In a nail-biting conclusion to the Eventing Championship at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games™ in Kentucky today, the British stood firm to claim team gold and Germany's Michael Jung did likewise to take the individual title. Jung's win was delivered with consummate ease when, last into the arena, he produced another flawless performance from his 10 year old gelding La Biosthetique Sam. And Britain's William Fox-Pitt, whose polished ride with Cool Mountain secured individual silver, paid the highest compliment to the winner, who led the competition from the outset. Asked what he thought of the German rider's result he said "quite honestly it's a case of Michael Jung - 1, the rest - nowhere! He's so far ahead we've all got our work cut out for us for the next two years!"
The British triumph was the first in a World Championship since 1994 and it was achieved in the best possible way, with clears from Fox-Pitt, Mary King (Imperial Cavalier) and Nicola Wilson (Opposition Buzz) while Tina Cook (Miners Frolic) had two fences down. There was turmoil on the leaderboard, with the USA slipping out of medal contention and having to settle for fourth place while the sensational Canadians moved up into silver and New Zealand took bronze.
Full of Running
Wilson's Opposition Buzz, whose trail-blazing cross-country round on Saturday was one of the highlights of the day, was still full of running as he secured that important first-to-go clear for the British side. But the 90-second time limit was tight and the 13-fence track took its toll. Buck Davidson set the ball rolling for the USA who were lying in runner-up spot with just a single error from Ballynoe Castle, and when fellow-American, Boyd Martin, went clear with Neville Bardos a place on the podium seemed very much on the cards for the home side. But Philip Dutton and Woodburn hit the first element of the penultimate double and also picked up a time fault, so it fell to Karen O'Connor and Mandiba to save the day. Under intense pressure they entered the ring but the partnership was already looking vulnerable by the time they got to the oxer at fence five and, although they cleared the following triple bar, they missed their stride to the next fence, the gate, and Mandiba stopped, eventually crossing the finish line but carrying 12 faults which put paid to US chances.
Despite the disappointment there was still cause for celebration in the O'Connor household tonight as Karen's husband David, a former multiple eventing champion and President of the United States Equestrian Federation (USEF), was hailed the hero by the Canadian team which he trains. They put in another magnificent performance today, as they have done all weekend - first-line rider Kyle Carter (Madison Park) picking up nine faults but both Selena O'Hanlon (Colombo) and Hawley Bennett-Award (Gin & Juice) producing foot-perfect runs and when Stephanie Rhodes-Bosch picked up just four faults with Port Authority they found themselves elevated to silver medal position.
And those veterans of so many wonderful contests, Kiwi legends Mark Todd (Grass Valley) and Andrew Nicholson (Nereo), clinched bronze when keeping a clean sheet after Caroline Powell (Mac MacDonald) collected nine faults and Clarke Johnstone (Orient Express) picked up 13. It"s an extraordinary achievement for Todd who retired from the sport in 2000 but returned for the Beijing Olympic Games in 2008 and who is as competitive as ever at the age of 54. "The sport has changed a lot, and its taken me a while to adjust since I've come back" he said and then, referring to gold medallist Michael Jung he added "it may take a while to close the gap to this fellow down here, but we're working on it!".
The Canadians talked about the infleunce of David O'Connor. Kyle Carter said "four years ago we were disappointed at the WEG but we've been getting stronger and stronger and everyone believes in David, he's brought us to another level, always asking and expecting better, and it"s paying off".
There was another battle going on further down the team leaderboard because five of the top six nations would earn an Olympic qualifying spot - the British automatically through due to the location of the 2012 Games. Germany slotted into fifth place and the Irish had a heart-breaking day when, despite an heroic performance in the cross-country phase yesterday, they were overtaken by the Belgians. The Irish must now battle for an Olympic qualifying spot at next summer's European Championships in Rotterdam (NED) while Canada, New Zealand, the USA, Germany and Belgium, along with the British, can rest easy in the knowledge that their ticket to London is already booked.
As the top 10 took their turn today the tension was palpable and British individual rider Pippa Funnell, who was absent from the sport for some time, showed she is right back in the game when, lying seventh, she recorded a superb clear with Redesigned which eventually left her in fifth place. That was followed by another classic jumping round from Belgium's Karin Donckers and the fabulous mare Gazelle de la Brasserie, but a single error saw Canada's Stephanie Rhodes-Bosch slip down the individual rankings. With just four left to go, Andrew Nicholson piled the pressure on the remaining three with a clear from Nereo and when Germany's Ingrid Klimke faulted twice the New Zealander improved to individual bronze medal position. The final two never faltered however so he had to settle for that as the consummate horseman Fox-Pitt calmly returned a zero score and then Jung sailed home with La Biosthetique Sam who looked so fresh, composed and content that it was hard to believe he was at the end of such a monumental contest.
