There is nothing more fascinating than witnessing two mighty talents going head to head, so the anticipation and excitement in the lead-up to the Reem Acra FEI World Cup™ Dressage Final 2014 at Lyon (FRA) starting tomorrow is at an all-time high. Take the precision, elegance, energy and control of the defending champions, Germany's Helen Langehanenberg and Damon Hill NRW, and pit that against the harmony, flair, controlled power and presence of the Olympic and European champions and multiple record-breakers Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro from Great Britain, and you have the recipe for an electrifying weekend of competition. As a third mighty contender, the winner of the 25th Final in 2010 Edward Gal will surely give all other finalists a hard time to better. In his skilled hands, his Glock's Undercover still improves each show he is competing.
Defending Reem Acra champions, Germany's Helen Langehanenberg and Damon Hill NRW, will face the toughest of opposition from Olympic and European champions Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro from Great Britain at next week's Reem Acra FEI World Cup™ Dressage 2013/2014 Final at Lyon, France. Photo: FEI/Karl Heinz Freiler, Kit Houghton.
The 29th FEI World Cup™ Dressage Final brings together 18 riders from 11 nations who have qualified from four different Leagues around the globe. And while the Western European League in particular throws up some of the strongest contenders, there is little doubt that the biggest threat to a back-to-back double for Langehanenberg comes from the sole British representative.
Powerhouses of the Sport
The last time these two powerhouses of the sport met, was at the Blue Hors FEI European Dressage Championships at Herning in Denmark last summer when Langehanenberg helped her country clinch the team title for the 22nd time with her brilliant last-to-go ride. She did so with cool conviction, but the following day, when all the main contenders were plagued by big blunders, she had to settle for Grand Prix Special silver behind Dujardin who also made a significant mistake in her test.
Dujardin then went on to add the European Freestyle title to her ever-growing medal haul and, over the winter months, continued her amazing run of form when raising the Freestyle world record target score to a colossal 93.975 when victorious at the Reem Acra FEI World Cup™ Dressage qualifier at Olympia, London in December. This record was previously set at 92.300 by The Netherlands' Edward Gal and the black stallion Totilas at the same venue in 2009. Look for all records and orevious ones at the dressagedirect's website.
As you can see, Dujardin now holds all three world records at the same time - for Freestyle, Grand Prix Special and Grand Prix.
Those watching Langehanenberg closely, however, have noticed her personal-best Freestyle scores, first at Stuttgart (GER) last November where she posted 89.775 and then at Neumünster (GER) in February where Damon Hill NRW earned a mark of 90.375, are moving ever-closer to those of her British counterpart. When it comes to tomorrow's showdown in Lyon, both ladies are likely to be very aware that mistakes of any kind could prove very costly indeed in the battle for the coveted Reem Acra trophy.
The record books show that The Netherlands is the nation with most success at this Final, with 12 wins in total. Nine of those underlined the extraordinary dominance of a single rider, Anky van Grunsven, who really put Freestyle Dressage on the map with her gift for showmanship and choreography. Over a 13-year period between her first victory with the brilliant Bonfire at Los Angeles (USA) in 1995 and her last, with Salinero on home ground at 's-Hertogenbosch (NED) in 2008, van Grunsven enjoyed a spectacular nine-time winning spree that has left her in a league all her own.
Her greatest rival down the years was Germany's Isabell Werth, the double FEI World Cup™ Dressage champion, also an exceptional athlete who won her first title with Fabienne at Gothenburg (SWE) in 1992, her second 15 years later with Warum Nicht FRH in Las Vegas (USA) and she has been runner-up on no less than four occasions. Find the statistics at the dressagedirect website by scrolling in the facts. And 44-year-old Werth continues to amaze, currently lying sixth on the FEI World Dressage rankings which are led by Dujardin in No. 1 spot, Langehanenberg in second and Dutchman Edward Gal in third ahead of Sweden's Tinne Vilhelmson-Silfven.
Denmark's Anna Kasprzak lies fifth but is missing out on the Reem Acra Final after having to forfeit her qualifying spot due to a fall two weeks ago. She has been replaced by Mikala Gundersen who, like Lars Petersen, is US-based. Making up the Danish trio of representatives at Lyon is Nanna Skodborg Merrald, who made the cut through consistent placings on the Reem Acra Western European League circuit over the winter months. They even take care of two of the youngest competitors. Olympic champion Charlotte Dujardin shares her age with 28-year-old Jessica Von Bredow-Werndl from Germany. Holland's Danielle Heijkoop turned 27 last Wednesday at her travelling day to Lyon. Heijkoop joins Edward Gal and Hans Peter Minderhoud to complete the Dutch line-up. So also with the maximum of three competing are Germany and The Netherlands.
Dong Seon Kim from Korea, who is also based in America, has taken the single qualifying spot available to riders not represented in any of the four designated leagues, while Tina Konyot and Cesar Parra were named as the North American League contenders. Inessa Merkulova will fly the Russian flag, but the prize for the most long-distance traveller already goes to Australia's Mary Hanna, winner of the Pacific League.
Marcela Krinke Susmelj competes for Switzerland, Tinne Vilhelmson-Silfven represents Sweden and Marc Boblet will fly the French flag with pride. In Lyon, the party has begun already with a great foto-shoot, where the worlds of equestrian sport and ballet met face to face in spectacular fashion to launch the start of the flagship FEI World Cup™ Finals.
Double Olympic gold medallist Charlotte Dujardin (GBR) from the world of Dressage and US Jumping rider Charlie Jacobs were joined by dancers from the world-famous Minsk Bolshoi ballet at Lyon's Eurexpo. The dancers from the Minsk Bolshoi, performing Swan Lake at the Lyon Amphitheatre in Lyon as part of a nationwide French tour, took time out from their schedule to showcase the parallels between ballet and equestrian sport – the poise and grace of the dancers and the athleticism and beauty of the horses.
World number one Dressage rider Dujardin said: "I'm very very excited to be here in Lyon and this dancing together has been a real experience."
Dujardin was totally spellbound by the evening performance of Swan Lake after the photoshoot. The Swan Lake was chosen for the musical Freestyle of Adelinde Cornelissen and Jerich Parzival, winning the final in Leipzig in 2011. Thanks to a wild card, Dujardin now is competing in her first Reem Acra FEI World Cup™ Dressage Finals and will be dancing to new music with her horse in Sunday's Freestyle competition. "I've got brand new music that I've never competed to before, first time competing to it, but it's a great floor plan and I love the music," the triple world record holder said.
Tomorrow Grand Prix will start in the afternoon at 3:00. The Grand Prix will not be decisive for the Final results but will be an appetizer only and decisive for the starting list for Sunday's Final.