increase your medal chances at the Pan Am Games – a full level lower. And here is going to be my only major bone-picking with the judging yesterday, which was nothing like the mafia situation in Rio four years ago. I think one very smart thing they did here was they didn’t put a Mexican judge on the jury (though Maribel is here – doing a marvelous job of announcing all the competitors and scores in both official languages of the Pan Ams). They even have two Europeans: Stephen Clarke and a Très Français fellow with wavy hair and a scarf named Raphael Saleh.
Back to Wakana. I’m sure Constanza is a hard working rider who fully deserves her million dollar (or is that Euros?) mare. But she didn’t fully deserve the third place score of 72.158% that the judges threw at her. As she toured around the outside before the bell rang, Constanza showed off Wakana’s lovely passage. That lovely passage followed her into the ring and was more than a little in evidence in her trot work, which didn’t always track up. The extensions were running and flat. In the canter work she had some real problems with the four tempis – I’m talking the kind of problems that should cause the judge to deliberate between a 3 and a 4. So third place and 72 is quite a generous score in my potentially unpopular-with-the-judges opinion. There were some brilliant rides that had no mistakes and that found themselves looking up the scoreboard at a horse that had not really done its best. I don’t disagree with the Colombians’ bronze medal – they deserved it (though I am sad for the home team of course). I just think they gave Wakana some marks because she was Wakana.
The Colombians should be erecting a monument to Wakana immediately. The other team members rode well – Marco Bernal did a super job going last under all the pressure of his team – but let’s be straight about this. The medal is thanks to Wakana. Period. End of paragraph.
Oh what the hell. Since I’ve probably already made all the judges hate me I might as well keep going. I did wonder about the top two scores as well – Steffen’s and Heather’s. No one questions that they were the top two, no way José. But 80%? Steffen is brilliance in the saddle. No one can ever dispute that. Weltino’s Magic actually looks like not the easiest ride, which proves Steffen’s mastery that much more. But when that horse does his tempi changes – the fours and the threes in the PSG – the three beat canter pretty much disappears. All his feet hit the ground at almost the same instant. It looks a bit like he’s doing ones. But he’s not. He’s doing threes and fours and there ought to be a clear three beat in the canter. The trot work is near perfection, but in order to get 80 (85 from Lilo, go USA!) he had to be getting at least 8’s (if not 9’s and even 10’s) for most of his canter work. And that canter just doesn’t look like 8 material all of the time. Conversely, Paragon’s canter work is outstanding. I would not be surprised if Heather got a ten for her extended canter, for example. But in the trot work he takes a shorter step on the right hind than the left…he’s an incredibly loose, elastic horse and Heather deserves every bit of credit she receives for having brought him to where he is. I’m sure he’s destined for Grand Prix greatness. But the score seemed a tad high when you look at the reality that his trot work is not symmetrical on the hind legs. The Anky factor is an inevitability in a sport as subjective as this – I’ve covered that reality in this blog at other championships – and my three beefs here are all directly related to that. I saw a couple of really good riders on good horses that the judges may not have seen before, and they might have been cheated a little of marks they would otherwise have got had they been better known quantities. There. Now I’ve probably made lots of enemies. But I’m just sayin’…
A little postscript to the above: I just had a chat with a certain Team Technical Leader who reminded me of a couple of very important facts that jerks like me sometimes forget. The collective marks count for a lot in the score, and when you have a Steffen or a Heather on a super athlete of a horse, you can count on at least nines for things like gaits, impulsion, submission and riding. Good point, but I still think the scores were a bit inflated…the TTL also pointed out that a rider like Steffen has the power to win over the judges by his confidence. He makes the judges believe in him and he doesn’t ever let them down.
The right countries won the medals, and today it’s a clean slate for the individual competition. Let’s see if the judges tone it down a little, or at least treat everyone with the same level of kindness.
