The FEI World Equestrian Games might have gotten off to a slow start because of Hurricane Florence and the sloppy conditions it helped create, but they finished with a flourish for the host nation.
Team USA produced the most dramatic moment of the two-week international competition last Friday when it beat Sweden in a head-to-head jump-off to win the gold medal in the Jumping event at the Tryon International Equestrian Center in Polk County.
The Americans had an opportunity to win in regulation. But McLain Ward, on his horse Clinta, knocked down one fence to leave the top two teams tied with an overall score of 20.59 points. The disappointment didn’t last long though.
Given a second chance at gold in the first jump-off in the event’s history, Ward and teammates Devin Ryan (on Eddie Blue), Laura Kraut (on Zeremonie) and Adrienne Sternlicht (on Cristalline) combined to ride to victory by more than two seconds.
Sweden took silver while Germany earned bronze.
“I knew the situation. I had one fence down and then I knew I couldn’t afford a time fault,” Ward told Tryon2018.com. “I got a second opportunity in the jump-off. I wanted to go in and just do the best round I could. All the guys came through brilliantly and I am so proud to be American today.”
The gold medal was the second of three at the Games for Team USA. The other came on Sunday, the final day of the competition, when the team of James Fairclough, Misdee Wrigley-Miller and Chester Weber won the Driving event by 3.40 points against silver medal winner the Netherlands.
Driving is a sport in which three-member teams navigate a carriage pulled by four horses through three phases of competition spread over three days — Dressage, Marathon and Cones. Weber also won a silver medal in the individual Driving event.
The Americans were in third place heading into Weber’s final run as the next-to-last driver on the course Sunday. He responded by delivering a clutch run with only 2.77 time penalties to vault his team to the top of the standings.
It was the first team gold medal in Driving for the U.S.
“This was brilliant, unexpected really,” American team manager Barry Hunter said. “Everyone played their part, a true team effort.”
Team USA’s first gold medal came during the opening week of the Games in Reining.
Overall, the Americans finished second in the medal count with 12 (three gold, five silver and four bronze). Germany led the way with 17 total medals, including six gold. The Netherlands finished with 10 medals, four of which were gold.
Tryon was only the second North American venue to host the World Equestrian Games. Despite high hopes, attendance at the event — estimated to be about 200,000 — fell below projections. The venue also drew public criticism from at least one competitor, Canadian Eric Lamaze, who tweeted that this was “the worst world championships ever held.”
Jake Johnson, chairman of the Polk County Board of Commissioners, disagreed with Lamaze’s assessment.
“Despite the initial setback of having to cancel the endurance race due to the heat and humidity,” Johnson told WLOS-TV of Asheville, “the rest of the games were a huge success.”