Monday, October 4, 2010


Team Britian's Victory Gallop (©Nan Rawlins/Equimage® Media)

In a nail-biting conclusion to the Eventing Championship at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games™ in Kentucky today, the British stood firm to claim team gold and Germany's Michael Jung did likewise to take the individual title.  Jung's win was delivered with consummate ease when, last into the arena, he produced another flawless performance from his 10 year old gelding La Biosthetique Sam.  And Britain's William Fox-Pitt, whose polished ride with Cool Mountain secured individual silver, paid the highest compliment to the winner, who led the competition from the outset.  Asked what he thought of the German rider's result he said "quite honestly it's a case of Michael Jung - 1, the rest - nowhere! He's so far ahead we've all got our work cut out for us for the next two years!"

Michael Jung (GER) takes his victory gallop (© Nan Rawlins/Equimage® Media)
The British triumph was the first in a World Championship since 1994 and it was achieved in the best possible way, with clears from Fox-Pitt, Mary King (Imperial Cavalier) and Nicola Wilson (Opposition Buzz) while Tina Cook (Miners Frolic) had two fences down. There was turmoil on the leaderboard, with the USA slipping out of medal contention and having to settle for fourth place while the sensational Canadians moved up into silver and New Zealand took bronze.

Wilson's Opposition Buzz, whose trail-blazing cross-country round on Saturday was one of the highlights of the day, was still full of running as he secured that important first-to-go clear for the British side. But the 90-second time limit was tight and the 13-fence track took its toll.  Buck Davidson set the ball rolling for the USA who were lying in runner-up spot with just a single error from Ballynoe Castle, and when fellow-American, Boyd Martin, went clear with Neville Bardos a place on the podium seemed very much on the cards for the home side.  But Philip Dutton and Woodburn hit the first element of the penultimate double and also picked up a time fault, so it fell to Karen O'Connor and Mandiba to save the day.  Under intense pressure they entered the ring but the partnership was already looking vulnerable by the time they got to the oxer at fence five and, although they cleared the following triple bar, they missed their stride to the next fence, the gate, and Mandiba stopped, eventually crossing the finish line but carrying 12 faults which put paid to US chances.

Despite the disappointment there was still cause for celebration in the O'Connor household tonight as Karen's husband David, a former multiple eventing champion and President of the United States Equestrian Federation (USEF), was hailed the hero by the Canadian team which he trains. They put in another magnificent performance today, as they have done all weekend -  first-line rider Kyle Carter (Madison Park) picking up nine faults but both Selena O'Hanlon (Colombo) and Hawley Bennett-Award (Gin & Juice) producing foot-perfect runs and when Stephanie Rhodes-Bosch picked up just four faults with Port Authority they found themselves elevated to silver medal position.

Bronze Medal-winning Team New Zealand listens to God Save the Queen (©Nan Rawlins/Equimage® Media)

And those veterans of so many wonderful contests, Kiwi legends Mark Todd (Grass Valley) and Andrew Nicholson (Nereo), clinched bronze when keeping a clean sheet after Caroline Powell (Mac MacDonald) collected nine faults and Clarke Johnstone (Orient Express) picked up 13.  It"s an extraordinary achievement for Todd who retired from the sport in 2000 but returned for the Beijing Olympic Games in 2008 and who is as competitive as ever at the age of 54.  "The sport has changed a lot, and its taken me a while to adjust since I've come back" he said and then, referring to gold medallist Michael Jung he added "it may take a while to close the gap to this fellow down here, but we're working on it!".

The Canadians talked about the infleunce of David O'Connor.  Kyle Carter said "four years ago we were disappointed at the WEG but we've been getting stronger and stronger and everyone believes in David, he's brought us to another level, always asking and expecting better, and it"s paying off".
David O'Connor's ecstatic Team Canada (©Nan Rawlins/Equimage® Media)
There was another battle going on further down the team leaderboard because five of the top six nations would earn an Olympic qualifying spot - the British automatically through due to the location of the 2012 Games.  Germany slotted into fifth place and the Irish had a heart-breaking day when, despite an heroic performance in the cross-country phase yesterday, they were overtaken by the Belgians.  The Irish must now battle for an Olympic qualifying spot at next summer's European Championships in Rotterdam (NED) while Canada, New Zealand, the USA, Germany and Belgium, along with the British, can rest easy in the knowledge that their ticket to London is already booked.

As the top 10 took their turn today the tension was palpable and British individual rider Pippa Funnell, who was absent from the sport for some time, showed she is right back in the game when, lying seventh, she recorded a superb clear with Redesigned which eventually left her in fifth place. That was followed by another classic jumping round from Belgium's Karin Donckers and the fabulous mare Gazelle de la Brasserie, but a single error saw Canada's Stephanie Rhodes-Bosch slip down the individual rankings.  With just four left to go, Andrew Nicholson piled the pressure on the remaining three with a clear from Nereo and when Germany's Ingrid Klimke faulted twice the New Zealander improved to individual bronze medal position.  The final two never faltered however so he had to settle for that as the consummate horseman Fox-Pitt calmly returned a zero score and then Jung sailed home with La Biosthetique Sam who looked so fresh, composed and content that it was hard to believe he was at the end of such a monumental contest.    

Jung is now looking forward to competing Sam in London 2012.  "In the last few years my horse and I have grown together and I hope we can make it to London" he said.  The British will be the ones to beat on their home turf then, and Fox-Pitt pointed out that team spirit contributes greatly to his country's  success in this tough sport.  "We have fantastic support from our supporters, our Chef and the BOA (British Olympic Association) - the back-up is huge and we have a great team of riders.  We get on well, we give each other a hard time, but we have a lot of fun!" he pointed out.  However the Eventing Championships at the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games™ have indicated clearly that the Canadians are now truly a force to be reckoned with and that the incredible Kiwis are as hot-to-trot as they have ever been.

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