August 29, 2014--Going from superlative to superlative, Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro wowed a capacity crowd at d'Ornano Stadium in Caen this afternoon with a fabulous freestyle, as Germany's Helen Langehanenberg once again took the silver with Damon Hill NRW and the Netherlands' Adelinde Cornelissen accounted for the bronze on her 17-year-old Jerich Parzival.
Charlotte's feat means she is the most decorated dressage rider ever, depending on how you score it. No one else has taken gold at the Olympics, European championships and world championships. She's the Michael Jung of dressage. (I'm referring to the German eventer who also has across-the-board gold.)
Her score for her routine to the well-matched music from "How to Train Your Dragon" was 92.161 percent, just short of the world record that she holds. Judges gave Charlotte and "Blueberry," as Valegro is known around the barn, a total of 19 marks of 10, for everything from the half-pass left in the collected trot through the one-tempi changes, the harmony and the degree of difficulty.
Although it was only the third time she had ridden this freestyle in competition, she still achieved a score that was far enough ahead of Helen's 88.286 percent to be remarkable, since Damon Hill also turned in a beautiful effort.
Valegro has no weaknesses. He's a joy to watch in every movement. He sits just enough in the piaffe, his changes are airy without being flighty, and his passage and piaffe are rhythmical. He is a dressage textbook.
"It's not all about the gold," said Charlotte, the protege of British dressage genius/mastermind Carl Hester. "I was absolutely thrilled with my performance."
But rising superstar Laura Graves of the U.S. also got a share of the glory, finishing fifth (82.036) with Verdades after upgrading her freestyle routine to make it more difficult and appealing to the judges. She received universal praise as the one to watch. Laura could be the next Charlotte!
She quite easily handled the additions to her freestyle (she doesn't know what the music is, it's a CD she got from Yvonne Barteau, with additions by Marlene Whitaker). Most impressive to me was the extended canter to a pirouette, without a missed beat or a big move to collect the 12-year-old Dutchbred she has had since he was a foal.
She also included two-tempis on a bending line, but noted she had to push Verdades a bit in the initial half-pass because he got lazy. But his passage half-pass was a nice twist.
After dismounting, she seemed as unruffled as if she had just gone for a short hack on the trail. Laura broke 80 percent for the first time, but she didn't break a sweat. The 27-year-old Vermonter turned Floridian is handling success admirably.
Here's what she had to say following her ride.
She has received universal admiration from other riders, knowledgeable spectators and the judges. Laura is certainly the hot ticket of the moment, part of the wave of younger competitors who are taking over the top spots in the sport.
I asked super-judge Stephen Clarke (the FEI's dressage judge general) what he thought of her, and he didn't waste a second replying.
The USA's other rider in the freestyle, Steffen Peters, wound up 10th with Legolas (77.321), not getting quite as good a score as the rest of his ride deserved because of trouble in the one-tempis and a stumble in the extended trot. But his passage and piaffe, strategically placed for maximum impression on the judges, were lovely as usual.
Steffen is, of course, delighted not to be the USA's lone ranger in the freestyle this time around.
Before I sign off, I have to give credit to Adelinde for her beautiful ride with Parzival (85.714 percent). Many people thought he was finished, but he put in a performance that belied his age and was good enough to edge out the bronze medalist from Wednesday's Grand Prix Special, Kristina Sprehe of Germany on Desperados (83.125).
While people keep asking Adelinde when she's going to put her former World Cup champion out to pasture, she has only one answer: "As long as he loves the game, he keeps on going."
Oh, about the retirement. You'd think that maybe Charlotte would want to quit while she's ahead, but she's bringing along some mounts and I have a feeling she'll be doing rather well with them as they get further in their training.
"This is way more than I ever dreamt of doing," she said, explaining she would "like to re-create it on younger horses.)
But she did reveal that Freddy's (aka Norman, the WEG plush toy mascot) victory gallop on Valegro today will be his last. He's going to relax at home from now on, or maybe be put in a frame. He had a better time at the WEG than most people. In addition to riding Valegro, he got to wear Charlotte's gold medal.
Tomorrow I'm off on my last field trip of the WEG, to Haras du Pin about 90 minutes away -- though it is likely the trip will take more time as they try to cram 50,000 cross-country eventing spectators onto narrow country roads. It's my first visit to eventing, since the days of eventing dressage conflicted with endurance and Grand Prix dressage. I'll be eager to see if the U.S. can keep its post-dressage third-place status, or perhaps even improve on it.
I love eventing, though I'm not looking forward to it, as the place is a mud pit. Because of the conditions, officials already took out two fences and shortened the length of the course.
I brought Bean boots, but they're the five-hole variety that only go up to my ankles, which apparently will be insufficient for the situation. At any rate, I'm sure I'll overcome and send you a postcard tomorrow night. I hope.