New Zealand’s Emily Fraser put a stop to the European domination when she won individual gold at the Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing, China, riding Exilio to victory in a nail-biting jump-off over three other finalists.
It was a day when the highly rated European riders including Jake Saywell (GBR), Michael Duffy (IRL), Matias Alvaro (ITA) all finished on a disappointing note.
But it was Fraser’s night, and the 18-year-old was overwhelmed by her victory after posting the fastest jump-off round, of 39.75. “It was nerve-racking. I am over the moon. I don’t know what to say,” said a teary-eyed Fraser said after the victory ceremony.
“My horse was jumping during the warm-up before the jump-off, and I was hoping everything would go right. I was holding my nerves,” said the Kiwi rider, who had the first clear round of the day.
“I just hugged my horse, I was so excited, and I burst into tears,” said the ecstatic young Kiwi. “I’ve never cried this much but I’m the happiest person alive.”
Fraser, watched by her own fan club of friends and family, kept her emotions in check to deliver the first double-clear round of the event, along with eight others.
Of the four-way jump-off, Fraser said: “I knew one person was going to be the unlucky one and I just hoped it would not be me. I had a strategy to go clear and do an all-right time.”
In second place was Argentina’s Martina Campi riding Darina, who was also clear but finished .20 of a second behind in 39.95 seconds. She had also had clears in the first two rounds.
“I am simply happy and honoured to win this silver for Argentina. This is a big thing for me as the sport is mostly dominated by Europeans. I will thank my coach and parents for their support,” Campi said.
To make it a double delight for Oceania, Australia’s Jake Hunter won the bronze riding For The Star, with four penalties in the jump-off, after finishing having clear rounds in rounds A and B.
“I couldn’t be happier. My horse was bit tired, but you have to get the best out of your horse. I was thinking about the jump-off during the warm-up. Actually, I wasn’t thinking about anything before it. It is unbelievable,” Hunter said.
The Australian was delighted with his performance, and now plans to move to Europe “to fly the Australian flag there”.
The competition was stretched to a jump-off after Fraser, Campi, Hunter, and El Salvador Sabrina Rivera Meza, all had clear rounds and were tied at zero penalties.
Sabrina Rivera Meza dropped two rails to finish out of the medals in fourth, while Duffy and Alvaro, who were part of the European team that earlier won team gold, settled at fifth and sixth places with four and five penalties each.
It was in the first round on Saturday that a rather unexpected line-up of leaders emerged with several riders from countries that are not considered powerhouses in the sport.
Also making a mark here were Li Yaofeng (CHN), Lennard Chiang (HKG), Maria Gabriela Brugal (DOM), and Mohamed Hatab (EGY), but they could not repeat this in the second round. However, Li finished seventh with total of six penalties, but showing he could be a medal hope for China in the future.
It was a nightmare for team gold medallists Saywell, Filip Argen (SWE) and Lisa Nooren (NED). Saywell shared 10th position with team silver medallist, Francisco S. Calvelo Martinez (URU), Praveen Nair Mathavan (MAS), and Hamad Naser Al Qadi (QAT) with 12 penalties each.
The course was testing, but not overly so, according to Hong Kong China’s Chiang Lennard, who followed up his clear first round on DJ with eight faults in the second.
Chiang, who is also heading to Europe to pursue his career, said: “It was a technical course, the jumps were a decent height and for some horses it was difficult.
“But there were only eight jumps and it was up to standard. It shouldn’t be too easy at this level.”
Nooren, also a team gold medallist, finished 20th with a total of 22 penalties.