For only the third time in the 72-year history of the Pan American Games, Team Canada claimed Eventing gold at the 2023 edition in Quillota, Chile on Sunday.
It was a real upset when Michael Winter (El Mundo), Colleen Loach (Fe Golden Eye), Lindsay Traisnel (Bacyrouge), and Karl Slezak (Hot Bobo) pinned the leading Americans back to silver medal spot when the Jumping course designed by Marina Azevedo – the first-ever female designer at the Pan Americans who will also set the tracks for Jumping later this week – proved a game-changer.
Brazil dropped from overnight silver-medal-spot to bronze but, along with Canada, achieved their goal of Olympic qualification, while the USA’s Caroline Pamukcu held on to take the individual title ahead of Brazil’s Marcio Carvalho Jorge in silver and Canada’s Traisnel in bronze.
It was quite a day.
Within the time
Loach was the only one of the 25 starters to make it home within the time with a fabulous clear from her 11-year-old gelding Fe Golden Eye, and when Winter put just 0.8 time faults on the board with El Mundo then Team Canada was looking very solid going into the closing stages. However, when they started the day the Canadians looked set to battle it out with the Brazilians for silver, not to overtake the Americans for the gold because they were a full 19 penalty points behind them
Brazil didn’t quite hold it together despite minimal time penalties for both Ruy Fonseca and anchorman Jorge when Carlos Parro (Safira) picked up 16 faults and Rafael Mamprin Losano (Withington) clipped both the second element of the rustic double at fence four and the red vertical at six. But they completed with a final tally of 127.1 and were well clear of Team Mexico who finished fourth on 253.0.
Third-line Canadian Karl Slezak and Hot Bobo lowered both the Copper Mines oxer at fence nine and the wall that followed, but compatriot Tresnel, fifth overnight, added just 1.6 time faults to her running score. Now it was up to the three remaining Americans to hold fast to that leading spot because Sydney Elliott and Qz Diamantaire, in seventh place after cross-country, had added 9.2 to their scoreline when going over the time and leaving the oxer at fence three and the first element of the triple combination at fence eight on the floor.
When Sharon White and Claus B had four fences down the US began to look vulnerable, and then Dressage leader Liz Halliday, who slipped to silver medal spot with time faults on Saturday, had three down and it was now vital for Pamukcu to stay clear if Team USA was to hold on to pole position.
Pamukcu’s eight-year-old gelding HSH Blake was looking really good until his 29-year-old rider saw a very long stride to the oxer at fence five and missed the distance to bring it crashing down. The pair quickly recovered their composure, but team gold was gone and it would be the second step of the podium for the defending champions by an agonising margin of just 0.1 penalty points.
Pamukcu still managed to hold on to individual gold when completing on 30.8 while Brazil’s Jorge took silver on 32.2 and Canada’s Traisnel moved up from fifth to bronze with a final scoreline of 34.2.
“It’s definitely bitter-sweet but I was very proud of our weekend competing alongside these ladies”, said America’s Elliott. White admitted that “there are probably a lot of “if onlys” going on now in our own heads, but we fought hard to the bitter end and today was obviously a bit disappointing but we are all so proud of Caroline. Everyone is already planning how we are going to get it done better next time.”
Halliday put it bluntly. “I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was a bit gutted right now, I think we all are, it’s certainly not the result we came here to do. But it is what it is, and sometimes that’s how it goes with horses and we have to take it on the chin and stand up and be proud of what we did achieve, and look at ways to keep fighting hard to be better. The USA has really strong riders and horses right now and we have to keep pushing”, she said.
Pamukcu was delighted to find herself in individual gold medal spot but acutely aware that her fence down was costly.
“I get a bit eager sometimes and that was definitely showing my age there but I’m grateful for a great horse. I’ve ridden a lot of sale horses and I know when I’ve made a mistake you pull yourself together and kick on! I just saw one (a stride), I feel awful because if I didn’t have that silly rail – it cost us the gold but I promise I won’t make such a silly mistake again”, she said.
The Canadians meanwhile reflected on their superb achievement. “This is the culmination of two years of a complete High Performance restructuring and we didn’t just win this medal, our High Performance group did it”, said Winter. “We executed today but that foundation is what made it happen. It’s been a really positive environment and it has allowed us all to do our best and that is so key. It’s not one thing that’s magical or exceptional, it’s all the small things. I’ve been in the High Performance programme since 1995 and I’ve been in the team since 2003 and this is the most solid, productive structure we’ve had”, he said.
As Loach pointed out “the climb up the leaderboard was hard to believe!”, She was thrilled with her clear round. “My horse an exceptional jumper so I knew if I did my job he’d do his and that is very confidence-inspiring going in”, she explained.
Slezek said “I’m super excited to be part of this team, we all worked really hard to get this!”, while Traisnel said the Canadian success today was “kind of unbelievable! The focus was the team this week and I’m just so excited we got our Paris qualification and I’ve been so happy to be part of this group! It’s my husband Xavier, my family and our team at home that got us here!”, said the 38-year-old with team gold and individual bronze medals around her neck.
Marcio Jorge said Brazil’s team bronze and his individual silver are the result of long years of hard work. He was thrilled with the performance of his 10-year-old grey gelding Castle Howard Casanova. “This is a really special horse, he’s a really good jumper and really smart as well and I hope he will be ready to be competitive in Paris next year”, he commented.
That is in the sights of all of the top three teams as USA is already qualified, but for now it’s time to celebrate Pan American glory after a breathtaking conclusion to three days of exceptional Eventing sport.
Startlists and Results here.