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On an afternoon of dramatically fluctuating fortunes, the host nation of Sweden sprung a big surprise as they swept to victory in the fifth leg of the 2010 Meydan FEI Nations Cup™ on their home ground at Falsterbo today. It was against all the odds, because they had previously picked up only two points in the series and seemed to be staring relegation in the face at the end of the season. But in typically stubborn style they didn't let the pressure overwhelm them, and three first-round clears ensured they would always be in contention while it was their Olympic silver medallist, Rolf-Goran Bengtsson, who clinched it for them in the end.
The Netherlands finished a strong second, also shaking off some distressingly poor results in previous legs of this super-tough Meydan FEI season, while Spain and France divided third, Ireland and the USA shared fifth place and Great Britain had to settle for seventh this time out. Switzerland finished eighth after only just managing to squeeze into the second round and, in another real turn-up for the books, the German team were sidelined at the end of round one along with the unfortunate Polish side that suffered elimination.
The Swiss are in real trouble now, lying just above Poland at the bottom of the leaderboard, while Sweden and The Netherlands need another good result again next week in Aachen if they are to have any chance of also leaving that bottom-four relegation zone behind them. Its shaping up for an almighty battle to earn a place in the 2011 Meydan FEI Nations Cup™ series which will be reduced to an eight-nation contest and which will welcome two new nations after this year's Promotional League Final in Barcelona in September.
The Swedes were drawn first to go today, and the omens were looking really bad when Ericka Lickhammer's horse Restless had to be withdrawn from the team at the last moment. However in truly sporting fashion the visiting team managers agreed that the host nation should be allowed a late replacement - and Helen Lundback proved the perfect choice when she followed Malin Baryard-Johnsson's opening four-fault effort with H&M Tornesch with a super clear from Bukowskis Erblumme. "We had two lame horses at the last minute actually but I was really flattered when our Chef d'Equipe, Gosta Asker, asked me to come on the team and I was more than willing to do what I could to help" Lundback said afterwards.
Once she had shown that Frank Rothenberger's big, bold track was jumpable her compatriots Peder Fredricson (H&M Arctic Aurora Borealis) and Rolf-Goran Bengtsson (Casall La Silla) followed suit and with the only zero score at the halfway stage the Swedes already had the bit between their teeth. Holding onto the lead was never going to be an easy matter however because the Americans and French were hot on their heels with just four faults apiece while Ireland, Great Britain and The Netherlands carried eight into round two and Spain carried nine.
There was near-disbelief when the Germans found themselves ousted from the competition. Both they, and the Swiss, had each picked up twelve faults but when time was taken into account the Swiss had covered the course quicker and so they made the cut into the final eight while their near-neighbours were obliged to sit it out with the Polish team. Poland's day started badly and then got even worse. Their team was reduced to a three-man side following the withdrawal of Dawid Rakoczy, and although their pathfinder Piotr Sawicki steered the lovely stallion Caballus Z round the tricky track for just two time penalties their day came to an end when second rider, Jacked Bobik (Taunus), was eliminated.
As round two evolved it didn't get any better for the Swiss who added 16 more to their tally, and as the competition progressed the triple combination continued to take a heavy toll, the short distance between the last two elements proving particularly influential. The final line, a triple bar to a big 1.60m vertical with a wide water-tray, was also difficult. All but one of the riders opted for a four-stride distance here, but Ireland's Denis Lynch covered it effortlessly in three with the big-striding Nabab's Son to record one of only two double-clear rounds. The other came from Switzerland's Pius Schwizer and Ulysse, but it didn't manage to improve Swiss fortunes to any real extent.
