Canadian equestrian team wins gold, qualifies for Rio Olympics
Millar competes in 10th consecutive Pan Am Games
Eric Lamaze and Canada's equestrian team did more than capture a Pan American Games gold medal Thursday.
Lamaze had one of Canada's three clean second rounds as the squad rallied to win the team show-jumping event at Caledon Pan Am Equestrian Park, located approximately 65 kilometres north of Toronto.
With the victory, the Canadians clinched a berth in the equestrian competition at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
And that's a sweet accomplishment for Lamaze, who rode Hickstead to victory in the individual competition at the 2008 Beijing Summer Games.
"Moments like this you remember forever," Lamaze said. "We were a little bit in trouble after the first round, especially having to qualify for the Olympics but we rallied together . . . that's what team effort is all about.
"Everybody came through and pulled it together so for me it means everything."
Joining Lamaze, from Schomberg, Ont., on the Canadian team were Tiffany Foster of North Vancouver, B.C., Ian Millar of Perth, Ont., and Yann Candele of Caledon, Ont.
Canada and Brazil were tied for third following the first round with six faults each as Colombia led with one and Argentina stood second with two. But Foster, Candele and Lamaze all rode clean in the second, the lone blemish being a one-point time fault on Candele.
With the top three scores counting towards the team score, that took the pressure off Millar, the final Canadian rider. But it also meant the 68-year-old could clinch gold and the Olympic berth by guiding Dixson to a clean round within the 80-second time limit.
Instead, he finished with five faults for a knockdown and time-count violation, leaving the door open for Argentina to win gold.
The Canadians and Argentinians were tied at seven faults each when Argentina's Jose Marie Larocca took the course aboard Cornet Du Lys. Larocca, who was the second-last rider, had a clean round but was issued a one-point time fault, providing Canada with its winning margin.
"OK, I sure didn't mean to have that [knockdown] and I realized right away what it meant," Millar said. "That last rider had to have a fault, which he did, and there we were.
"There was a lot of drama in today's competition, no question about that."
Argentina settled for silver but also earned an Olympic berth while the U.S. took the bronze with 12 faults. Millar, 68, who earned a silver medal in Beijing for Canada in the team equestrian event, said he and his teammates desperately wanted to win on home soil.
"We want this so badly as a team and for our country," he said. "It's not necessarily the same team that would go to Rio next year, although I have a suspicion it just might be.
"It was to qualify our country, first thought, which we've done and that was such an important responsibility. And here at home where you can feel how much the crowd wants it for us and it makes us want to do it so much. It's a very proud day."
Lamaze was especially emotional following his second-round ride, pumping his fist emphatically after finishing. Lamaze said he had two reasons for his happiness: taking the pressure off Millar and the two-round performance of his horse, Coco Bongo, which only had one fault.
"I was really happy for Canada but I was happy for my horse as well," Lamaze said. "He put in a great effort in the first round and to come back jump the way he did I was really happy.
"I knew we had a chance at winning this and for sure a good chance to qualify for the Olympics."
International success is certainly old hat for Millar (10th straight Pan Am Games appearance) and Lamaze (fifth consecutive Games) but both Candele and Foster earned gold medals in their Pan Am debuts. And for Candele, it was especially satisfying to do so in his own back yard.
"It's big for all of us but especially me because I live in Caldedon," he said. "This is for Canada and the qualification for the next Olympics."
The individual competition goes Saturday.
With files from CBCSports.ca