Team GB end German dominance in dressage
NO LONGER will dressage be called, rather disparagingly, ‘ballet for horses’.
Ninety nine per cent of the British public watching Team GB winning Olympic gold in dressage would not know their ‘piaffe’ from their ‘half-pass’.
But the sight of Gloucestershire-based trio Carl Hester, Laura Bechtolsheimer and Charlotte Dujardin winning GB’s first ever dressage medal is sure to inspire a generation of newcomers to the sport.
The victory had heightened poignancy because their gold proved to be Britain’s 20th of the Games, surpassing the efforts in Beijing four years ago.
Despite Britain’s previous lack of Olympic success in the dressage ring, the team came into the competition as favourites to end Germany’s dominance.
The Germans had won seven consecutive Olympic golds but they lost one of their great hopes when Matthias Rath, ironically a former boyfriend of Bechtolsheimer’s, went down with glandular fever in the build-up to the Games.
The Brits are reigning European champions and World silver medalists and while Hester and Bechtolsheimer have been world class performers for some time it is Dujardin’s astonishing rise that has made the team supreme.
The former stable groom from Enfield competed in her first grand prix only 18 months ago.
Amid all the expectations, however, the team had to deliver – and they most certainly did.
Holding a narrow lead going into the grand prix special – the second part of the team test – the trio hardly put a hoof wrong.
Hester gave them the perfect start breaking the Olympic record on his mount Uthopia with a mark of 80.571%.
Bechtolsheimer, on Mistral Hojris, delivered a cool performance with 77.794%, and then Dujardin, on Valegro (stable name Blueberry) broke her own team-mate’s newly-minted Olympic record with 83.286%.
Britain's team average of 79.979 beat Germany’s 78.216, with the Netherlands in third.
“It’s surreal because I only started in January last year and got a gold medal at the Europeans, and it was the ultimate dream to get here and ride here,” said 27-year-old Dujardin, who is coached by Hester at his Newent, Gloucestershire yard.
That’s not the end of the links between the team as the wealthy Bechtolsheimer family in Ampney St Peter gave Hester one of his first jobs in the sport.
“We all come from such different backgrounds,” said Hester. “I learnt to balance and ride on a bareback donkey, Charlotte came through the showing world and Laura did everything across all the equestrian disciplines before she took up dressage.
“You don't know when the dream is going to come true, but we've got our dream now. It is the best thing that could happen to our sport.”
It is fair to say that Lottery Funding has never been an issue with Bechtolsheimer, whose father Wilfried is a multi-millionaire businessman and equestrian enthusiast who represented Britain at the 1995 European Championships.
Very much the golden girl of the sport, she is the girlfriend of England international polo player Mark Tomlinson and attended the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s wedding last year.
But the gossip that dressage fans really want to know now is what’s next in the relationship with the other man in her life – Mistral Hojris, or Alf as he is known.
Will she retire her splendidly consistent and talented horse at the very top after Thursday's final freestyle to music section of the Olympic dressage competition?
Our dressage triumph took Cotswold gold medal winners to seven in this unprecedented Games.
Cheltenham’s Zara Phillips and her fellow Eventing team members started Team GB’s marvellous run of success in the equestrian events.
Ed Clancy, whose family live next door to Highgrove, was one of the cycling quartet which successfully defended the Team Pursuit title.
And former Cirencester Deer Park student Pete Reed and Wormington’s Alex Gregory took two of the four seats in the Men’s Coxless Four, which maintained Britain’s great tradition in that boat.
Let’s not forget either the part played in Peter Wilson’s Double Trap Shooting gold medal by the national coach Ian Coley, who is based at Andoversford.