The British added 17 to their scoreline to finish with 25 on the board while the Irish and Americans shared a total of 24. US team fortunes suffered a dramatic decline in the second round when they were obliged to add 20 faults to their first-round four and French chances were also shattered when they negated their first-round single error by adding 17 this time out. Spain added 12 more to their first-round total of nine, but when Holland's Eric Van der Vleuten (VDL Groep Utascha) and Leopold Van Asten (VDL Groep Santana) kept a clean sheet and team-mate Jur Vrieling (VDL Bubalou) hit only the last fence it seemed there might well be a third-round two-way showdown between Sweden and The Netherlands. By now the first three host-country team members had picked up four faults on their second tour of the track so their running total was 12. And when Dutch anchorman, Marc Houtzager riding HBC Tamino) lowered only the middle element of the triple combination that rounded up The Netherlands' score to 12 also. It was up to the last man into the ring, Swedish anchor Rolf-Goran Bengtsson, to remove one his compatriot's four fault results from his team's scoresheet.
With characteristic coolness Bengtsson set off with the stallion Casall La Silla and, as the previously noisy crowd held their breath he steered his way home. They gasped when there was an audible rattle at the oxer three fences from the finishing line but their fate was in safe hands. With consummate ease he cruised across the line to register just a single time penalty and that all-important win for his country.
"I want to thank all the other Chefs for their sportsmanship today" said Gosta Asker afterwards. "They agreed to the late change on our team, and I'm very grateful to them for that" he added. His own riders were effusive in their praise of their new team manager however, each one crediting him with a major role in today's important victory. "I have a wonderful team" Mr Asker added, "because they just show up and do their job and always give their best. They have a great attitude and they work together like real professionals" he pointed out.
Today was a real turnaround for Swedish fortunes, but Helena Lundback insisted that their vulnerable position on the leaderboard was not due to lack of effort - "we've all been disappointed with the results up until now, we've been trying really hard but things just weren't going our way" she added. Lundback also admitted that the tension of the closing stages was almost too much for herself and team-mate Malin Baryard-Johnsson this afternoon - "we just couldn't watch Rolf-Goran go - we hid ourselves away and we only knew what happened when we heard the crowd going wild!" she said.
There is little time for celebration however, as the next leg of the series is only six days away and takes place in one of the most formidable and prestigious show jumping arenas in the world - at Aachen in Germany. The French go there with a strong lead over the British in second on the series leaderboard while the USA lies third ahead of Germany in fourth, Spain in fifth and Ireland in sixth. The relegation-zone continues to be occupied by The Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland and Poland. Sweden had a great day today. But they need another one next Thursday if they are to remain amongst the great show jumping nations of the world next season.
The NEXT leg takes place in six days time at Aachen, Germany. For information on the German fixture go to website www.chioaachen.de or contact Press Officer Niels Knippertz at email firstname.lastname@example.org
1. Sweden 9 faults: H&M Tomesch (Malin Baryard-Johnsson) 4/4, Bukowskis Erbblume (Helena Lundback) 0/4, H&M Artic Aurora Borealis (Peder Fredricson) 0/4, Casall La Silla (Rolf-Goran Bengtsson) 0/1.
2. The Netherlands 12 faults: VDL Groep Utascha SFN (Eric Van der Vleuten) 4/0, VDL Bubalou (Jur Vrieling) 0/4, VDL Groep Santana B (Leopold Van Asten) 4/0, HBC Tamino (Marc Houtzager) 4/4.
3. Spain 21 faults: Guarana Champeix (Rutherford Latham) 4/0, Loreal D'Utah (Manuel Anon Suarez) 1/13, New Remake de Servery (Fernando Fourcade) 4/0, ProcasaJulia Des Brumes (Ricardo Jurado) 12/12.
3. France 21 faults: Kiwi Du Fraigneau (Eric Navet) 15/9, Luccianno (Nicolas Delmotte) 4/16, Admirable (Marie Etter Pellegrin) 0/4, Sea Coast Siilvana (Kevin Staut) 0/4.
5. Ireland 24 faults: Hallmark Elite (Dermott Lennon) 4/12, Castle Forbes Myrtille Paulois (Jessica Kuerten) 8/12, Carmena Z (Shane Breen) 4/4, Nabab's Son (Denis Lynch) 0/0.
5. USA 24 faults: Pavarotti (Todd Minikus) 4/8, Ublesco (Cara Raether) 0/8, Rothchild (McLain Ward) 0/4, Flexible (Rich Fellers) 8/8.
