Piber Köflach, Austria – The U.S. Driving Team of Donna Crookston, Sterling Graburn, and Suzy Stafford, along with individual Leslie Berndl, made a valiant effort at the 2016 FEI World Driving Championships for Singles, which proved to be a true championship test. The strong international field consisted of 75 combinations from 23 countries, and after four days of competition, the U.S. team finished 14th.
Graburn (Paris, Ky.) and his and Laura Corsentino’s Mannkato performed their dressage test on Friday and the 2001 Dutch Harness gelding was too energetic in the electric atmosphere. Graburn drove well to earn a score of 56.06 from the Ground Jury of Klaus Christ (GER), Dr. Barna Fejér (HUN), Bert Jambon (BEL), Anne Marie Turbé (FRA), and Boots Wright (USA). The pair set out determinedly on marathon day on Saturday but struggled to maintain a smooth rhythm on the Gábor Fintha (HUN)-designed course, tallying 110.96 penalty points. Graburn and Mannkato had a respectable round through a technical course in Sunday’s cone phase, knocking two balls down for 6.00 penalty points and 6.67 time penalties. They finished as the top U.S. combination with an overall score of 179.99 for 50th place.
“Kato was super. He was a little strong in dressage but we had no big mistakes. I got out of sync in the marathon and just couldn’t find my rhythm. The course was hillier than any we’ve done so far, and the hazards were mostly tight and technical, but despite our issues Kato finished strongly,” Graburn explained. “The cones phase was very tight, but I liked it. We had two balls down and a little over the time. He got his tongue over the bit for the second ball but fixed it and finished fine. I’m very proud of him.”
Commenting on the team’s performance, Graburn added, “The U.S. team was not in top form today, but all four U.S. drivers fought as long as they could. I’m proud to be a part of the team.”
Crookston (Saltsburg, Pa.) and her own Viktor were the pathfinders for the U.S. team in the dressage and marathon phases. For Thursday’s dressage test, the 2008 Dutch Harness gelding was tense on the biggest stage of his career thus far, but Crookston managed to receive a score of 69.61. They had a solid round in the marathon phase, adding 104.18 penalty points to their score to finish as the top U.S. combination in the phase. In the cones phase, the duo did not touch any cones but collected 10.50 time penalties. Crookston and Viktor ended up in 53rd place overall with a final score of 184.29.
U.S. individual Berndl (Newcastle, Calif.) had an obedient dressage test with her own Uminco on Thursday to begin the championship with a score of 56.86. She and the 2011 KWPN gelding had respectable performance in the marathon phase, collecting 128.24 penalty points. They were the top U.S. finishers in the cones phase after adding only 4.23 penalties to their score for a single ball down and a handful of time penalties. Berndl and Uminco finished on a score of 189.33 in 58th place.
Stafford (Wilmington, Del.) and her own PVF Peace of Mind started off the championship on Thursday in an impressive fashion by earning a score of 49.34. Stafford and the 2007 Morgan mare were attacking the tough the marathon course on Saturday, but a heartbreaking uncorrected error of course in obstacle three resulted in elimination. She addresses her loss here in this article on HorsesDaily Suzy Stafford Shares Perspective Regarding Disappointing Conclusion to FEI World Driving Championships Experience
Germany claimed Team Gold with a score of 270.39, while Poland collected Team Silver with a score of 281.65, and Switzerland received Team Bronze with a score of 283.70. Dieter Lauterbach (GER) and Dirigent 47 won Individual Gold with a score of 137.50, while Weronika Kwiatek (POL) and Bartnik earned Individual Silver on a score of 139.68, and Saskia Siebers (NED) and Axel collected Individual Bronze with a score of 141.36.