The Swedish team came out the winners at the Promotional League Final in Barcelona, Spain this afternoon and will now rejoin the elite eight-nation FEI Nations Cup™ series in 2012. But, on a roller-coaster afternoon, it took a monumental effort from last-line Swedish rider Rolf-Goran Bengtsson to seal the coveted qualifying spot.
Despite the fact that three of the opposing sides were reduced to just three team-members, and were therefore unable to discount one performance, the four-strong Swedish team relied heavily on the man who, just seven days ago, claimed the Individual gold medal at the FEI European Jumping Championships in Madrid.
The host nation of Spain finished second, with just a single-fault advantage over The Ukraine in third, while the Canadians lined up fourth ahead of the Italians who looked threatening to the very end but who had to settle for fifth in the final analysis. The last two places in the seven-nation line-up were filled by Poland and Russia, each hampered when fielding just three riders, but showing flashes of form that would suggest their time will come in future years.
For the Swedes, today's result was an enormous relief. Last Sunday, Bengtsson pointed out during the final press conference in Madrid that, despite his personal triumph and the Olympic qualification earned through the fifth-place finish in the FEI European Team Championship, there was still another big job to be done this weekend in Barcelona. So for the 49 year old newly-crowned European champion and reigning Olympic silver medallist it was a case of "mission accomplished" as, ably supported by Malin Baryard-Johnsson, Angelica Augustsson and Svante Johansson, he helped restore his country to its rightful place in the premiership of team Jumping. "I'm very happy" he said with his usual degree of understatement this evening.
Spanish course designer, Javier Trenor, set a 12-fence track that asked for lengthening and shortening in equal measure, and fences fell all around the track. The opening oxer proved testing in both rounds, while the vertical at fence four and the triple combination - vertical, oxer, vertical - also hit the ground consistently. Lining up for fences proved part of the test, with the turns to the wall at fence ten and down the final line, which included the double at fence eleven and the following oxer, spoiling several tours of the track which otherwise looked set to finish on a zero score.
In fact only Sweden's Baryard-Johnsson (H&M Tornesch), Spain's Julio Arias (Murat de Reve) and Italy's Julia Martinengo (Loro Piana Chiclana) managed to leave all the timber intact in the opening round at the end of which the Swedes already had the whip hand with just eight faults on the board. However Italy, Ukraine and Spain were just five faults behind, sharing a score of 13 faults apiece, while Canada was next in line with 17. Russia and Poland were already well in arrears, carrying 30 and 35 faults respectively.
What had seemed like a foregone conclusion for the Swedes however did not quite materialise as the second round progressed with just single mistakes from Baryard-Johnson and Augustsson - both at the penultimate double. And when Johansson's grey mare Caramell, who has only recently returned to action after a long layoff, produced a lacklustre round for eight faults, then a steady effort from Bengtsson became essential. If the 16 extra faults already collected in round two were to be added to their first-round total of eight then the Swedish dream of promotion would be dashed. They were being dogged by the Spanish who piled on the pressure when anchorman Sergio Alvarez Moya steered Wisconsin home clear to complete their final tally at 21 faults. Bengtsson had only one fence in hand as he rode into the ring for the last time.
His 13 year old stallion, Quintero La Silla, had lowered the triple bar in the opening round when the partnership also collected a time fault, but this time they would make no mistake, the quiet Swede steering a tighter line and carefully presenting his horse in just the right spot at each obstacle for a foot-perfect run which decided the result. He admitted afterwards that, although he wasn't fully aware of the situation on the scoreboard prior to his final run, that he knew exactly what was required after seeing Moya's result - and he delivered just that.
"We really tried hard this year because we all wanted to come back to the Top League next season" Augustsson pointed out this evening. And she said that Sweden will be highly competitive in next year's series. "It is difficult of course to field enough horses and riders for all of the top events in the year, but we have plenty of other promising partnerships coming along who will be able to compete for the team next season - the situation is getting better for us now" she explained. She is aiming her mare, the feisty, unorthodox but brilliant Mic Mac du Tillard, at both the FEI Nations Cup™ and the Olympic Games in 2012. "Mic Mac is my Olympic horse, and by next year she will be better in terms of her rideability - it is improving all the time, and I already have more control" she added.
