German vaulters Daniel Kaiser, Pia Engelberty and Torben Jacobs clinched the Male Individual and Pas-de-Deux titles, while Switzerland’s Simone Jäiser brought her brilliant career to a close when soaring to victory in the Female category at the FEI World Cup™ Vaulting 2015/2016 Final in Dortmund (GER) over the weekend.
Kaiser sprang a big surprise when beating fellow-countryman Jannis Drewell in the Male division, but in the other two competitions the favourites won through in fine style. This sixth FEI World Cup™ Vaulting season was packed with fantastic competition, but the Final brought the tension, excitement and degree of excellence to a whole new level, and the event at Dortmund was hailed a huge success.
Jäiser threw down the gauntlet in Friday’s first round of the Female Final when coming out on top with a score of 8.602. Germany’s Kristina Boe lined up second on a mark of 8.348 while Austria’s Isabel Fiala finished third on a score of 7.838. Anna Cavallaro was expected to be Jäiser’s strongest opponent, but things didn’t go as planned from the outset for the Italian vaulter when her top horse, Harley, didn’t pass the veterinary inspection. With her replacement horse, Dante, she posted 7.190 for sixth and last place in round one, behind Anne Sophie Musset from France with 7.238, and she couldn’t recover from there.
Switzerland’s Nadja Buttiker didn’t enjoy much luck either when the athlete who finished a creditable fourth in the first competition was dislodged during her second performance because her horse, the aptly-named Keep Cool, decided to stop for a toilet-break. As the eventual winner, Jäiser, pointed out afterwards however, this is a situation that every vaulter has experienced. “If the horse suddenly goes faster or slower or even moves to the inside, then he’s not under your feet when you are doing your movements and it is impossible to stay on!” she said.
Cavallaro improved her score to post 7.418 but it wouldn’t be nearly enough to make an impression on the final result when all three remaining athletes scored over the 8.0 mark. Fiala really upped her game, putting 8.225 on the board for a performance that was crisp, clean and confident but then Boe piled on the pressure when earned 9.125 from Technical judge Rob de Bruin (NED) which helped secure a second round total of 8.632 and an overall total of 8.490 over the two rounds of competition.
As Jäiser came into the ring, victory was well within her grasp but she admitted afterwards to feeling extremely nervous. “It was a really big dream for me to finish my career by taking the World Cup title and I knew this was the last time I would run into the arena in a competition. I had to tell myself “go for it” - and in the end it was good!” she said afterwards.
In fact it was near perfection, the 29-year-old vaulter demonstrating that awesome power, control and artistry that earned her both the gold medal at last year’s FEI European Championships in Aachen (GER) and the world number one slot. Her strength in the holding positions, her balance in the jumps and her symmetry with her horse, Luk, and her lunger who is also her mother, Rita Blieske, was stand-out from start to finish.
Luk has a reputation for being sensitive and spooky in crowded circumstances but in competition he has a very different attitude. “He gets much more confident when we are in the arena - he knows his job!” the delighted new FEI World Cup™ Vaulting winner said, adding “I never thought we could have such an amazing year!” And she is looking forward to working as a coach, now that her competitive career has come to a close.
“I’m already training a junior team - we have nearly 100 members in our vaulting club, with six individuals and three pas-de-deux pairs, juniors and squads so it’s going to be very busy!” Jäiser explained.
Both the Female and Pas-de-Deux Finals took place on Saturday night, and Engelberty and Torben produced an exemplary performance to seal the latter. Having taken command with a score of 8.763 on Friday, they raised the stakes even higher with scores well in excess of 9 from three of the four judges to post a second-day total of 9.217 and an overall total of 8.990.
As expected their closest rivals were the young Italians, 19-year-old Erika Forti and Lorenzo Lupacchini who turned 20 in January. They scored a highly-competitive 8.183 on Friday and added 8.111 in Saturday’s second round which again earned high artistic marks. Their final total of 8.147 left them 0.843 adrift of the winners, but there is no denying the lightness and fluidity of their work together and this pair look set for extraordinary success in future years.
American sisters, Kimberly and Cassidy Palmer, were thoroughly consistent when scoring 7.916 and 7.708 for a final tally of 7.812 for third place while Germany’s young pair of Jolina Ossenberg-Engels and Timo Gerdes, again just 19 and 20 years of age respectively, look set to follow closely in the footsteps of their more senior stars when also impressively rounding up their scoreline at 7.700 for fourth of the four starting Pas-de-Deux partnerships.
