The French head both the team and individual standings after an exciting opening competition at the FEI European Jumping Championships 2011 in Madrid, Spain today. Just four of the 67 starters were left to go when Olivier Guillon steered Lord de Theize home to snatch the advantage from long-time leaders Beat Mandli (SUI) and Louis, The Swiss partnership were then further demoted to third when the last horse-and-rider into the ring, the surprising Stefan Eder from Austria and his stallion Chili Van Dijk, edged them out with a great run to slot into second.
The 13-fence track set by Spanish course designer Santiago Vareles produced the perfect introduction to the tough week ahead, and there is plenty of tension in the air as, apart from the all-important Championship medals, so many nations are vying for the coveted three remaining qualifying spots available for the London 2012 Olympic Games.
Converted Into Penalties
In the team rankings, Germany lies second after today's results were converted into penalties, while Sweden is in third ahead of The Netherlands in fourth and Great Britain in fifth. The Swedes were very impressive this afternoon, and look to have one of the Olympic qualifying spots well within their sights. These will be allocated to the three highest-placed nations not already qualified. As it stands this evening, Sweden, The Netherlands and the host nation of Spain have the London tickets in their grasp, but they will need to hold on very tight indeed over the next two days as Italy, Ireland and the defending European team champions from Switzerland are hot on their heels.
Asked how he thought the riders coped with his first test of the week, Santiago Vareles said "there were a few surprises for me, but today I felt the horses jumped very well. The course was nice for them and everyone at the top of the rankings are, more or less, close together for tomorrow". He said he expected the classifications to change as the week progresses however. "Today was 1.50m but tomorrow's class is 1.60m - today was just the first round", he advised.
Setting The Pace
Mandli was the 20th rider into the ring when setting the pace with Louis in a time of 80.11 seconds, and he was really satisfied with his result. He has every reason to be extra-pleased, as his 11-year-old gelding, which showed such huge potential when winning the Rolex FEI World Cup™ qualifier at Lyon, France 18 months ago, has had a very long layoff but is right back to his very best. Injured while competing at St Gallen (SUI) in 2010, he only returned to action again at the same show in June 2011. "It has been a long wait", Mandli said today, "but this was a really nice day for me today because he was in a super mood and I was very confident coming into the ring."
Guillon admitted that the draw was to his advantage today. "I was lucky to start at the end, but it's difficult to organise your time so that you don't arrive too early or too late when you are waiting all day. You have to plan things carefully", he pointed out. Part of his plan was to finish in the top 10, and he more than succeeded when coming out on top with a super-fast tour of the track in 78.85 seconds.
"To have the possibility of a good result in the individual Championship you need to finish somewhere around 10th place on the first day. That was my objective", he explained after accomplishing that mission with considerable style.
Difficult To Handle
Second-placed Eder said he also found the long wait difficult to handle. But his 12 year old stallion was firing on all cylinders as they cruised home in 79.93 seconds., the only other partnership to finish in under 80 seconds. Based in Salzburg (AUT), Eder has been training with Austrian veteran Thomas Fruhmann for the past six months. "I'm not winning a lot of Grand Prix classes, but I have had good results this year - and today my horse felt really good so I was very happy in the end!".
As the action resumes tomorrow, less than a fence separates the top three teams while, as Ground Jury President, Stefan Ellenbruch, explained, the top 28 riders in the individual rankings are lying incredibly close together. "You have to go down to 28th place before you have four penalties - the first 28 riders have just one fence between them and there are still four rounds to go before we find our individual champion. I'm absolutely sure we are going to have exciting competition right up to the very end!" he said.
And the top-10 line-up is a star-studded affair with Germany's Carsten-Otto Nagel and Corradina holding fourth place, defending individual champion Kevin Staut from France in fifth with Silvana de Hus and Ireland's Billy Twomey in sixth with Tinka's Serenade. In seventh place is Portugal's Luciana Diniz with Winningmood and they had all better watch out for Great Britain's Nick Skelton who lies eighth. He was third into the ring today with Carlo and produced another sparkling performance that promises to put a lot of pressure on the leaders before the week is out.
The first round of the Team Final and Second Individual Qualifier kicks off at the Club de Campo de Villa Madrid tomorrow afternoon at 14.45 local time. You can watch all the exciting action unfold LIVE on FEI TV - www.feitv.org – from 14.40 CEST.
Individual Placings after first Competition: 1, Lord de Theize (Olivier Guillon) FRA 78.85/0; 2, Chilli Van Dijk (Stefan Eder) AUG 79.93/0.54; 3, Louis (Beat Mandli) SUI 80.11/0.63; 4, Corradina (Carsten-Otto Nagel) GER 80.24/0.69; 5, Silvana de Hus (Kevin Staut) FRA 80.43/0.79; 6, Tinka's Serenade (Billy Twomey) IRL 80.76;0.95;
Team Placings after first Competition (scores converted to penalties): 1, France 2.95; 2, Germany 4.41; 3, Sweden 6.74; 4, Netherlands 7.42; 5, Great Britain 9.46; 6, Belgium 9.78; 7, Spain 11.53; 8, Italy 12.49; 9, Ireland 13.12; 10, Switzerland 14.64; 11, Portugal 15.21; 12, Austria 19.59; 13, Norway 22.89; 14, Denmark 23.22; 15, Hungary 24.37; 16, Poland 40.29.
Full results are available at www.scgvisual.com/2011/ec-jumping/
Facts and Figures
16 nations are competing at the FEI European Jumping Championships 2011 at the Club de Campo in Madrid, Spain.
A total of 67 riders competed in today's opening Speed competition.
The defending FEI European Team Jumping Champions are the Swiss.
Kevin Staut from France is the defending individual champion.
A total of five rounds of jumping will be completed before the individual champion stands at the top of the podium next Sunday.
This is the 31st FEI European Jumping Championships which were first staged in Rotterdam (NED) in 1957.
Today's winner, Olivier Guillon (FRA) - "my horse is a fast horse, he has a big action and he always wants to do his best for the rider. I really believe in him when I come into the ring."
Course designer Santiago Vareles - "We have the best riders in Europe competing here this week. They have to jump five rounds, so there is no doubt we will have the right winner at the end of the week - it will be the one who has jumped five great rounds to win!"
Stefan Ellenbruch, Ground Jury President - "I want to congratulate the three best riders in this competition for their perfect performances and also want to congratulate the course designer, he did a fantastic job today. Only one rider retired, there were no eliminations and we had no bad pictures, no falls of riders or horses."
Joaquin Castillo, President of Club de Campo, Madrid - "We put down a new sand arena for this event, and the change has been good in sporting terms. We have heard very good reports from the riders and the sponsors. And we had quite a lot of public interest today considering it was Wednesday. From Friday afternoon onwards we will see the biggest crowd we have ever had in Madrid. If it continues as it has started then it will be a great event!"
Photo Caption: Olivier Guillon and Lord de Theize from France on their way to victory in the opening Speed class at the FEI European Jumping Championships 2011 in Madrid, Spain today. The French also lead the team rankings going into tomorrow's first round of the Team final and second Individual qualifier. Photo: FEI/Michael Steiger.
Watch FEI TV's wrap-up of today's action from the FEI European Jumping Championships 2011 http://youtu.be/BmDGCrNXzNQ