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Yann Candele, Tiffany Foster, Eric Lamaze and “Captain Canada” Ian Millar waved to the crowd with their new gold medals around their necks.
By Bill Rea
There's often not a great difference between gold and silver medals.
In the case of the team show jumping competition at the Pan American Games, that difference amounted to a fraction of a second last Thursday.
The Canadian Show Jumping Team won the gold medal.
Held over two nail-biting rounds, Canada persevered to win the team gold with seven faults over Argentina with eight faults and the United States with 12 for bronze. It was a proud moment as Canada's Minister of State (Sport) Bal Gosal, hung the gold around the necks of each member of the Canadian team.
The team consists of Yann Candele of Caledon, Tiffany Foster of North Vancouver, Eric Lamaze of Schomberg and “Captain Canada” Ian Millar of Perth.
Things were looking a little tight for the Canadians toward the end. The first three competitors cleared all the jumps, although Candele did pick up a time fault. Millar picked up five faults, knocking down one rail in his outing, but his score was tossed out.
At this point, Argentina was the only team that had a chance to catch Canada. Their last rider was Jose Larocca Jr., and it was announced as he entered the ring that a faultless round would mean a tie for gold. Larocca cleared all the jumps, but he took 83.9 seconds to do it, and that fraction of a second was crucial.
“We wanted this so badly for our team and country,” Millar commented after the medal presentation. “It's too close when it comes down to a fraction of a second for the gold medal.
Canada also stamped its ticket to the 2016 Rio Olympics, while Argentina claimed the only other qualifying spot available. The United States and the home nation, Brazil, were pre-qualified.
The course was designed by Canada's Michel Vaillancourt, individual silver medalist at the 1976 Montreal Olympics
Canada was tied for third with Brazil following the opening round of competition with six faults. Colombia held the lead at the half-way point with one fault while Argentina sat second with two faults. Canada piled on the pressure however, counting only the one time fault in the second round to move up.
Caledon's Candele was the hometown hero, delivering the best scores of the Canadian Show Jumping Team riding Showgirl, a 15-year-old chestnut selle francais mare owned by the Watermark Group. Candele jumped clear in the first and second round of competition, but was caught by the clock both times to pick up one time fault in each round.
“Canada is the best! Our team is awesome!” said Candele, 44. “We have the youth with Tiffany, and after you have Ian and Eric, who are veterans and super experienced. Tiffany and I try to put good scores and let the veterans carry the team. We try our hearts out, and we know we have them coming behind us.”
“To win in front of a home crowd is more special, but winning a gold medal is always a special moment,” he added “It doesn't matter where it is!”
In a dramatic day of sport, Foster had a stop on course after making an error judging the distance one of the fences in the opening round. She quickly redeemed herself, coming back in the second round to jump clear for Canada riding Tripple X III, a 13-year-old dark bay Anglo European stallion owned by Andy and Carlene Ziegler's Artisan Farms LLC.
“That wasn't an ideal start for me,” she said. “That was not the plan.”
“I told the guys that if they kept us in the game, I would go clear; at least I delivered!” added Foster, who was one day shy of her 31st birthday. “It means everything to win the gold medal. I've never won a gold medal. I've never even done a Pan American Games. It's incredible. Our team is the best!”
Commenting on her mount, Tripple X III, Foster said they've only been together about a year.
“We clicked really quickly,” she commented.
Having incurred four faults following a late rail at fence 12 in the opening round, Lamaze was clear in the second. His incredible performance riding Coco Bongo, a 10-year-old bay Rheinlander stallion also owned by Artisan Farms LLC, was met with thunderous applause from the audience, and secured Canada's Olympic qualification.
“It means everything!” said Lamaze, 47, of Canada's gold medal performance. “The first goal was to qualify for Rio, and then to win a gold medal. We have a lot of fans here in the stands cheering for us, and we wanted to give them something to cheer about!”
“Ian and I have had some great success together on the team, and it's great to share a medal with Yann and Tiffany,” continued Lamaze, who had previously won team silver and bronze and individual bronze medals before making his fifth consecutive Pan Am Games appearance in 2015. “To do it here at home in Toronto is extra-special.”
Lamaze was also individual gold medalist at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.
“Moments like this, you remember forever,” he remarked. “I love the group effort we put together.”
Millar claimed a team gold medal in his record 10th Pan American Games appearance. It had been 28 years since Canada last won team gold at the 1987 Games in Indianapolis, when Millar was part of the team with Big Ben, and also claimed individual gold. Millar delivered a clear round, with one time fault, in the opening round when Canada needed it most, riding Dixson, a 12-year-old bay Belgian Warmblood gelding owned by Susan and Ariel Grange.
“When the going gets tough, the tough gets going!” said Millar, 68, who attributes his longevity in the sport to his daily exercise regimen. “This was a tough one at home. We are going to Rio, which was very important, obviously, and we have gold medals hanging around our necks. The mission was accomplished. It is a very big deal. Rio it is!”
“We've checked off a lot of boxes today, and I feel a big sense of relief,” declared Canadian Show Jumping Team chef d'equipe Mark Laskin. “Qualified for the Olympics? Check. Gold medal at the Pan American Games? Check. Winning in our home country in front of our home fans? Check. I am really thrilled.”
Excerpt: There’s often not a great difference between gold and silver medals. In the case of the team show jumping competition at the Pan American Games, that difference amounted to a fraction of a second last Thursday.
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