An inspired German team rode like true champions across country at a rain-soaked HSBC FEI European Eventing Championships at Luhmühlen (GER) today and, with a massive 42.3-penalty lead over Great Britain, they now have the treasured gold medal well in their sights.
France have risen to bronze medal position, thanks to superb rounds by Donatien Schauly and Nicolas Touzaint, and have overtaken the Swedes, whose Sara Algotsson-Ostholt on the lovely grey mare Wega is in individual bronze position after a faultless performance.
German team members Ingrid Klimke, Michael Jung and Sandra Auffarth flew through the testing conditions and all finished on their Dressage scores to lie in individual first, second and fourth positions.
The top three teams each had a rider eliminated, and the Germans were under immediate pressure when their pathfinder Andreas Dibowski suffered a surprise fall at the big spread at fence 22.
“A bit of pressure makes you stronger, and the crowd was a fantastic help,” said Klimke. “It has been a dream of a day. My horse kept his rhythm all the time. It was really enjoyable.”
Sandra Auffarth (GER), who has been the discovery of the championships, looked foot-perfect on her athletic Opgun Louvo, and world champion Michael Jung (GER), the last rider on course, had perhaps the class round of the day. He rides La Biosthetique Sam with the lightest of touches, and said that his practising at water jumps had paid off handsomely.
Nicola Wilson had been Britain’s discard score after Dressage, but she was the star of the first part of the day, finishing 15 seconds inside the optimum time of 10 minutes 5 seconds despite taking the long route at fence 27, the Rolex Turn. The springy Opposition Buzz jumped so big over the first element that Wilson had to work hard to line him up for the corner that followed, and her fabulous little jumper virtually cleared it from a standstill.
“It was like switching on the ‘cruise control’ button,” said an ecstatic Wilson afterwards. “He was a joy to ride. I’m not used to taking long routes, but it was team orders and I wouldn’t dream of going against that.”
Britain’s number two, Piggy French, had a difficult ride on Jakata, the horse becoming strong and on the forehand, and French was visibly distressed at clocking up 6.8 time penalties.
“I’m just so frustrated, but the further I went, the lower his head went,” she explained. “I’m not cross with him, because he’s built “downhill”, but I’ve got to find a way of working with it. But at least I had a clear round, as that was the priority. It means a lot to me to be on a British team for the first time and I didn’t want to be a dud.”
The British team lost their highest-placed rider, Mary King, when Imperial Cavalier hit the “tea-cup” fence out of the second water complex (fence 15) and fell. Characteristically, King was smiling bravely and thanking the medical staff as they helped her off the course. A subsequent examination found her to be no more than bruised.
There are few better men in such a pressurised situation than William Fox-Pitt (GBR), however, and the British anchorman performed heroics to stay on board after Cool Mountain pecked on landing in the water at fence 14.
The horse got water in his ears and Fox-Pitt lost his stirrup, but they continued undeterred, suffering a near miss at the Rolex Turn when the horse hit the corner but then showed his genuine nature by aiming straight at the narrow third element.
“It was all down to the horse,” said Fox-Pitt. “I’d lost my stirrup and he was so honest.”
Britain’s best chance of an individual medal evaporated when Laura Collett’s horse Rayef was eventually eliminated for three refusals, the first of which was at the second arena complex (fence 10).
Swiss rider Eveline Bodenmuller fell when her horse banked a corner in the arena (fence 9) and the brave Italian rider Susanna Bordone, who went across country in torrential rain in the middle of the day, had a run-out at the same complex.
The Belgium team was relegated to 11th after Sarah van Hasselt fell at 22 and anchorwoman Karin Donckers was submerged in the pond at the Jeep Station (fence 20).
Sweden’s Dag Albert was first out on course and produced a typically confidence-building round, but the team lost ground when the well-placed Niklas Jonsson incurred 40 penalties for two run-outs.
Ireland’s pathfinder Mark Kyle was equally assured and finished inside the time, but Jayne Doherty was another victim of the accuracy fences in the arena and Sam Watson had a stop going into the second water at 14.
The most pleasing aspect of the day for Course-Designer Mark Phillips (GBR) was that 10 out of 11 teams completed, as did 56 out of 70 riders. There were 44 clear rounds, eight of them inside the optimum time.
Event director Julia Otto admitted that the previous evening’s violent thunderstorms and monsoon-like rainstorms had given her a sleepless night, but she was full of praise for her team of officials, especially David Evans’s course-building team who had been up from 4.30am making sure the ground was as good as possible.
“I cannot say thank you enough to them, and also to our spectators, who were amazing, as I would have preferred to stay home and watch television!” she joked.
The home crowd now look set to enjoy a major thrill in tomorrow’s Jumping phase, but, as Ingrid Klimke said: “We are just in the ‘bubble’ for today, and we are going to have a great party tonight. Tomorrow is another day.”
HSBC FEI European Eventing Championships, individual standings after Cross Country:
- 1 Ingrid Klimke/FRH Butts Abraxxas (GER*) 30.0 + 0 = 30.0
- 2 Michael Jung/La Biosthetique Sam FBW (GER*) 33.3 + 0 = 33.3
- 3 Sara Algotsson-Ostholt/Wega (SWE*) 36.0 + 0 = 36.0
- 4 Sandra Auffarth/Opgun Louvo (GER*) 35.4 + 1.6 = 37.0
- 5 Frank Ostholt/Little Paint (GER) 34.0 + 6 = 40.0
- 6 William Fox-Pitt/Cool Mountain (GBR*) 42.7 + 0 = 42.7
- 7 Dirk Schrade/King Artus (GER) 36.7 + 6 = 42.7
- 8 Stefano Brecciaroli/Apollo van der Wendi Kurt Hoeve (ITA*) 35.8 + 9.2 = 45.0
- 9 Donatien Schauly/Ocarina du Chanois (FRA*) 45.6 + 0 = 45.6
- 10 Nicolas Touzaint/Neptune de Sartene (FRA*) 37.9 + 9.2 = 47.1
(* denotes team member)
Team standings: 1 Germany, 100.3; 2, Great Britain, 142.6; 3, France, 151.1; 4, Sweden, 173.2; 5, Ireland, 196.7; 6, Italy, 201.2; 7, Netherlands, 205.5; 8, Spain, 291.0; 9, Poland, 299.6; 10, Switzerland, 334.2; 11, Belgium, 1,120.6.
Full results on www.luhmuehlen.de
Photo caption: Ingrid Klimke and FRH Butts Abraxxas jump out of the HSBC water complex on their way to a superb clear that put them on top in the individual standings and Germany at the head of the teams after the Cross Country. Photo: Kate Houghton/FEI.
Coverage of tomorrow’s final Jumping phase from the HSBC FEI European Eventing Championships will be broadcast live on FEI TV at 11.30 CEST. Visit www.feitv.org for live schedules and highlights.