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Original Issue

Woe for Wofford

A dramatic spill ends Jeb's challenge and another three-day team is picked without him

The guerrilla warfare between the U.S. Equestrian Team and Jeb Wofford (SI, June 27) has ended in an inconclusive armistice. At Pebble Beach, Calif. last week, an injury forced him to quit his long fight to make the Olympic squad. However, before—and even after—he was hurt, Wofford managed to give the Olympic committee a hard time.

The expected skirmishes began when the committee decided to have a hard look at the eight aspirants, including Wofford, in the important preliminary tests. One was a jumping class, and after its course was posted, Wofford demanded—in writing—a closer definition of what constituted "the trace of the course." Once before he had been disqualified on a technicality involving this point, and he wanted to avoid it this time. When his request was refused, Wofford withdrew from the test, deciding to stake all on the three-day competition itself. As far as the committee was concerned, Wofford lost all chance of making the team then and there.

The second day of the actual competition presented the stiffest challenges, including some 15 miles of roads and trails, a steeplechase and a cross-country course studded with 26 solid obstacles. Wofford had entered three horses. He went the route successfully with his green entry, Tres Puissant, then started with Pat's Sister, the mare he considers the best he has ever owned. Not the least tired by the steeplechase or the roads and trails, Pat's Sister began the cross-country phase at a strong gallop. By the sixth fence, a solid oxer, she was traveling too fast and took off too soon. Later, Wofford remembered thinking, "Only this horse could get out of a situation like this!" But she didn't get out of it. She caught the fence and slammed to the ground, with Wofford pinned underneath.

In the hospital, X rays failed to show any broken bones, but Wofford's left arm was paralyzed by strain and twisting, his ribs were sore and his head was one massive ache. Nevertheless, he had one last hope, his third horse—Tingling. He checked himself out of the hospital, had himself boosted onto Tingling and qualified in the third day's event, stadium jumping. Then he announced he would ride the steeplechase and crosscountry again the next day.

Before a disgruntled group of judges and timers, who had hoped to leave Pebble Beach the previous evening, Wofford and Tingling galloped off. Wofford's left arm was useless, and Tingling is a horse that needs two hands. Incredibly, they finished the steeplechase safely, actually collecting nearly all the possible bonus points. But the cross-country was simply too much. Wofford pulled up his horse at the fifth fence and quit. "He was starting to get away from me," he admitted, "and I thought I'd better stop him while I could. I couldn't hold him with one hand."

Scarcely concealing their glee, judges, timers and committee members piled into cars and disappeared. No one said a word to Wofford as he led Tingling on the long, lonely walk to the stables. When he arrived, he was the last man on the scene.

After Wofford's surrender, there was little doubt about who would be on the team. Michael Page, Pan American gold medal winner, was first; Michael Plumb, bronze-medal winner in the same event, was second; David Lurie third and Walter Staley Jr. fourth. This is the group—a good one—which will represent us in Rome. Jeb Wofford lost his fight, but no one can say it was for lack of trying.