Germany has a long and formidable record in Olympic dressage. Since the team competition was first introduced in Amsterdam in 1928 — and Germany won — they have clinched 13 of the 20 Olympic team contests.
Could gold number 14 be just around the corner?
Will Charlotte Dujardin add her third consecutive individual gold to her already glittering record?
The dressage kicks off in Tokyo this Friday, 23 July, with the first horse inspection.
Great Britain triumphed at London in 2012, the only blip in an otherwise seamless run for Germany which began in Los Angeles in 1984 when the great Reiner Klimke and Ahlerich led the victory gallop. Despite all the disruption of the last 18 months due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the equine herpes virus (EHV-1) outbreak in mainland Europe, Germany arrives at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games as defending champions and strong favourites to do it all over again.
World number one Isabell Werth heads the line-up with the mare Bella Rose. She is joined by world numbers two and four: Jessica von Bredow-Werndl with TSF Dalera BB and Dorothee Schneider with Showtime FRH. Helen Langehanenberg and her mare Annabelle are reserves.
However, the three-per team format introduced for this year’s Games could prove highly influential. One off day for just one team member and the story could be very different indeed, because every ride will be critical.
At the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, Great Britain claimed silver and the Netherlands took team bronze. This time around, the British send the dynamic duo of Charlotte Dujardin and Carl Hester once again, but both on relatively unexposed horses.
Charlotte’s decision to take the 10-year-old Gio instead of her considerably more experienced 12-year-old mare Mount St John Freestyle, who was in great form at Hagen in Germany in April and who swept all before her at the home international at Wellington in May, came as a surprise.
But the rider, whose record-breaking partnership with the now-retired Valegro has helped popularise dressage like few before her, is backed up by the evergreen Carl as well as Charlotte Fry with Everdale, and the reigning dual individual Olympic champion will no doubt be competitive again.
Edward Gal (riding Total US) and Hans Peter Minderhoud (Dream Boy) headline the Dutch team, Patrik Kittel (Well Done de la Roche) leads the Swedish contingent and Steffen Peters (Suppenkasper) will be a strong anchor for the USA.
Meanwhile, Belgium will be making a little bit of Olympic history as they make their first appearance since 1928.
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When it comes to the individual honours all eyes will be on Denmark’s Cathrine Dufour and her fabulous horse Bohemian. The pair posted a back-to-back double of wins at the first leg of the FEI Dressage World Cup™ 2020/2021 series on home ground in Aarhus, Denmark, pinning Germany’s Isabell Werth and Jessica von Bredow-Werndl into second and third.
But when the Covid cloud broke long enough for another leg to take place in Salzburg, Austria, in January, von Bredow-Werndl showed a whole new level of performance with her 2018 FEI World Equestrian Games™ gold-medal partner TSF Dalera BB, who has gone from strength to strength ever since. Now this pair look a real threat to all the rest in the battle for individual Olympic glory.
The last time Olympic Games were staged in Tokyo in 1964, Baji Koen was the venue for dressage, which was a very different sport back then.
In the grand prix, the scores were announced after each ride. After the ride-off — which was filmed and then mulled over by judges Frantisek Jandl, Gustaf Nyblaeus and Georges Margot — the public, teams and media had to wait for two hours before the final results were announced. It should be a bit quicker this time around!
Swiss supremo Henri Chammartin with Woerman, was eventually deemed the individual champion, and the team title went to Germany’s Harry Boldt with Remus, Josef Neckermann with Antoinette and Reiner Klimke riding Dux.
Words by Louise Parkes; main photo by FEI/Richard Juilliart. Pictured are team Germany celebrating its 13th Olympic dressage team gold at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games — Isabell Werth, Dorothee Schneider, Sönke Rothenberger and Kristina Bröring-Sprehe (L-R)