Dutch courage was tested to the limit at The Horse Park in Kentucky today but, despite everything that was thrown at them, The Netherlands came through to take Dressage team gold at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games™. It was an historic victory as they at last broke the stranglehold of the long-dominant Germans who, this time around, had to settle for bronze while the British rose magnificently to the occasion and claimed silver with considerable style.
In the midst of today's celebrations however there was also heartbreak in the Dutch camp, as Adelinde Cornelissen was eliminated early in her test when the judges noticed blood in the saliva of her gelding Jerich Parzival. Strong favourites for an individual medal later in the week and key players in the Dutch side, the Dutch partnership were just moving forward after completing the rein-back when Ground Jury President Stephen Clarke (GBR) intervened to tell the rider that she could not continue.
Cornelissen said afterwards that she thought she must have been doing the wrong test, but she put a brave face on it at a mid-day press conference. Asked how she was feeling after this shocking disappointment she said "I have felt better I must say! On one hand its such a shame that you can't finish your test and he was in really great shape....but on the other hand I'm happy he's (Parzival) OK and there's nothing seriously wrong with him". In fact the big chestnut gelding had bitten his tongue during his warm-up, and veterinary examination showed only a very slight injury. "There was just a tiny spot on the tip of his tongue" Cornelissen explained, "and it had already stopped bleeding on the way back to the stable, but it ended my test".
Dr. Wojtek Markowski (POL), the competition's Technical Delegate, explained that the rules dictate a horse must be removed from competition in a case such as this. “The rule is clear, and it is written to protect the welfare of the horse: blood coming from the mouth is contrary to the welfare of the horse and the horse must be eliminated for veterinary reasons" he explained. With only two scores now on the board, Chef d'Equipe, Sjef Jansen, said the mood in the Dutch camp was low. "We've had many tears, but then the riders all have to tack up their horses and go riding - they don't want to get distracted and they still have to do what they came here for - we still have a good chance to win, but we would prefer to be doing it with four people than three" he pointed out.
As first-day leaders they had looked fairly invincible, but now there was an even greater weight on the shoulders of last-line Dutch rider Edward Gal and his super-stallion Moorlands Totilas. Yesterday fellow team-member Hans Peter Minderhoud had wisely pointed out just how unpredictable life can be after his mare took a nasty fall outside the stables a few days earlier - "you never know what's going to happen next" he said, and it seemed Dutch luck was now hanging on a thread. But if you have to rely on your last-line partnership to save the day, and that partnership happens to be the multiple record-breadking horse and rider who have blown their sport wide open in the last year, then your chances of succeeding are definitely more optimistic.
Rose To The Challenge
And the dynamic Dutch duo more than rose to the challenge. From the moment he entered the arena the stallion seemed calm, controlled and concentrated and it wasn't long before his now-famous passage and piaffe was clocking up 10's on the scoreboard. The halts were firm and square, the power, the harmony and the balance in the pirouettes all came together to put up mark of 84.043 and sweep into the lead by a significant margin over first-day leader, fellow team-member Imke Schellekens-Bartels and Hunter Douglas Sunrise. In fact Gal's score was only four one-hundredths of a point short of the Grand Prix world record he set with Totilas at the Alltech FEI European Championship™ in Windsor last August, and the crowd knew they had seen another piece of Totilas magic as they rose to give the Dutch partnership a standing ovation.
It was clear that Dutch gold was firmly secured so the battle for the remaining medals now raged between the Germans, second overnight, and the British who were lying third ahead of the host nation. And the scoreboard was constantly changing as first, Spain's Juan Manuel Munoz Diaz put in a superb performance with Fuego to slot temporarily into second place on a mark of 73.957 before Germany's Isabell Werth and Warum Nicht FRH bettered that when putting 75.404 on the board. That wouldn't be enough for Germany to hold onto runner-up spot however as, three horses later, Britain's Laura Bechtolsheimer and Mistral Hojris produced the test of their lives, scoring 82.511.
"It was definitely the best score and the best ride I've ever had, no mistake about that" the British rider said afterwards. "I've never been able to ride with him so full of energy but relaxed and easy" she added. Having seriously challenged Gal and Totilas, she was asked at the post-competition press conference if she thought she could beat the Dutch stars later in the week. "It depends on Totilas and how he is....but if my horse goes as well as he did today then of course the sport is wide open. It's not going to be easy to stay where we are let alone go up even further, but I can guarantee you the next few days are going to be exciting!" she said. The British result was also greatly enhanced by Carl Hester's excellent performance when achieving 72.128 with Liebling earlier in the day. "I'm old enough to have been on a team where the best British mark was 66 and we thought that was good, but British dressage has changed - we've been waiting for a super-star like Laura but our horses could not have gone better and for that we're all happy with all of our results and for everyone back home that we've finally come good" he added.
Last into the ring today was America's star partnership of Steffen Peters and Ravel, and while their strong score of 78.596 was good enough for third place individually behind Bechtolsheimer in second and Gal in first, it could not raise the US team into a medal position. But the fourth-place finish was plenty good enough to secure Olympic qualification. With Great Britain automatically qualified as host nation there were three places up for grabs so The Netherlands, Germany and the USA are now are on their way to London 2012.
Today was a roller-coaster ride, not just the teams but for the spectators and also the judging panel who had to make some tough decisions. Germany's Isabell Werth admitted that the Dutch are out on their own and that the British today "were just better - we need to work to come closer and it might take one, two or three years before we get back to sitting in the middle of this table!" (gold medal position) she said. Edward Gal described the emotional turmoil in the Dutch camp - "its been a difficult day for us - on one side we are very happy and on the other side we are very sad because of what happened to Adelinde - we have mixed feelings but of course we have also enjoyed it today" he pointed out.