Jung is now looking forward to competing Sam in London 2012. "In the last few years my horse and I have grown together and I hope we can make it to London" he said. The British will be the ones to beat on their home turf then, and Fox-Pitt pointed out that team spirit contributes greatly to his country's success in this tough sport. "We have fantastic support from our supporters, our Chef and the BOA (British Olympic Association) - the back-up is huge and we have a great team of riders. We get on well, we give each other a hard time, but we have a lot of fun!" he pointed out. However the Eventing Championships at the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games™ have indicated clearly that the Canadians are now truly a force to be reckoned with and that the incredible Kiwis are as hot-to-trot as they have ever been.
FEI TV - As well as live competition coverage throughout the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games™, FEI TV will make all competitions available post-event via VoD, plus an exclusive daily 30-minute VoD highlights show from the Kentucky Horse Park featuring the best of the day’s action, interviews, previews and reviews. There will also be lots of behind the scenes footage available. Check out www.feitv.org
Facts and Figures:
There were 23 clear rounds in today's eventing jumping competition
55 horses started the final phase
This was Great Britain's first World Championship team gold since 1994
It was New Zealand's first time back on the team podium at a World Championship since 1998
The last time Canada took a place on the team medal podium was in 1978.
Canadian silver medallist Stephanie Rhodes-Bosch "this is only my second year competing, and I owe a lot to David (O'Connor), I work with him every week on my programme and he helps me a lot"
Canada's Selena O'Hanlon "David doesn't only help with riding but we also have meetings and he's great for positive reinforcement mentally".
Canada's Hawley Bennett-Awad "the biggest thing is that we are more together as a group. It's very interesting the way things are going for us and in the next few years we are going to be a country to look out for!"
New Zealand's Mark Todd, talking about the loss of his horse Gandalf which he rode at the Beijing Olympic Games in 2008 "he was the most experienced horse I had to bring here, so when he died I had to fast-track this one (Grass Valley). He only did one 3-Star, in Boekelo in the Spring, and then he was pushed to get to Badminton where he jumped clear. He's such a straight-forward horse and he's stepped up to the mark here this week".
Great Britain's Tina Cook, talking about the 20 cross-country penalties she picked up yesterday with Miners Frolic. "I'm disappointed with myself, my horse did nothing wrong, it was rider error. The horse was going beautifully but I lost my reins going into the water and the balance went and it was out of control. I tried to avoid 20 penalties, I thought I'd done enough not to cross my track but I didn't".
ALLTECH FEI WORLD EQUESTRIAN GAMES™-EVENTING, FINAL RESULT
Team: Great Britain 139.40; 2, Canada 151.50; 3, New Zealand 154.50; 4, USA 160.30; 5, Germany 200.70; 6, Belgium 227.10; 7, Ireland 236.50; 8, France 245.70; 9, Japan 334.10.
Individual: 1, La Biosthetique Sam NRW (Michael Jung) GER 33.00; 2, Cool Mountain (William Fox-Pitt) GBR 42.00; 3, Nereo (Andrew Nicholson) NZL 43.50; 4, Gazelle de la Brasserie (Karin Donckers) BEL 44.40; 5, Redesigned (Pippa Funnell) GBR 45.50; 6, Imperial Cavalier (Mary King) GBR 46.20; 7, Clifton Promise (Jonathan Paget) NZL 46.40; 8, Vettori (Stuart Tinney) AUS 47.60; 9, Port Authority (Stephanie Rhodes-Bosch) CAN 48.20; 10, Neville Bardos (Boyd Martin) USA 49.50.
Full results and startlists at www.alltechfeigames.com
Photo Caption: The British team of Nicola Wilson, Tina Cook, William Fox-Pitt and Mary King celebrate their team gold medal winning performance in the Eventing Championship at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games™ in Kentucky, USA. Photo: FEI/Kit Houghton.
Michael Jung (English) http://www.lloydbell.co.uk/access/client_zone/Michael%20Jung%20eventing%20Gold.mp3
William Fox-Pitt (team gold and individual silver): http://www.lloydbell.co.uk/access/client_zone/William%20F-P%20team%20gold.mp3
Andrew Nicholson (team and individual bronze): http://www.lloydbell.co.uk/access/client_zone/Andrew%20Nicholson%20team%20Bronze.mp3
Stephanie Rhodes-Bosch (Canada - Silver) http://www.lloydbell.co.uk/access/client_zone/Stephanie%20Rhodes-Bosch%20CAN%20team%20silver%20eventing%20WEG.mp3