Germany's Marcus Ehning will celebrate his 36th birthday tomorrow as the newly-crowned 2010 Rolex FEI World Cup™ Jumping champion. In the Palexpo arena in Geneva, Switzerland this afternoon he kept the coolest head despite an early mistake and won through when those ahead of him faltered. This was his third time to take the prestigious Rolex title and he said "it's really unbelievable - I thought I was too far behind going into the last round but this is how it works out - I am so happy!"
Germany dominated the winners podium when Ludger Beerbaum produced one of just four double-clear performances in today's competition to finish joint-runner-up with Switzerland's Pius Schwizer. And the thrilling class highlighted some great characters and new arrivals, but shattered the dream of America's Mario Deslauriers who it seemed was about to re-take the title he first claimed 26 years ago in Gothenburg, only to see it slip from his grasp in the fading moments.
Course designer Rolf Ludi presented two more classic tests, but only seven of the 29 starters got it right in the first round and when Deslauriers and his brilliant nine year old Dutch gelding Urico were amongst them it further bolstered their position at the top of the leaderboard after the first two legs. The flimsy planks at fence four, the vertical following a tight left-hand bend at seven and the water-tray oxer at fence 10, ridden on a three-stride distance from the previous 1.60m FEI vertical, proved the bogeys here but when Ehning's Plot Blue clipped the very last - a wall with beautifully-carved Swiss cows decorating the top of it - then it seemed his chances were scuppered. With only four points separating the top four riders going into the final day every mistake was critical, but third-placed Schwizer lowered the bogey planks while fourth-placed Patrice Deleveau of France kicked out the oxer at fence two, so Ehning only slipped one place to third at the end of the opening round of jumping.
Ahead of him now was Portugal's Luciana Diniz who set the opening competition alight with a super speed round from Winningmood last Thursday and whose grey stallion showed fantastic form again today when effortlessly clearing the first-round track to rocket up the order. She was lying five points off Deslauriers' lead as the second round began over a completely new course, with Ehning in third, and Schwizer sharing fourth with Beerbaum whose mare, Gotha, made it all look elementary first time out.
It fell apart for Deleveau when Katchina Mail had two down over the final track, but clears from both Beerbaum's Gotha and Schwizer's Carlina, who is also only a nine year old, left them on level pegging and piled the pressure on the remaining three.
Ehning's 13 year old stallion was rock solid this time out however and when they crossed the line with nothing to add they threw down the gauntlet for the top two. Diniz had little room for error with only a single-point advantage over the German two-time World Cup title-holder and although she survived a good rattle at the opening vertical her luck ran out when Winningmood hit the vertical at fence 10, just two from home. Like Diniz, who changed from Brazilian nationality to ride for Portugal in recent years, Deslauriers recently opted to ride for the USA instead of his native Canada. And the 45 year old rider was hoping to bring home the coveted Rolex FEI World Cup™ Jumping title to the US for the first time in 22 years. But the nine year old Urico, who had been so consistent all week, seemed to lose his rhythm halfway round the track and three fences down dashed the dream of reclaiming the title he previously won a full 26 years ago. In the final analysis he had to settle for sixth place while Dermott Lennon enjoyed a meteoric rise up the leaderboard from joint-14th to finish fifth after two stunning rounds with Hallmark Elite who seems set to return the quiet Irishman to the top end of the sport after a long absence since his World Championship title win eight years ago.
Diniz slotted into fourth behind Schwizer and Beerbaum in joint-second place. The champion's glory all belonged to Ehning once again.
"After the first round I thought it was all over" he said afterwards, "but I motivated myself again and decided to fight back. I would have been very happy to have finished second and I feel very sorry for Mario who had such a great show" he added graciously. Ehning is the first-ever rider to win the World Cup title having jumped two different horses - Noltes Kuchengirl jumping in the first day's speed class and Plot Blue completing the job on Friday and again today.
Ludger Beerbaum was well-pleased with his result with Gotha, a daughter of Goldfever, and he too was pleasantly surprised when finding himself so high up the order. "I was hoping for a top-five place, so this is fantastic" he said. And he was highly complimentary of Rolf Ludi's course-design skills. "It is a difficult job when you have so many good riders and horses - when you try to challenge them things can easily go wrong but he got the balance right with nice courses, some new obstacles and plenty of drama right to the end - it was a perfect result" he pointed out.