7. Great Britain 25 faults: Billy Congo (William Funnell) 4/8, Thesaura (Mark Armstrong) 16/8, Hello Sailor (Tina Fletcher) 0/1, Fresh Direct Kalico Bay (Tim Stockdale) 4/8.
8. Switzerland 28 faults: La Toya (Arthur Da Silva) 16/8, Touchable (Claudia Gisler) 8/12, Uptown Boy (Janika Sprunger) 4/8, Ulysse (Pius Schwizer) 0/0.
9. Germany 12 faults in FIRST round: Chaco-blue (Alois Pollmann-Schweckhorst) 8, Calado (Jorg Naeve) 4, Catoki (Philipp Weishaupt) 0, Noltes Kuchengirl (Marcus Ehning)17.
10. Poland Eliminated in FIRST round: Cabullus Z (Piotr Sawicki) 2 faults; Taunus (Jacek Bobik) Elim; Limbo (Dawid Kubiak) Did not start.
2010 MEYDAN FEI NATIONS CUP™-Standings After Round 5 at Flasterbo:
1. France - 39.0
2. Great Britain - 27.5
3. USA - 25.5
4. Germany - 21.5
5. Spain - 21.5
6. Ireland - 18.5
7. Netherlands - 14.0
8. Sweden - 12.0
9. Switzerland - 0.5
10. Poland - 0
Facts and Figures:
The youngest rider in today's competition was 18 year old Manuel Anon Saurez from Spain who picked up just a single time penalty with Loreal D'Utah in the first round.
12 riders jumped clear in round one of today's competition.
Only 6 riders jumped clear in round 2.
There were only two double-clear rounds in the competition. They were produced by Switzerland's Pius Schwizer (Ulysses) and Ireland's Denis Lynch (Nabab's Son).
The Polish team was reduced to just three riders due to the withdrawal of Dawid Rakoczy and Rotmistrz and Poland was eliminated when second-to-go rider Jacek Bobik was eliminated with Taunus.
The most influential fences on the course designed by Frank Rothenberger were the triple combination at fence 5 and the penultimate triple bar.
Helena Lundback, member of today's winning Swedish team, talking about her mare Bukowskis Erblumme "I've been working to get her in better shape recently and she's been a bit grumpy with me recently but today she gave me everything she'd got!"
Malin Baryard-Johnsson, member of today's winning Swedish team, when asked about how difficult it was to be pathfinder for her team today - "When we were drawn first to go today I thought "well that's ok we can do it" and then I was picked first to go on the team as well! But I decided I'd just walk the course and keep to my plan and not change anything once I went into the ring".
Meydan FEI Nations Cup™
A Meydan FEI Nations Cup™ event is organised as a five-star Nations Cup, i.e. a competition in which official teams representing nations compare their merit. At each event the teams gain points according to their placing. At the end of the 2010 season the team with the highest points wins the Meydan FEI Nations Cup™ and the four teams with the lowest points are relegated to the FEI Nations Cup series (Promotional League). Two teams from the Promotional League will join the Top League in 2011.
The complete rules, latest news, results, standings and photos are on www.meydanfeinationscup.org
The World’s Top 10 Teams: France, the USA, Germany, Switzerland, Ireland, The Netherlands, Sweden, Great Britain, Spain and Poland.
The World’s Best Eight Venues: La Baule (FRA), Friday 14 May; Rome (ITA), Friday 28 May; St. Gallen (SUI), Friday 4 June; Rotterdam (Ned), Friday 18 June; Falsterbo (SWE), Friday 9 July; Aachen (GER), Thursday 15 July; Hickstead (GBR), Friday 30 July; Dublin (IRL), Friday 6 August.
To learn more about the FEI go to www.fei.org
To learn more about Meydan, the title sponsor of the Meydan FEI Nations Cup, go to www.meydan.ae
Photo Caption: Helena Lundback and Bukowskis Erblumme got a late call-up but provided a vital first-round clear to help Sweden to victory in the fifth leg of the 2010 Meydan FEI Nations Cup™ at Falsterbo, Sweden today. Photo: Lotta Gyllensten.