Theo Timmerman (NED) has won the eighth edition of the FEI European Four-in-Hand Driving Championships held in Izsák (HUN) over the weekend following a breathtaking obstacle driving competition. The individual silver medal went to Tomas Eriksson (SWE) and the host nation’s representative Zoltán Lázár won the bronze. The Dutch team composed of Timmerman, Koos de Ronde and IJsbrand Chardon, successfully defended its title and remains European champion for another two years. Germany won team silver while the bronze went to host nation Hungary.
The Hungarian town of Izsák hosted an international Driving championship for the first time in the history of the sport. The organiser had ensured that participants enjoyed excellent conditions during the event which will be remembered as a very successful one. The great popularity of carriage driving in Hungary was demonstrated by the large crowd which attended the event during the three competition days. Apart from the storm and rain during the opening ceremony, Izsák was blessed with good weather throughout the event which was enjoyed by both the equine and human athletes.
From National to European Champion
Theo Timmerman lay down the basis for his first individual medal from the very beginning by winning the dressage competition. Timmerman, who was crowned Dutch four-in-hand driving champion for the first time in his career three weeks ago, continued the good work in Izsák. He drove as fast as possible in the marathon without taking any risks. The gold winning team member nearly lost his chances for a good placing in the marathon when one of his wheeler horses fell in the last water obstacle which was very slippery. Fortunately the horse quickly got back up and Timmerman was able to continue and finish in 10th place. He remained in the lead in the overall standings but was closely followed (0,32 penalty points) by his fellow countryman Koos de Ronde. Also, he was only 2,27 ahead of Tomas Eriksson, which contributed to a breathtaking obstacle driving competition.
Neck-to-neck Race between Germany and Hungary
German driver Georg von Stein (GER), who was in fifth place after the dressage and marathon phases, was the first driver to pass the finish line within the time allowed and without any knockdowns in the last obstacle driving competition. Von Stein also secured team silver for Germany, who was in a neck-to-neck race with Hungary. Zoltán Lázár was in fourth place and also managed to drive a clear round which increased the pressure on Tomas Eriksson. The Swedish driver could not afford a knockdown or he would lose the bronze. The double world champion kept his nerve and drove a fast double clear round winning the bronze in a decisive manner.
Koos de Ronde was in silver medal position and could not afford any penalty points either. Unfortunately he knocked a ball off the fourth cone and dropped to fourth place. Last starter Timmerman kept calm and entered the arena silently followed by the many spectators. Tension grew as Timmerman continued driving clear and the relief in the Dutch camp was enormous when he finished within the time securing the gold medal.
From Rags to Riches
The season has not been an easy one for Tomas Eriksson. In Aachen in June he announced that it would be his last event as, due to the lack of sponsors, he would be unable to continue competing in Driving. A private sponsor came up then and there and an agreement with the double world champion, which would enable Eriksson to continue competing for at least until after the Alltech FEI World Equestrain Games™ in Normandy, was reached. The Swedish rider bought two horses, which were formerly driven in a pair, and his dressage results went immediately up. In Izsák, Eriksson came sixth in dressage. The multiple Swedish champion won the marathon and moved up to bronze medal position. When De Ronde knocked a ball down, Eriksson took the silver.
From Pairs to Four-in-hands
The 1997 world pair and 2004 four-in-hand Driving champion Zoltán Lázár was on the Hungarian team which won the gold only four weeks ago at the FEI World Pair Driving Championships in Topol’cianky (SVK). At that event he also won individual bronze. Lázár went back to driving a four-in-hand immediately after Topol’cianky to prepare for Izsák. The pair he drove at the world championships formed the leaders of his four-in-hand team in Izsák. Lázár finished fourth in dressage and fifth in the marathon and was in fourth position in the overall standings. The 40-year-old businessman managed to keep a cool head and drove a clear cones round. After Koos de Ronde knocked a ball down, it became clear that Lázár had won the individual bronze medal.
Georg von Stein recorded the best German performance of the event in all three phases of the competition, finishing fifth individually and contributing to the team silver medal. The German team also included Michael Brauchle, who finished second in the marathon and eighth overall, and the only lady driver Mareike Harm. It is the first time that the 27-year-old driver was on the German team at a four-in-hand championship. Harm was on the gold medal winning team at the FEI World Single Driving Championships 2010. She finished in a very respectable 13th place at Izsák.
The Hungarian team was composed of Zoltán Lázár and father and son József Dobrovitz senior and junior, who finished sixth and 10th respectively.
Belgian driver Glenn Geerts, 24, had an outstanding performance placing seventh individually and contributed to the fourth place of the Belgian team. His 24-year-old compatriot Edouard Simonet made his debut at an international championship in Izsák, driving a very nice team of Arabo Friesian horses.
Change of Course Designer
Only two weeks before the start of the event, course designer Dr Wolfgang Asendorf (GER) had to suddenly withdraw from his function at Izsák for health reasons. Gábor Fintha (HUN), who recently built his first World Championship in Topol’cianky, stepped in. The obstacles and the cones course were much praised by the competitors and their teams. Fintha himself had competed as an individual driver for Hungary at the European Four-in-Hand Championships in 1977 and 1981. In 1975, he was at the European championships as a groom for György Bárdos (HUN), who was member of the gold medal team.
Theo Timmerman (NED): “I started the competition very well with my first place in the dressage and I was happy I was able to keep my leading position after the marathon. I knew I had to drive clear in the cones to be able to keep the gold, but I did not feel stressed or nervous at all. I was able to concentrate completely. My horses did a great job and I am so happy with my gold medals!”
Tomas Eriksson (SWE): “I could have driven an even better dressage if I had been able to use my two new horses, but I had not managed to qualify one of them. But I am happy anyway. In the marathon I put the new horse Pamino for the first time in the lead. That was a bit of a risk, but I knew from experience that Saco would slow the team down. I really wanted to win the marathon so I gave everything I had and it went well. In the cones I used Saco again. I knew I could drive clear but Lázár put me under a lot of pressure when he drove clear. But I perform better under pressure and I proved that today!”
Zoltán Lázár (HUN): “I am very happy with my bronze medal. I need to work on my dressage more, but I did the best I could here in Izsák.”
Facts and figures
- 34 competitors from nine nations competed, eight of which with teams.
- Spectators on marathon day: 6,000.
- Total horses: 169
- Eldest competitor: Felix-Marie Brasseur (BEL), 61
- Youngest competitor: József Dobrovitz jr. (HUN), 21
Final results individual:
Theo Timmerman (NED) 137.53
Tomas Eriksson (SWE) 139.80
Zoltán Lázár (HUN) 140,67
Final results teams:
The Netherlands 276.14