Horse and rider took in the grounds for a few moments as the starting bell sounded, and then they were off, bounding over jump after jump, accelerating across the water hazard in the middle of the ring. They were fast and clean until the second to last set of jumps, when Don clipped a single pole, then cruised into the finish just over a second below the optimum time of 89 seconds.
The performance put Springsteen in 24th place, with 24 competitors left. The top 30, including ties, would advance. Scoring is calculated through a combination of timing and penalty points for knocking down poles. Springsteen had a penalty-free time, but she received four penalty points for the pole knock.
A waiting game ensued. Every rider that put up a clean, fast ride pushed Springsteen farther down in the rankings.
In the press zone, as she dropped into a tie for 25th and then 27th, Springsteen said she miscalculated the distance between the jump where Don clipped the pole and the one before it. She noted how many good horses and riders were left. She seemed to know this was going the wrong way.
And yet she luxuriated in a spotlight brighter than anything she has experienced.
“It’s not only my first Olympics, it’s my first championship,” she said. “I had some jitters coming in.”
She said her teammates, namely Farrington and Laura Kraut, had helped her through. And Don, she said, is funny and friendly, and winks at her when she walks into the barn.
Elimination came five riders from the end, when Maikel van der Vleuten of the Netherlands posted a clean ride and sent Springsteen into a tie for 31st, one spot out of Thursday’s final because of one knocked pole. No American rider advanced. There’s fodder for a sad ballad in there somewhere.
But, Bruce, know this, too, one dad to another, from 6,700 miles away: Your girl did good.