This 32nd Rolex FEI World Cup™ Jumping final put the spotlight on many great characters of the sport including 46 year old Chris Chugg of Australia who, despite lying 267th in the world rankings, produced a series of brilliant performances from his 11 year old stallion Vivant and who was a crowd-pleaser every time he came in the ring. Deslauriers too won his way into the hearts of the Swiss spectators who enjoyed a feast of fabulous jumping over the last five days but the star today was Ehning who now joins Austria's Hugo Simon, Brazil's Rodrigo Pessoa and fellow-German Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum as a three-time World Cup champion.
Result: (After three legs of final): 1, Noltes Kuchengirl/Plot Blue (Marcus Ehning) Ger 6; Equal 2, Gotha (Ludger Beerbaum) Ger, Carlina/Ulysse (Pius Schwizer) Sui 7; 4, Winningmood (Luciana Diniz) Por 9; 5, Hallmark Elite (Dermott Lennon) Irl 10; 6, Urico (Mario Deslauriers) USA 13; Equal 7, Silvana (Kevin Staut) Fra, Cristallo (Richard Spooner) USA, Vivant (Chris Chugg) Aus 14; 10, Quintero la Silla (Rolf-Goran Bengtsson) Swe 15. Full results at www.scg-nl.nl
Sophie Mottu, Geneva Show Director - "we have spent two years planning for this Rolex FEI World Cup™ Jumping final and have given it all of our hearts and our passion - there have been great moments and difficult ones but we have come up with a wonderful result"
Pius Schwizer - "it has been a pleasure to compete here at home in Switzerland - I'm very proud of this wonderful show"
Ludger Beerbaum talking about Gotha - "I've had her since she was four years old - her breeder asked me to look at her because she is by Goldfever, and I took her to compete when she was six years old. She was second in the Youngster class at her first international show in La Baule and she grows stronger all the time. In the last year she has been very consistent".
Facts and Figures:
29 riders from 12 nations started in today's final competition
The USA had the largest numbers of starters, 7 in total
Four riders jumped double-clear
One of these was Switzerland's Jane Richard who only got the wild-card call-up 11 days ago
There were 7 first-round clears
One rider retired - Great Britain's Michael Whitaker with GIG Amai
This was Marcus Ehning's third victory in the Rolex FEI World Cup™ Jumping series
He previous won with Anka in Las Vegas in 2003 and with Sandro Boy at Kuala Lumpur in 2006
For further information check out website http://www.worldcupgeneva.com/
CALENDAR OF EVENTS FOR WESTERN EUROPEAN LEAGUE: 1, Oslo (Norway) 9-11 October; 2, Helsinki (Finland) 15-18 October; 3, Lyon (FRA) 28 Oct-1 November; 4, Verona (Italy) 5-8 November; 5, Stuttgart (Germany) 15-22 November; 6, London-Olympia (Great Britain) 15-21 December; 7, Mechelen (Belgium) 26-30 December; 8, Leipzig (Germany) 21-24 January; 9, Zurich (SUI) 28-31 January; 10, Bordeaux (France) 5-7 February; 11, Vigo (Spain) 11-14 February; 12, Gothenburg (Sweden) 25-28 February; 13, s'Hertogenbosch (The Netherlands) 25-28 March; FINAL - Geneva (Switzerland) 14-18 April.
Audio Links from Rupert Bell
Marcus Ehning http://www.lloydbell.co.uk/access/client_zone/RGE_Ehning_end.mp3
Ludger Beerbaum http://www.lloydbell.co.uk/access/client_zone/RGE%20Ludger%20Beerbaum.mp3
Dermot Lennon http://www.lloydbell.co.uk/access/client_zone/RGE_Dermot_lennon.mp3
Chris Chugg http://www.lloydbell.co.uk/access/client_zone/RGE_Chugg_end.mp3
Photo Caption: Runners-up Pius Schwizer of Switzerland (left) and Ludger Beerbaum of Germany (right) hold the newly-crowned 2010 Rolex FEI World Cup champion Marcus Ehning of Germany aloft after his victory in Geneva today. Photo: Kit Houghton.