In a thrilling finale that saw a complete leaderboard shakeup, France conquered their first eventing team gold since the Athens 2004 Olympics and their third altogether.
“This is fantastic,” said French rider Astier Nicolas. “There was a lot of pressure going into this, and really I just had to do what I could for the team. But even though there was a lot of pressure, I didn’t let it bother me. I really enjoyed my round and I am very happy. It’s just fantastic. It is an immense pleasure to be part of this team that has won gold for France. It is something we have waited for for a long time, and it’s amazing.”
Britain put in a great effort, with William Fox-Pitt, Kitty King and Pippa Funnell all jumping clear, but the team had no chance of making it into the medal zone after yesterday’s disappointing performance across country. That said, Team GB climbed up the leaderboard to finish in fifth place, behind France, Germany, Australian and New Zealand.
It was a nail-biting afternoon for the French. Thibaut Vallette jumped clear but Matthew Lemoine incurred eight penalties. When Nicolas put in a sterling performance to end on his initial score of 42, it became obvious that France was in with a serious chance of winning gold — but the final result hinged on Australia’s Christopher Burton.
The Australians were down to three riders after Shane Rose was eliminated during Monday’s cross-country phase. Stuart Tinney picked up 17 penalties but Sam Griffiths jumped a faultless round. Were Burton to do the same, victory would be theirs.
But Burton had an unlucky round, knocking off two poles aboard Santano II. His eight penalties not only put France in gold — sending the colourful French crowd at Deodoro into raptures — but also cost the Australian team the silver medal. That’s because the ever reliable Germans had jumped three clear rounds with Michael Jung, Sandra Auffarth and Ingrid Klimke and finished at a cumulative 172.80 penalties — 2.5 less than the Aussies.
Burton’s performance also pushed him down the individual leaderboard. He now lies in third place ahead of tonight’s final, with Nicolas in second and Jung in first.