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Eric Lamaze back on Olympic show jumping podium with bronze aboard Find Lady

RIO DE JANEIRO — It's one thing to ride one of the world's elite horses to a gold medal in Olympic show jumping. It's another to guide an unknown steed to the podium yet again.

The emotion on Eric Lamaze's face before accepting his bronze medal Friday came from the relief and joy of knowing his management of Fine Lady paid off.

"I've been really carefully bringing her along and that's why it's really emotional for me," Lamaze said. "When you've done everything right and it goes your way, it's very rewarding in our sport.

"So many people have done everything right and had misfortune along the way. That's what's heartbreaking about the Olympics, to come so far and have a horse end up tripping or falling or being sick the first day, things like that."

The 48-year-old from Schomberg, Ont., claimed bronze in a jump-off of six riders who posted zero faults on the day.

Lamaze also won gold in 2008 aboard Hickstead, which puts him among seven riders who have won two Olympic medals in the show jumping's individual event.

Britain's Nick Skelton and Big Star rode clean in a time of 42.82 seconds. Sweden's Peder Fredricson and All In were also penalty-free, but slower at 43.35.

Last in the order of go, the Canadians knocked down the seventh rail, but their four-fault time of 42.09 beat out Switzerland's Steve Guerdat and Nino des Buissonnets also at four faults for a medal.

"Nick was very quick and forced all the riders to go at a speed that was a little uncomfortable," Lamaze said. "Even if I was unlucky and would have a fence down, I knew there was still a spot open with a fast four faults for a medal.

"This little mare has jumped her heart out all week long and she continued until the end."

At 58, Skelton became the oldest Olympic champion in any equestrian event and the oldest gold medallist at these Games.

"I knew Eric would be fast," Skelton said. "He made me sweat."

Lamaze now owns a complete set of medals after helping Canada win team silver in 2008.

Hickstead died suddenly from a ruptured aorta during competition in 2011. Considered a once-in-a-lifetime horse, Lamaze considered retirement after Hickstead's death.

The rider returned to the Olympic podium on a horse that wasn't in consideration for Rio a year ago.

"I never thought this would happen again," he said. "There were times when I was not sure if I wanted to keep going. But this makes it all worth it.

"It's two different things, riding the favourite in something like that and having a horse that's a little bit unknown that you know can do well, but you're hoping everything is going to be right and you're going to run into the right courses."

Lamaze rode Coco Bongo to Pan American gold last year in Toronto. He was developing Fine Lady to compete in speed classes with fences 1.5 metres or lower.

But when they placed third in a Grand Prix in Switzerland in December, Lamaze began cultivating the 13-year-old chestnut mare as his Rio mount.

He didn't enter her in many 1.6-metre classes over the winter, but they did finish second in the Grand Prix at Calgary's Spruce Meadows in June.

"She's fragile in a sense that she does not have all the power and she needed to get to the Olympics with as much belief in herself as I could bring to her," Lamaze explained.

"Spruce Meadows is the place to train for these championships. It did amazing things for Hickstead."

Getting the most out of Fine Lady to finish in the medals was a measure of not only Lamaze's riding talent, but his instincts and horse management.

"He definitely can rise to any occasion and make miracles happen," said his Canadian teammate Tiffany Foster.

The 32-year-old from Vancouver reached Friday's final round with four faults. Foster finished tied for 28th with a total of 21 aboard Triple X.

"I've never ridden in the individual final of any championship," Foster said. "I'm thrilled with my horse. He gave me everything he had this whole week.

"When I got on him in the warmup ring he told me 'Are you serious? We're doing this again?' He was just a bit cooked. He felt pretty tired."

Yann Candele of Caledon, Ont., didn't make the final round with 12 faults aboard First Choice 15.

Lamaze, Foster, Candele and Amy Millar of Perth, Ont., lost a jump-off to Germany for the bronze medal in the team event.

Millar's father Ian, winner of team silver in 2008, did not compete in what would have been his 11th Olympic Games. His top mount Dixson underwent sinus surgery in March.

Lamaze hopes he and Ian Millar can lead Canada's jumping team into Tokyo in 2020.

"Canada sort of missed Ian Millar this week," Lamaze said. "I've ridden on many Nations Cups with him and in the Olympics.

"He told me he's going to make Tokyo so I told him if he's going to Tokyo, I'll go with him."

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