Just a few days ahead of the opening of the Rolex FEI World Cup™ Jumping 2012/2013 Western European League series, horses are prepared, lorries are en route, and riders, owners, trainers and spectators are looking forward to another new beginning.
The Telenor Arena in Oslo, Norway hosts the first leg of the new season next Sunday, and the excitement is building by the day. This, after all, is the first step on the road to the 35th annual Final of a series that has quality written all over it. The taking of the prestigious Rolex FEI World Cup™ crown has been a defining moment in the careers of so many of the greatest horse-and-rider combinations in the history of the sport of international Jumping. It’s the one they all want to win.
And there is always something special about a season that concludes at Gothenburg in Sweden, because it is was here that the very first champion was crowned, when, back in 1979, the then-36-year-old Hugo Simon from Austria paved the way for many more to come as he galloped to victory with the big, bold Gladstone.
The closing stages of the 2012/2013 season will be played out at the Scandinavium Arena again from 24-28 April next year, but there will be a whole lot of great competition before that. And it is not just restricted to the European mainland, as riders from 16 leagues around the world are all vying for a qualifying spot for the Final.
Expansion of the Sport
The expansion of the sport of Jumping is relentless, and competitors from the Arab, Australia/Pacific, Caucasian, Central Asian, Central European, Chinese, South East Asian, Japanese, New Zealand/Pacific, South African, South American South, South America North, Central America and Caribbean Islands, North American East and North American West Leagues will all be hoping to impress, along with their Western European counterparts.
The record of Western European riders in this series is second to none, but Germany’s dominance of the winner’s podium will be challenged this season if the USA can make it two-in-a-row. Germany has taken the title on nine occasions, but Rich Fellers’ victory in ‘s-Hertogenbosch this year brought the US tally to eight.
There had been a long time-lapse of 25 years since Katharine Burdsall previously held the trophy high after victory with The Natural in Paris in 1987. American riders were all but unbeatable in those early years, winning seven of the first nine series Finals, so there was a very long drought before Fellers bridged that gap. And he did it in spectacular style, partnering the 16-year-old Flexible who, like his rider, is a real fighter in the ring. The stallion’s career hopes have been dashed many times by injury and accidents, but he just keeps coming back and, on their fifth attempt at consecutive Finals the dashing duo pulled it off.
They nearly ended the US drought when finishing second at the Rolex FEI World Cup™ Final at Gothenburg in 2008 when Germany’s Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum and the great Shutterfly reigned supreme. So the Swedish venue will be a happy hunting ground should Fellers and Flexible return to the Scandinavium Arena next spring.
The Man They All Fear
However the man they will all fear this season is Switzerland’s new Olympic champion, Steve Guerdat, who had to stand on the second step of the podium when pipped by Fellers in a thrilling third-round jump-off at the 2011/2012 Rolex FEI World Cup™ Jumping finale last April.
The 30-year-old has always been a formidable opponent, and in the wake of his Olympic triumph he can be expected to be an even tougher nut to crack. In a well-planned campaign last season, he earned his qualifying spot with strong performances at Lyon (FRA), Stuttgart (GER) and Geneva (SUI). And each time he was partnering Nino des Buissonnets, the horse that he steered to Olympic glory in London this summer where he clinched the individual title in a three-way cliff-hanger.
Pressure is not a problem for this super-competitive rider, and he probably feels he has a score to settle. Accepting defeat by Fellers at ‘s-Hertogenbosch last April after a closely-fought jump-off, he said he was determined “to do better next time”. There’s only one thing better than second place, and with an Olympic medal already stashed away in his trophy cabinet, he will be hoping to add the often elusive but most prestigious prize of the indoor international jumping circuit - the Rolex FEI World Cup™ Jumping trophy.
Facts and Figures:
This is the 35th season of FEI World Cup™ Jumping.
Rolex took up title sponsorship of the Western European League series in 2007.
Riders from 16 leagues on all continents will take part in qualifying competitions before the 2012/13 Final which takes place in Gothenburg, Sweden next April.
The defending FEI World Cup™ Jumping champion is America’s Rich Fellers who steered the stallion Flexible to victory at the 2011/2012 Final in ‘s-Hertogenbosch, The Netherlands last April.
Riders from 16 leagues around the globe will compete in the FEI World Cup™ Jumping qualifying rounds. The leagues are: Arab; Australia/Pacific, Caucasian, Central Asian, Central European, Chinese; South East Asian; Japanese; New Zealand/Pacific; South African; Central American & Caribbean Islands; South America North; South America South; North America East; North America West; Western European.
The youngest rider ever to win the FEI World Cup™ Jumping title was the USA's Mario Deslauriers, who was just 19 years old when he came out on top at Gothenburg, Sweden in 1984 riding Aramis.
The oldest winner was Austria's Hugo Simon, the man who claimed the trophy with Gladstone in the inaugural 1978/1979 season at the age of 36, but who was 54 years of age when winning it for the third time at Gothenburg in 1997, riding ET FRH.Four riders have won the Rolex FEI World Cup™ Jumping title on three occasions, Germany’s Marcus Ehning (2003, 2006, 2010), Germany’s Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum (2005, 2008, 2009), Austria’s Hugo Simon (1979, 1996, 1997) and Brazil’s Rodrigo Pessoa (1998, 1999, 2000).
Photo Caption: On the podium at the Rolex FEI World Cup™ Jumping Final 2011/2012 in 's-Hertogenbosch (NED) were (L to R), runner-up, Switzerland's Steve Guerdat, winner USA's Rich Fellers and third-placed Pius Schwizer from Switzerland. Photo: FEI/Kit Houghton.