And Ground Jury President Stephen Clarke described the elimination of Cornelissen as "possibly the worst moment of my career" but joked "I was so upset I thought I would have another heart attack!" He continued "but she was so gracious, it must have been so devastating for her and the Dutch team - but she took it like a real professional". Despite all the drama however he knew it had been another great day for the sport. "I want to congratulate all the riders - they all took high risks and it made it really exciting for the public to watch, it was a nail-biting experience, really top level. This sport just keeps getting better and better" he added. And there are another two fascinating competitions - tomorrow's Grand Prix Special for which the top-31 riders have qualified, and Friday's much-anticipated Freestyle - to come.
Team Grand Prix - FINAL RESULT :
1 (GOLD), The Netherlands 229.745 - Hunter Douglas Sunrise (Imke Schellekens-Bartels) 73.447, Exquis Nadine (Hans Peter Minderhoud) 72.255; Moorlands Totilas (Edward Gal) 84.043; Jerich Parzival (Adelinde Cornelissen) Elim.
2 (SILVER), Great Britain 224.767 - Wie Atlantico de Ymas (Fiona Bigwood) 70.128, Two Sox (Maria Eilberg) 68.213: Liebling 11 (Carl Hester) 72.128; Mistral Hojris (Laura Bechtolsheimer) 82.511.
3 (BRONZE), Germany 220.595 - Donnperignon (Christoph Koschel) 72.638, Dablino (Anabel Balkenhol) 67.702; Sterntaler-Unicef (Matthias Alexander Rath) 72.553; Warum Nicht FRH (Isabell Werth) 75.404.
Individual Qualifier Result - 1, Moorlands Totilas (Edward Gal) NED 84.043; 2, Mistral Hojris (Laura Bechtolsheimer) GBR 82.511; 3, Ravel (Steffen Peters) USA 78.596; 4, Warum Nicht (Isabell Werth) GER 75.404; 5, Fuego X11 (Juan Manuel Munoz) ESP 73.957; 6, Digby (Nathalie Zu Sayn-Wittgenstein) DEN 73.830; 7, Hunter Douglas Sunrise (Imke Schellekens-Bartels) Ned 73.447; 8, Donnperignon (Christoph Koschel) Ger 72.638; 3, Sterntaler-Unicef (Matthias Alexander Rath) GER 72.553; 10, Exquis Nadine (Hans Peter Minderhoud) NED 72.255.
Full results and startlists at www.alltechfeigames.com
Facts and Figures:
This was the Netherlands first-every World Championship team title in Dressage
Holland's third-line rider, Adelinde Cornelissen was eliminated when her horse, Parzival, had a bloody mouth during his test. This was caused by Parzival biting his tongue during the competition warm-up.
Holland's Edward Gal and Moorlands Totilas produced the highest individual score of the day - 84.043%.
This score was just four one-hundredths of a point short of the world record score set the by Dutch partnership during the Alltech FEI European Championships in Windsor GBR last August.
Since, as host nation, Great Britain is automatically already qualified for the 2012 Olympic Games in London, the three teams who have qualified out of today's competition are the winning Dutch, the bronze medallists from Germany and the fourth-placed USA.
Adelinde Cornelissen, describing the moment when she was eliminated with Parzival - ""I wondered what was going on, and if maybe I was doing the wrong test but Mr Clarke (Stephen Clarke, Judge at C) said there was blood in my horse's mouth and I had to stop".
Edward Gal, first individually today and a member of the gold medal winning Dutch team "the crowd made a lot of sound as I came into the arena and I felt it make him (Moorlands Totilas) a little tense but after th walk and canter he felt good again".
Commenting on the roar of the crowd when he came into the ring "its better to have this than that no-one is watching!"
Edward Gal, The Netherlands, when asked about his expectations for the rest of the week in the Grand Prix Special and Freestyle competitions "we all start at zero again. I hope to go as good as I did today, but you never know..."
The Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games™ is the World Championship of equestrian sport and runs for 16 days, from Saturday 25 September to Sunday 10 October. It includes eight separate disciplinses - Reining, Endurance, Dressage, Eventing, Driving, Jumping, Vaulting and Para-Dressage - and this is the first time for the Games to be held outside Europe.
For full results and startlists go to www.alltechfeigames.com
The Netherlands' Adelinde Cornelissen: http://www.lloydbell.co.uk/access/client_zone/Adelinde%20Cornelissen%20-%20Dressage.mp3
Edward Gal in Dutch: http://www.lloydbell.co.uk/access/client_zone/Edward%20Gal%20DUTCH%20-%20react%2028-9.mp3
Edward Gal in English: http://www.lloydbell.co.uk/access/client_zone/Edward%20Gal%20-%20Team%20Gold%2028-9.mp3
Laura Bechtolsheimer -team silver, ind 2nd: http://www.lloydbell.co.uk/access/client_zone/Laura%20bechtolsheimer%20-%20team%20silver%20reaction%2028-9.mp3
Isabell Werth - team bronze, ind 4th. German: http://www.lloydbell.co.uk/access/client_zone/Isabell%20Werth%20-%20GER%20team%20bronze%2028-9.mp3
Isabell Werth - team bronze, ind 4th. English: http://www.lloydbell.co.uk/access/client_zone/Isabell%20Werth%20-%20GER%20team%20bronze%2028-9.mp3
Steffen Peters (USA) - individually 3rd: http://www.lloydbell.co.uk/access/client_zone/Steffen%20Peters%20-%20US%20dressage%20reaction%2028-9.mp3