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Robert Ridland--nbc commentator--predictions

Robert Ridland was one of the official NBC commentators.  NBC had exclusive rights to the Olympics, and were the only station broadcasting them.
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Ridland: Forecasting the field

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Robert RidlandThe equestrian competition begins with the individual and team eventing on Day Two of the Olympics. Eventing is equestrian's version of the triathlon, and the first two days are extremely important. The leader coming out of dressage has the event in hand as they enter the roughness of cross-country and the skill of show jumping.

The U.S. has three very strong teams going into the Olympic competition. For the first time in Olympic history, the U.S. team has a very good chance to medal in every discipline of each event. Here's who I see making it to the medal stand as the competition unfolds:

Team Eventing
Great Britain is the heavy favorite. Three teams have a chance for silver including France, the United States and Australia. I like France for silver and the U.S. for bronze.

Pippa Funnell
Carl De Souza/Getty Images
Great Britain's Pippa Funnell won the 2003 Rolex Grand Slam.

Individual Eventing
The individual medals are dependant upon how things are going from a team perspective. For that reason it's very hard to predict, but here's how I see things unfolding:

Pippa Funnell is the No. 1 rider in the world right now. She is the heavy favorite to win the eventing title. Funnell became the first rider to complete the three-day Rolex Grand Slam, winning the Kentucky, Badminton and Burghley Horse Trials in 2003.

Phillip Dutton of Australia was second at Rolex this year and he placed well on three different horses in 2004. He captured team gold at both the 1996 and 2000 Games. I like his chances for silver.

William Fox-Pitt of Great Britain is having a stellar year. He was a winner at Badminton and has been a consistently clutch performer for his country. Fox-Pitt is also a four-time European Eventing champion (1995, 1997, 2001 and 2003).

The British are so strong in individual eventing that it would not be a huge surprise if three British riders stand on the medal podium together.

Team Dressage
The Germans have taken gold at the last five Olympic Games and are the overwhelming favorite. I see the U.S. battling for silver with the Netherlands. I pick the Netherlands to grab silver and the U.S. to bring home bronze.

Anky Van Grunsven
Robin Utrecht/Getty Images
Anky Van Grunsven has won five Olympic medals in her previous four Games.

Individual Dressage
I like Ulla Salzgeber of Germany for the gold. Salzgeber has been a fixture on the successful German dressage team since 1997. A two-time medalist in Sydney, she has won seven consecutive international gold medals in team dressage, as well as six straight individual international medals. In 2003, Salzgeber successfully defended her individual European Championship title.

The battle for silver will take place between the Netherlands' Anky Van Grunsven and Debbie McDonald of the United States.

This is the fifth Olympics for Van Grunsven, a five-time medalist and the defending champion in individual dressage. Van Grunsven won four silver medals before breaking through with gold in Sydney.

McDonald is ranked among the top two in world dressage. She made history in 2003 when she became the first American to win the dressage World Cup title. McDonald will be looking to end a 72-year drought of Americans on the medal stand in this event.

The gap between Van Grunsven and McDonald is very slight. In fact, Van Grunsven and McDonald could push Salzgeber for gold.

Individual Jumping
German Marcus Ehning, a heavy favorite again this year after winning gold at the last three Olympic Games, withdrew from Olympic competition because his horse was diagnosed with a ligament injury. Ehning would have been my choice for gold. This is a major blow to the German team. With Ehning's withdrawal from the Games, my medal outlook has changed. Here are my top three choices:

Markus Fuchs
Patrik Stollarz/Getty Images
Markus Fuchs is competing in his fifth Olympics in Athens.

Markus Fuchs of Switzerland was the No. 1 rider in the world last year until he was injured. Upon his recovery he was able to compete in the World Cup and finished third in Milan. He's riding well and he's a scrapper. Now that he's healthy, I think he has the best shot at the gold medal.

Rodrigo Pessoa of Brazil is a former world champion. He's been doing very well and has been near the top of the world rankings recently. This is his fourth Olympics. Pessoa captured bronze in team jumping at the 1996 Atlanta Games and again in Sydney in 2000. I expect him to battle Ludger Beerbaum for silver.

Beerbaum of Germany has not had a spectacular year, but he has been very consistent. He is entering his fifth Olympics. He is one of three German riders to win gold medals at four different Games.

Team Jumping
The Germans are once again favored to win gold, but Ehning's withdrawal opens the door for other competitors. The Germans have won team gold in three of the last four Olympics (1988, 1996, 2000).

I give only a slight edge to France over the United States. France is the defending world champion from 2002 and defending Super League Champions from 2003. France is also the current leader in the Super League's Series.

The United States heads into the Games as the defending Pan-Am gold medalists in 2003. Chris Kappler is also back in good form. I just spoke to the coach of the U.S. Equestrian team and he said that Chris is riding well.

While I'm picking the U.S. for bronze, the team is looking very strong. It looks like the field for team jumping is bunching up and the gold is up for grabs.

Note: One thing to keep in mind is the shorter course during the eventing phase. This is a relatively new experiment that the FEI has imposed. The shorter course was established to be a bit less taxing on the horses. However, the number of obstacles has stayed relatively the same, making it just as difficult or maybe even more difficult for the horses. It should be interesting to see what effect this has on the horses. There's no question that stamina will play a major part in the outcome of eventing.

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