RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - Olympic equestrian competitions soared to new levels in Rio, with an unusual six riders qualifying for the final show jumping jumpoff and a new record dressage freestyle score attained.
The French won two of three team gold medals, triumphing in eventing and for the first time in 40 years in team show jumping. Britain claimed individual dressage and show jumping gold medals, however, with Charlotte Dujardin repeating her 2012 win on horse Valegro and setting an Olympic record dressage freestyle score of 93.857.
Nick Skelton became Britain's first individual gold medal show jumper at the age of 58, setting a fast and penalty-free jumpoff time none of the five riders who followed could catch. Skelton marveled at the feat, after spending much of the past two years nursing his horse back from an injury and dealing with back pain and a replaced hip himself.
Germany, always a formidable presence in equestrian sports, won team dressage gold and eventing silver. Michael Jung, often considered the best eventing rider ever, won individual gold with Sam, the same horse he won on in London four years ago.
An individual silver in dressage made Isabell Werth the first equestrian in the sport's three disciplines to win 10 Olympic medals.
While the United States missed its goal of reclaiming the team show jumping golds won in 2004 and 2008, the team came away with silver even after anchor rider Beezie Madden withdrew with an injured horse. The United States also took bronze in team dressage and in individual eventing.
Asked if 13 penalty-free rounds on the last day of show jumping and an unusual six horses and riders in the final jumpoff meant the course was too easy, Brazilian course designer Guilherme Jorge said absolutely not, the level in Rio was just high.
"The horses jumped it unbelievably... this shows the quality and the way our sport is going," he said.
Reporting by Caroline Stauffer; Editing by Jan Harvey