Germany claimed team gold for the 22nd time at the Blue Hors FEI European Dressage Championship in Herning, Denmark today. In a tense battle, it fell to reigning Reem Acra FEI World Cup™ Champion, Helen Langehanenberg, to clinch it with her last-to-go ride. And she did so with cool conviction when steering the brilliant Damon Hill to a score of 84.377 which gave her country a narrow advantage over the silver medallists from The Netherlands while the defending champions from Great Britain had to settle for bronze this time around. Just 1.111 points separated the three medal-winning nations in this super-tight battle of the giants.
Despite the fact that they didn't repeat their historic 2011 victory, the British had plenty to celebrate along with their well-earned step on the podium, as Olympic double-gold medallist, Charlotte Dujardin, produced a stunning test from Valegro to break the Grand Prix world record once again. She set the previous record of 84.477 percent at Olympia in London (GBR) last December, but today the 28-year-old rider raised the bar even further when posting a colossal 85.942.
Germany already had a substantial lead following strong performances from Fabienne Lutkemeier and Isabell Werth yesterday, while Denmark and The Netherlands lay close together in second and third places.
Today's action kicked off at 08.00 and was fascinating from the outset, Sweden's Patrik Kittel demonstrating his professionalism with a lovely test from Toy Story when second into the arena. The 13-year-old gelding's summer holiday was disrupted last Monday when stable-mate, Watermill Scandic, had to be withdrawn after picking up an injury in Herning. The call went out for Toy Story as replacement so the big bay horse was loaded into the lorry at Kittel's base near Munster, Germany and although perhaps a little surprised to find himself trotting up in front of the veterinary panel the following morning, he quickly got down to work and breezed calmly and comfortably to a mark of 73.283 this morning.
Then came Great Britain's Carl Hester and Uthopia, with much weight on their shoulders. A disappointing opening effort from Gareth Hughes and DV Stenkjers Nadonna was followed by a commendable 72.264 from Michael Eilberg and Half Moon Delphi yesterday, but it would take two big scores from team-mates Hester and Dujardin to keep British team medal hopes alive as they were in seventh place as this morning's action got underway.
Uthopia began with his signature flamboyance, and with 9 awarded for their first extended trot things were looking very promising indeed. But the stallion struggled in piaffe and broke in the two-tempi during a performance of highs and lows, and the London 2012 Olympic Games team gold medallist's score of 75.334 seemed to have dashed all hope of a team podium placing.
Swept into Lead
Then came Edward Gal and Glock's Undercover who swept into the individual lead with a score 81.763. The promise this horse has shown in recent months suggested a big result very soon, and the Dutchman's control and accuracy produced seamless transitions and powerful passage and piaffe, good enough to earn a 9.5 average score at the start of the test. Putting 81.763 on the board the pair promoted The Netherlands to the top of the team table, and now it was up to the rest to topple them.
Germany's third-line rider, Kristina Sprehe, wasn't entirely happy with her test with Desperados FRH. "He got too hot for me in the arena which gave us some mistakes in the piaffes" said the talented 26-year-old after posting 75.061 which didn't alter the standings but was a very solid score.
Britain's Dujardin arrived into the arena to a hush of expectation. Was she riding for a good individual score now or could she actually keep her side in the medal race by producing something very special? It has been a turbulent year for herself and Hester due to uncertainty about the future of both of their horses, but she put all that to the back of her mind as she steered her Olympic partner, Valegro, to a breathtaking performance that included glorious extended trot and fabulous piaffe. The scores kept soaring and as she posted an amazing 85.942 the knowledgeable spectators gasped with delight. She had broken her own Grand Prix world record and the British were right back in the race.
