Even top athletes get a case of the nerves.
Before Germany's Simone Wiegele started her freestyle vaulting performance, she entered the Alltech Arena and felt "a little bit strange," she said. "The people, the great hall, the atmosphere, it was a little bit scary," she admitted later.
Wiegele said she had two mistakes at the start of her routine. "At first I thought, 'Oh, no, no, no,' " she said. But the bobbles were not big enough to bring down her score significantly and Wiegele finished the women's individual freestyle vaulting competition on Thursday with a top score of 8.650 points.
Combined with her score in compulsory vaulting on Wednesday, Wiegele is in the No. 1 spot among the 33 female vaulters at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games.
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Vaulting is scored individually, but scores carry over each day, for all four phases of competition. Competitors are required to perform all seven elements in their freestyle — mount, seat, flag, the mill, scissors, stand and full flank dismount.
Joanne Eccles of Great Britain placed second overall with a two-day score of 8.274; Antje Hill of Germany was in third place with 8.121.
Megan Benjamin, who won individual gold for the Americans in the World Equestrian Games in 2006 in Aachen, Germany, was in 11th place at the end of freestyle.
Leading the men with a freestyle score of 8.795 — and an overall score of 8.524 — was Patric Looser of Switzerland, who did a showy routine with a U.S. astronaut theme. Looser wore a costume that looked like a silver space suit with an American flag on the sleeve. He even colored his hair silver.
Looser did the astronaut theme, he said, in honor of the Games being in the United States for the first time.
For men, Nicolas Andreani of France was in second place following two days of vaulting. Kai Vorberg and Gero Meyer, both of Germany, placed third and fourth, respectively.
Enthusiastic fans packed the 6,000 seat Alltech Arena creating an energy that several riders commented on. "Warming up, I was nervous. There was so much energy, I didn't know how to contain it," said American Alicen Divita.
Her mother, Julie Divita, who is Alicen's lunger — the person who holds the line to the horse — told her daughter to think of performing as being like another practice.
Alicen said after that advice, "I just calmed down, and it was me and the horse. Giovanni was totally calm." Alicen goes into Friday's individual technical compulsory in ninth place.