Great Britain's Joanne Eccles and Switzerland's Patrick Looser maintained the form that clinched their 2010 world titles when winning the Female and Male Individual gold medals at the FEI Open European Vaulting Championships 2011 at Le Mans, France last weekend. German vaulters were strong however, taking both Senior and Junior Team gold, and the Pas de Deux and Junior Male titles, while Italy's Silvia Stoppazzine claimed the Junior Female Individual honours.
Over 200 competitors from 19 countries - Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Slovakia, Denmark, Netherlands, France, Italy, Hungary, Great Britain, Russia, Republic of South Africa, Mauritius, Belgium, Czech Republic, Norway, Poland, Finland and Sweden - gathered at Le Mans for the 15th edition of these Championships. The success of the Vaulting competitions at last year's Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games™ in Kentucky, USA has led to a tremendous upsurge of interest in this sport which originally emerged from ancient Greece, where warriors were trained to ride independently of their horses as they brandished weapons. Today it is a competitive discipline, open to both men an women, in which both dynamic and static gymnastic elements are combined and performed on a catering horse. It demands outstanding physical fitness from the vaulter and a harmonious relationship with the horse and longeur.
Germany got off to a great start when pipping Switzerland in Thursday's Senior Team Compulsory Test, but the result was reversed on Saturday when it was the Swiss who came out on top in the Freestyle while, once again, Austria slotted into third. And it was a close-fought affair in Sunday's decider with the judging panel of Veronique Girard, Elzbieta Dolinska, Gaby Benz, Heddy Boelsma Den Hartog, Ute Schoenian and Anna Kull unafraid to award high marks where appropriate. The biggest score of the day came from Ute Schoenian, at E, who awarded 9.773 to the German side whose longeur Jessica Schmitz and horse Arkansas 51 rounded up a great performance. The final German total of 8.300 left them just .053 clear of the Swiss silver medallists, while Austria completed in bronze medal position with 7.980 on the board.
There was a real battle for the Senior Individual Female title between eventual champion Eccles and silver medallist Sarah Kay. The German vaulter got the edge in the opening Compulsory Test, but only by a margin of 0.013 over the defending champion from Britain, and Kay again came out ahead in the Freestyle. When it came to the Technical Test however, Eccles scored a convincing win and it was neck-and-neck going into the final day. And an advantage of only 0.02 points ensured back-to-back titles for Eccles whose total score was 8.553, while Kay's end result was a score of 8.533. Denmark's Rikke Laumann held bronze medal position throughout the entire competition.
Eccles, from Tillcoultry in Scotland, described her final test as "almost perfect" but admitted she didn't know whether it would be the winning one. The 22 year old vaulter was delighted when her second successive European title was confirmed. "It was amazing to win first time around, but it almost means more this time because I've had to fight so hard for it!" she said.
Partnered with her sister, 19 year old Hannah, she had to settle for silver in the the Pas de Deux however. The Eccles family, which includes the girl's father John who is longeur and their brilliant horse Bentley, won the opening Pas de Deux challenge, but on Sunday they were pinned into runner-up spot by Germany's Theresa-Sophie Bresch and Torben Jacobs, who, assisted by longeur Doris Marquart and their horse Cyrano, racked up a final score of 8.419. The British silver medallists earned a mark of 8.411 while Austria's Lukas Wacha and Jasmin Lindner claimed bronze with a final tally of 8.245.
In another game of "cat and mouse", it was difficult to know where the Senior Individual Male title would go, although in the end Looser's victory was a clean one. He only managed third place in the opening Compulsory Test won by Italy's Nicolas Andreani while Germany's Viktor Brusewitz took second here. Looser seemed to be back in the game when topping the Freestyle however, and Brusewitz was challenging strongly when runner-up again ahead of Yvan Nousse from France who slotted into third. Andreani's chances took a hammering when he could only manage fourth place this time out, but he bounced back in style when topping the Technical Test in which Looser finished second and now he was right back in the frame. But his second round results were not enough to oust the Swiss vaulter who shared so much of the limelight with Eccles at last year's world championships. Brusewitz meanwhile clinched the bronze with solid scores throughout.
Germany's Thomas Brusewitz was unchallenged for the Junior Male Individual title when winning both Compulsory and Freestyle Tests and then completing with a score of 8.220. With longeur Lars Hansen and horse Gustafsson 2, he collected a mark of 8.121 in the first round and 8.319 in the second, but Austria's Simon Rahimi Ramin pursued him every inch of the way to clinch silver with a score of 7.836 while another German, Benjamin Kley, took the bronze.
In the Junior Female Individual event there was a strong tussle between Italy's Silvia Stoppazzini and Austria's Daniela Fritz. It was an Austrian one-two in the opening Compulsory where Fritz led the way ahead of compatriot Lisa Wild while Germany's Miriam Esch slotted into third. But Stoppazzini topped the following Freestyle in which Fritz had to settle for runner-up spot ahead of Denmark's Sheena Bendixen. In the next Compulsory Fritz got the edge again while Wild stood second ahead of Stoppazzini in third. However the Italian clinched it with one more leading score to leave Fritz trailing by 0.025 in the final analysis.
It was a runaway victory for the Germans in the Junior Team Championship when they dominated all three competitions. And in each case it was the silver medallists from Austria who lined up second. Switzerland finished third in both the Compulsory and first Freestyle to clinch the bronze.
Senior Team Championship: GOLD - Germany 8.300; SILVER - Switzerland 8.247; BRONZE - Austria 7.980.
Senior Female Individual Championship: GOLD - Joanne Eccles (GBR) 8.553; SILVER - Sarah Kay (GER) 8.533; BRONZE - Rikke Laumann (DEN) 8.152.
Senior Male Individual Championship: GOLD - Patrick Looser (SUI) 8.443; SILVER - Nicolas Andreani (FRA) 8.350; BRONZE - Viktor Brusewitz (GER) 8.204.
Pas de Deux Championship: GOLD - Theresa-Sophie Bresch/Torben Jacobs (GER) 8.419; SILVER - Joanne Eccles/Hannah Eccles (GBR) 8.411; BRONZE - Lukas Wacha/Jasmin Lindner (AUT) 8.245.
Junior Team Championship: GOLD - Germany 7.886; SILVER - Austria 7.624; BRONZE - Italy 7.376.
Junior Female Individual Championship: GOLD - Silvia Stoppazzini (ITA) 7.872; SILVER - Daniela Fritz (AUT) 7.847; BRONZE - Sheena Dendixen (DEN) 7.769.
Junior Male Individual Championship: GOLD - Thomas Brusewitz (GER) 8.220; SILVER - Simon Rahimi Ramin (AUT) 7.836; BRONZE - Benjamin Kley (GER) 7.803.
Full results at http://goo.gl/Qxphm
Photo Caption: Great Britain's Joanne Eccles showing the spectacular style that helped her win her second consecutive Senior Female Individual title at the FEI Open European Vaulting Championships for Seniors and Juniors at Le Mans, France last weekend. Photo: FEI/www.pixbank.org