Something of a Storm
The Netherlands' Adelinde Cornelissen and Jerich Parzival have been through turbulent times and something of a storm this season as well. The great chestnut gelding who clinched gold in both the Grand Prix Special and Freestyle at the 2011 European Championships in Rotterdam (NED) underwent an operation for a heart condition earlier this summer but has made a remarkable recovery, and they did themselves proud today with a score of 80.851 to bolster the Dutch position. "I was really happy with Parzival. It's only a few months ago that he wasn't so well. I didn't expect him to be here because of his heart problem, and he just went in and did it" she said. "No spookyness, just reliability." Cornelissen admitted that the costly mistake in the first pirouette was her own as Jerich Parzival took over for a moment. The looks however was harmony, a nice contact and relaxation. Her trainer Johan Hamminga was proud and said: "Time was too short now for even more, this sure will come again."
But Langehanenberg and Damon Hill could oust the Dutch from the top of the medal table if they could achieve a score of 83.964 percent or better. As the elegant partnership set off in the closing stages it was all hanging in the balance, and spectators anxiously watched the score monitors as they executed each movement. The stallion was elevated and attentive throughout the test that included some magical extended trot, and when 84.377 went up on the board there was a roar of delight. Germany would take the gold ahead of the Dutch in silver and the British in bronze medal position, while the host nation of Denmark would finish just outside the medal placings in fourth.
Isabell Werth knows a thing or two about winning medals, but today's golden collection had a particularly nice shine to them. "We came here with the dream of gold, but we knew we would have a hard fight. Helen did such a great job, I think she had the ride of her life until now. It was really fantastic that we can all have the feeling of team gold, it's something very special and great to share with the younger riders" she said looking at team-mates Lutkemeier and Sprehe. "Maybe this was a piece of European Championship history here today, the best we've ever had" said the multi-medalled German veteran who added, "and Germany is back!"
Langehanenberg knew that she had given it her best shot today and was delighted it paid off. "I just knew I had to ride for a lot of points and that it wouldn't be easy but we gave everything and tried our very, very best. Dami (Damon Hill) did a great job to really fight for me" she said.
German Chef d'Equipe, Klaus Roeser, said "The Netherlands and Great Britain put us under big pressure but it was amazing sport, absolutely fabulous", and no-one was arguing with that.
Dutch Chef d'Equipe, Wim Ernes, said "we tried for gold but the Germans were better today. We had two riders over 80 percent and I'm very satisfied with my riders, and the team is very happy with the silver medal" while British team manager, Richard Waygood, congratulated the other teams. "It was a great competition today and obviously Charlotte was super. I'm thrilled to bits with our performance" he pointed out.
Continues to Astound
Dujardin meanwhile continues to astound. "I had a fantastic ride, I went in there and I wanted to enjoy it. I only did two competitions with Valegro this year and this was a bit like the Olympic Games, coming through the tunnel into the arena, but he feels even better and stronger this year than last year" she said this afternoon. She put in a lot of work since her performance in the pilot FEI Nations Cup™ Dressage series at Hickstead (GBR) a few weeks ago. "Carl murdered me after that, and told me I needed to sharpen up! I knew today that if I didn't I'd be murdered again when I came out of the ring, but Valegro is an amazing horse - he gives me more and more confidence every time" she added.
And asked if there is a limit to the scores she can achieve with her wonderful horse, she replied with a typically upbeat answer and almost an air of surprise. "No, there's no limit, I'm going to keep going - there's 100 percent out there somewhere and we are going to find it!" she declared with conviction.
Today's individual leaderboard showed her at the very top followed by Langehanenberg in second, Gal in third, Cornelissen in fourth and Denmark's Nathalie Zu Sayn-Wittgenstein and Anna Kazprzak in fifth and sixth places. But as the top-30 go through to tomorrow's Grand Prix Special they all start again on a zero score, so Dujardin has another opportunity to chase that ultimate scoreline.
Facts and Figures:
- This was Germany's 22nd victory in the history of the FEI European Dressage Championships.
- Their last success was in 2005 at Hagen, Germany.
Find the statistics of the European Championships at dressagedirect's website here.
Tomorrow the individual Championship Grand Prix Special for the best 30 of Grand Prix is held.
In Sunday's Freestyle only the 15 best will start.