It was a close-fought fight to the finish, but Sweden has earned that all-important place in the Top League that ranks them amongst the best in the world, and next year they will join Germany, Great Britain, The Netherlands, Ireland, Belgium, France and Switzerland in the annual battle of the giants of the sport of team Jumping - the FEI Nations Cup™ 2012.
For further details on the FEI Nations Cup Promotional League Final 2011 in Barcelona, Spain check out website www.csiobarcelona.com or contact Press Officer, Isabel Suter, Email email@example.com, Tel + 34 93 449 49 71.
1. Sweden 16 faults - H&M Tornesch (Malin Baryard-Johnsson) 0/4, Mic Mac du Tillard (Angelica Augustsson) 4/4, Caramell KS (Svante Johansson) 4/8, Quintero La Silla (Rolf-Goran Bengtsson) 5/0.
2. Spain 21 faults - Nectar du Plessis (Rutherford Latham) 1/4, Al Capone (Antonio Marinas Soto) 12/5, Murat de Reve (Julio Arias) 0/4, Wisoncin (Sergio Alvarez Moya) 12/0.
3. Ukraine 22 faults - Verdi (Cassio Rivetti) 4/5, Comte D'Arsouilles (Oleksandr Onyschenko) 21/Ret, Niack de L'Abbaye (Bjorn Nagel) 4/4, Vivant (Katharina) 5/0.
4. Canada 25 faults - Cruise (Chris Pratt) 4/0, Zeke (Jenna Thompson) 5/8, Atlete Van T'Heike (Eric Lamaze) 8/0.
5. Italy 26 faults - Loro Piana Chiclana (Julia Martinengo Marquet) 0/4, Neptune Brecourt (Luca Maria Moneta) 8/12, Wivina (Luca Marziani) 5/0, Moka deMescam (Juan Carlos Garcia) 12/9.
6. Poland 68 faults - Trojka (Antoni Tomaszewsi) 8/20, Wavantos Vd Renvillehoeve (Lukasz Wasilewski) 15/9, Urbane (Msciwoj Kiecon) 12/4.
7. Russia 75 faults - Amsterdam (Olga Chechina) 17/12, Littlefoot (Vladimir Beletsky) 4/16, Amarok (Vladimir Tuganov) 9/17.
Facts and Figures:
7 nations competed in today's FEI Promotional League Final in Barcelona, Spain.
The course designer was Javier Trenor (ESP).
The venue was the Real Club de Polo, site of the Jumping events during the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona.
3 teams competed with just 3 riders - Canada, Poland and Russia - which left them without a discard score.
The Swedish team was previously relegated from the FEI Nations Cup™ series in 2010.
Only 3 clears in the first round and 5 in the second round - no double-clears throughout the competition.
Just 1 rider retired - Ukraine's Oleksandr Onyschenko (Comte D'Arsouilles) in the second round.
FEI Jumping Director, John Roche - "I am very pleased that we will see the Swedish team back in the FEI Nations Cup™ series in 2012 after an absence from the Top League of just one year".
Photo Caption: The Swedish team celebrates victory in the FEI Nations Cup™ Promotional League Final at Barcelona, Spain this afternoon. (L to R) Rolf-Goran Bengtsson, Svante Johansson, Angelica Augustsson, Malin Baryard-Johnsson and Chef d'Equipe Sylve Soderstrand. Photo: FEI/Nacho Olano.
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THE 2011 FEI PROMOTIONAL LEAGUE consists of three separate series - the European Promotional League, the Challengers League and the North and South America League - from which countries can qualify for the Top League FEI Nations Cup™. A total of three teams from the European and Challengers Leagues, and one from the North and South America series, are eligible to compete at the FEI Promotional League Final in Barcelona, Spain in September. The winning team from this competition will qualify for the 2012 FEI Nations Cup™ along with the 2011 European Promotional League champions.