The I-1 is going on right now. All the Canucks made it through and so far Roberta has gone. The judges decided to like her better today so she just received 66.789%. If you want to find out how Tom, Tina and Crystal do today, and have (like me) given up trying to get anything out of the official Pan Am site, go to Horse Sport’s Facebook page, where I’m posing a couple sentences with the results, sometimes as soon as they come in. I’ll be doing that all the way through the eventing and show jumping too.
In other news, we are still loving our oasis. It’s a four dollar ten minute cab ride to the venue, which is the awesomest situation I’ve ever had with my accommodations at a major championship. The eventing will be a bit more of a slog, but that’s par for the cross country course. Not everyone can accomplish what London has, putting an entire course in the middle of the city. We are having a grand time so far. Every day the venue has more decoration to make it look more Pan Am-y and the security is slowly getting up to speed. Yesterday we went through the metal detectors but our bags didn’t and no one looked inside to find our guns and tear gas. Today they gave the bags cursory searches but I could still have had a grenade under my sweater. I was told the dressage was completely sold out, but that would only be true if they had decided to sell only half as many tickets as they have seats. I am sure the freestyle will pack the stadium, but Janner has to pick his photo spots carefully in order not to capture entire sections of empty stands.
The weather is perfection itself – sunny days and fresh nights. Second best climate of any place in the world, they say. So we really must have been sleep deprived the other night because we gave ourselves quite a fright. Janner was checking the weather forecast for the next day. He looked up the Weather Network and said to me, “hey it’s going to be really cold tomorrow afternoon, only 13 degrees. And it’s going down to 7 at night” (that’s about 55 and 44 for you Americanos).
“ There must be cold front moving in,” I replied, already moving onto the conclusion that it would definitely be a long pants and shoes with socks day. “We’d better remember to close this place up in the morning when we leave,” I said, thinking about the fact that the weather is so mild and constant here there aren’t even space heaters…wait a minute. As I processed this thought and slowly pushed aside the cerebral swamp grass that was clouding my brain, Jan beat me to the penny dropping moment. “I think I’m looking at the forecast for Vancouver,” he said.
Guadalajara is not a touristy city, which means it’s real Mexico, not Cancun Mexico. Cheap, charming, safe and friendly is the colour of this place. I just wish I could find a store that sells wine. Many of the little hole-in-the-wall shops that sell alcohol have ‘Vinos y Licores’ written on their awnings but the ‘vino’ part of that is just a kind of torture for wine drinkers. I’ve been making do with tequila, and last night I invented a new drink which I have called a Margarinha. It’s just like a Brazilian Caipirinha (fond, if somewhat foggy memories of Rio) but made with tequila instead of dollar-a-bottle cane alcohol. It was quite good. And I feel great this morning. I may be making some more of those before this trip is over. I cannot live by beer alone.
The Pan Am website may be on the fritz almost full time, but the official generator of Pan Am press releases is in permanent overdrive. They don’t filter recipients by sport so I’m receiving hundreds of emailed press releases covering every sport. I delete most of them without even looking but the headline ‘Peculiar Situation” caught my eye the other night so I opened it. Here is what it said:
Peru and Chile disqualified due to not wearing protective eyewear
City: Guadalajara, Jalisco, México
Doubles team Diego Elias and Andres Duany, and Chile’s squash players Jaime Pinto and Maximiliano Camiruaga were eliminated from their respective matches during the first doubles heat, due to not using mandatory googles.
Google is apparently getting so powerful that if you don’t use it you are eliminated from the Pan Am Games.
One more thing before I get back to watching the I-1: the opening ceremonies. In a word, they were OUTSTANDING. And there was not a gaited horse to be found, anywhere. But why do all Games mascots look like Teletubbies?
By the way, if you are wondering what those Smurf-coloured blobs are in the hands of medalists in the photos, the Mexicans decided to give out stuffed toy Pan Am mascots instead of flowers. Which is strange, considering Mexico could be considered the year-round flower capital of the world.