Team U.S.A Strikes Gold Again in Rio

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When eventing competition wrapped up on July 22 at the 2007 Pan American Games in Rio de Janeiro, Theodore O’Connor, aka the “super pony,” came out on top and proved to his bigger competition that he was the best of them all. The powerful pony looked awfully small when he cantered into the main arena at Deodoro, but he belied his 14.1 hands under the United State’s Karen O’Connor and brought the American supporters to their feet in taking home two gold medals to their home in Virginia.

“It’s a fairytale,” O’Connor said. “The team around me and all the instruction I’ve gotten–-it’s a big team effort.”

Spring-heeled, 11-year-old “Teddy,” as he is known to all of his friends, has a huge fan club everywhere he goes. During the final show jumping phase of the competition, he had one rail down, the second part of the two-stride combination at fence six, but both pony and rider maintained their composure and finished without further penalty and a score of 52.7.

“He’s such a wonderful horse,” O’Connor said. “A lot of people have put a lot of faith in him, and he has developed into a real top athlete regardless of his size.”

Bred by P. Wynn Norman, who still has some ownership in him as part of the Theodore O’Connor Syndicate, the Thoroughbred/Arabian/Shetland cross has rewritten history with his prolific performance.

Stephen Bradley and From laid the groundwork for the U.S. team, after an unfortunate mistake in the water jump on the cross-country left them out of individual medal contention, Bradley’s experience around Jorge Guilherme’s show jumping track would be a safety net if any of the other three team riders had a disaster.

From, a 14-year-old Russian Thoroughbred gelding, looked somewhat weary from his efforts on Saturday and had three rails down to finish in 13th place.

“He definitely felt tired,” Bradley said. “He was struggling a little bit in the warm-up, so I knew we were in trouble when we went into the show jumping. He still tried really hard, and I was really proud of him even if it wasn’t meant to be this weekend.”

Regardless of his individual result, this weekend’s team effort makes Bradley a back-to-back Gold medalist, adding this medal to the 2003 hardware on his bookshelf at home.

“Any time you represent your country it’s an honor, especially with this group of people that I got to be on the team with,” he said. “The whole group has been so supportive and so cohesive during the hard and the good. The idea of being on two back-to-back Pan Am teams is an honor in itself.”

Gina Miles and McKinlaigh had the fastest time of the day during cross-country. The 13-year-old Irish Sport Horse was in a tie for fourth with Canadian Kyle Carter, but Carter was closer to the optimum time on the cross-country. It ended up not making a difference after Carter had two rails down and two time faults with Madison Park. Riding as part of the U.S. team, Miles guided McKinlaigh around the track.

“It hasn’t always been easy,” said Miles of her horse’s show-jumping effort. “But now he’s stronger and more rideable. He had rails at Intermediate because he just wasn’t strong enough. I do Level Seven show jumping with him now, and he jumps clean.”

Owned by Thomas Schulz and Laura Coats, McKinlaigh jumped a beautiful clean round and won the individual bronze medal. They finished on their dressage score of 56.3, the only combination of the entire competition to do so.

Riding as an individual, the reigning individual gold medalist from the 2003 Pan American Games, Darren Chiacchia lay third overnight with Adrienne Iorio’s Better I Do It. The 15-year-old Swedish Warmblood gelding never found his rhythm in the ring and looked slow off the ground at some of the fences. He had four fences down and dropped to fifth, moving Miles up.

Phillip Dutton, riding under the U.S. flag for the first time, lay in the silver-medal position after the cross-country on the strength of a clean and fast cross-country round with Truluck. Dutton jumped a textbook clean round on the rangy Thoroughbred, but picked up four time faults in the process to finish on a score of 53.8, which afforded O’Connor a little bit of breathing room.

Still somewhat inexperienced, the 10-year-old gelding, owned by Ann Jones and Shannon Stimson, continues to improve.

“The horse jumped really well,” Dutton said. “It was a big improvement from Kentucky [Rolex]. It was just a little bit of rider judgment that we didn’t get a second or two closer to the time. He got a little bit knocked around yesterday. He got a bad overreach, so overall, I’m very excited and happy with him.”

So with individual medals to play for, it was all up to the super pony. And he delivered.

The team of Bradley, Dutton, Miles and O’Connor comfortably won a third consecutive Team Gold medal for the U.S. finishing on a score of 162.8 over Canada’s 211.1. To the delight of the Brazilian fans, their team took home a Bronze medal on a score of 235.6 and finished all six of their horses, two of which show jumped clean.

Equestrian competition continues on Thursday with show jumping–-the final of the three disciplines contested at the Pan American Games.

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