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Original Issue


SI's envoy to the Equestrian Olympics sees jittery horses and riders share the medals, bringing most Gold to Sweden

Corkscrews of lightning silhouetted the stern Nordic towers and thunderclaps shook the Stockholm stadium. It was a bare hour before the Equestrian Games were scheduled to begin (SI, June 11). Heavy gray skies threatened yet more torrential rain, but for the royal procession and opening ceremonies the sun shone brightly on the 158 contending horsemen massed behind their flying banners like medieval knights gathered for a joust.

The Olympic combat began the next day with the dressage phase, the first test of the Three Day Event, drawing 56 riders from 19 countries. Germany's Otto Rothe set the pace with a nearly faultless style, earning a low score that was never matched. Immediately after him America's Major Jonathan Burton cut an indifferent figure by contrast, although he received the best score of the U.S. competitors.

The Germans already occupied first and third individual placings when another compatriot, tall, dark August Lüetke-Westhues, entered on veteran Trux von Kamax. Before starting, Westhues complained of the horse's nervousness, caused by mosquitoes, so ordered him doused with delicately scented cologne especially brought from Germany. But despite Westhues' undoubted skill he remained nervous through fear that Trux would be nervous, and would be heavily penalized.

The British horse Kilbarry, with Colonel F. William Weldon astride, had difficulty finding footing on the muddy ground, as the rain had started again. Nevertheless, when the points were toted up England had captured the team lead.

For the endurance phase of the Three Day Event, the cross-country course was turned into a slippery mire by rains, and tricky jumps were made more difficult by treacherous footing. America's Frank Duffy was disqualified at a water jump, the eighth of 33 obstacles. The eighth also spilled Spain's Salgado Dominguez head first into the water. Dominguez waded out like a forlorn Don Quixote, remounted, looking cadaverous and worried, rode on only to fall again later.

Queen Elizabeth's gelding Countryman fell across the 22nd barrier, but Rider Bertie Hill, saving the British team, grabbed the horse's forelegs and shoved him over backward so that he fell into a ditch. He was then able to scramble out and resume the course.

At day's end six riders were hospitalized, including America's Major Burton, and 11 of the 19 teams were eliminated. The British were still ahead.

The third test, the stadium jumping, was the downfall of the surviving U.S. rider, Walter Staley. His brown mare, Mud Dauber, went off the intricate course and was eliminated. The fight for the individual medals was between Sweden's Petrus Kastenman, Germany's Westhues and Britain's Weldon. As the points stood, Kastenman could make only one mistake if he was to gain the gold medal. If the German or the Briton made a clean round he could win. But Kastenman, worrying about time penalties, went too fast, knocking down an easy wall and then a white gate. Germany's Trux von Kamax jumped with great precision but pushed down the wall and a double hedge, leaving the place ratings as before. Although the British had virtually attained the team victory, if Weldon on Kilbarry made a perfect round he could also wrench the individual gold medal from the Swedes.

Weldon started off in tense, general silence. Then his first obstacle went down. Even the Swedes cried out when Kilbarry's hoofs next splashed into the water jump. At that point he had lost not only to Kastenman but also to Westhues. But Britain kept her team gold medal for the Three Day—the first time she had ever won this event.

The competition for the Grand Prix de Dressage, the second Olympic contest, saw the keenest competition between Sweden and Germany. Sweden's Gehnäll Persson went through the test with flowing smoothness and an animation unmatched by other riders throughout the two-day test. His score was soon bettered, however, by Mrs. Lis Hartel of Denmark, a cripple from polio only a short nine years ago. She brought her 13-year-old brown mare Jubilee through soft, precise passages, nice extensions and perfect pirouettes.

It was raining hard again when 54-year-old Henri St. Cyr, another Swede, entered at a moment when Germany was leading on points. Juli and St. Cyr, gold medal winners in 1952, performed with smoothness, precision and force. The judges took the terrain into consideration and St. Cyr and the Swedes were again individual and team victors.

Then came the last contest—the Prix des Nations jumping. The course, secret until the day of the event, was universally acknowledged as the stiffest seen in Olympic competition and was made even more difficult by rains which had turned the field into slush.

A tricky double jump received the most study when the 66 riders were permitted course inspection before the event. Germany's Hans Winkler wore the dark glasses he uses when looking at the jumps, claiming they stand out better that way. Several times he paced the length between the double jump as if hoping he had been mistaken. Italy's Piero D'Inzeo eyed the space with confidence, and England's Pat Smythe curiously studied Winkler's resolute pacing.

The first half of the event, the morning round, quickly became a contest among Germany, Great Britain and Italy. Germany's first rider, Alfons Lüetke-Westhues, was off to a bad start with four knockdowns, and Italy's Piero D'Inzeo took the lead with only two bars toppled. Then Germany's Fritz Thiedemann, riding in a heavy rain, matched his score, followed by Pat Smythe on Flanagan to make it a three-way individual tie. Italy's Raimondo D'Inzeo later joined his brother, Pat Smythe and Thiedemann. The last German member, Hans Winkler, cantered through the mire to clear 12 jumps without a fault. At the 13th his mare, Halla, took off badly, clearing the jump but jolting Winkler in the saddle. Winkler, hurt in the groin, eased back at the final obstacle which the mare knocked down. But he and Germany had taken the lead.

In the final round Winkler, after anesthetic injections, whooping stridently at each obstacle, made an incredibly faultless round and consolidated the double victory. Raimondo D'Inzeo equaled the feat on his catlike jumper, taking second from his brother and a silver medal for Italy.