It was an emotional evening for Engelberty who, like Jäiser, has decided to quit while at the top of her game. There was a lot of pressure on this Germany duo. “We knew we should win but the pressure was high because everyone expected we would win. It was never going to be easy, we knew we just had to stay relaxed and to concentrate. We told ourselves “okay, we don’t have to do magic, just do it as usual - stay calm - that was our plan and it worked out at the end!” said Engelberty afterwards.
“I have no exact plans for the future” said the 25-year-old athlete, “but I do know I will stay close to my club. I have been in this club for 16 years and it is part of my life and has given me so many opportunities.”
Engelberty said she was feeling “everything at the same time, sad, happy, really thankful - I know I have so many special moments in my life because of this sport and I’m going to miss it, but I’m happy looking forward. I always said I want to stop before nobody wants to see me anymore!”
Her vaulting partner, Jacobs, said he was also “happy and sad at the same time, so we celebrate our last freestyle together and it’s hard to believe it is coming to an end.” Without Engelberty he has to take a whole new look at his future in the sport, and for now that means he will start with a team for the rest of this year and may find another pas-de-deux partner sometime in the future.
As he pointed out, much of the success he enjoyed with Engelberty, including silver medals at both the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games in Normandy (FRA) 2014 and at last summer’s FEI European Championships in Aachen (GER) came about due to fantastic choreography allied with the vaulter’s hard work. “We trained together since 2012 and there’s always been a good harmony between us. It’s very important for pas-de-deux to have good artistic skill and choreography. It was our goal for this year to focus more on the music and choreography and it worked well” he added.
The Male Individual produced the highest drama when firm favourite, Jannis Drewell, was, quite literally, thrown off course in Friday’s first Freestyle. “I made a big mistake at the mount when I lost the grips” said the 24-year-old who burst to prominence with a spectacular win at last summer’s European Championships. His first-round score of 8.225 on Friday left him chasing Daniel Kaiser, who posted 9.473 to sit in the driving seat going into today’s second and deciding competition.
Czech Republic’s Lukas Klouda had already scored 8.010 and Switzerland’s Lukas Heppler posted 8.087 before French vaulters Clement Taillez and Vincent Haennel each put 8.317 and 8.479 on the board, but the real action came down to the final two contenders. Knowing that only a disaster could prevent Kaiser from taking the title, Drewell knew he had it all to do today and put in a brilliant performance that earned 8.847 to shoot way into the lead.
But Kaiser really kept his cool, his lovely horse Down Under LR giving him the firmest base on which to display his skills, and when the scoreboard shows 8.697 that was good enough for runner-up spot on the day and the overall Final title. It was a desperately closely-fought affair however, with only 0.1 points separating the two Germans in the final analysis.
Kaiser said he was “absolutely amazed” by his victory. “Jannis has been so dominant over the last months and even though I knew I would compete on a good level, that fact that I beat him is a small wonder for me! He had a big mistake yesterday which was good for me, but I had two good rounds” he added. He was performing a new programme based on the theme of the famous escapologist Harry Houdini, so was covered in chains during his performance.
“In Leipzig (in January) I felt it was over for the old programme, and after talking with the judges I decided if I wanted to have a chance I needed to do something new” he explained. “I’ve been working on this new programme now for more than a year” said the vaulter who was forced to take time out for more than two years due to health problems, but who has bounced back with a vengeance this season.
Today’s victory was all the more special because his wife and family were all there to cheer him on and join in the celebrations. “This is my first international title!” said the delighted athlete who has been competing since he was six years old and who was assisted in his success this weekend by lunger Nina Vorberg, wife of the German national trainer.
Second-placed Drewell was one of the first to congratulate the new title-holder and talked about some changes he too has planned. “I’m happy and glad today to win the second round and to be able to show my freestyle in a really good way for the last time. I think tomorrow the outfit from Charlie monk will be in wardrobe - I might take it out again for a show or something like but we are already working on a new programme” he explained.
“Today I was really satisfied because everything worked and my horse was really good. Daniel had the advantage from first round and it is good he won” said the sporting young German. “He did so much for FEI World Cup Vaulting, he brought a lot of support for this Final and he did not make a mistake on Friday. It’s great for the home crowd to have first and second today, and for me this was special because Dortmund is only one hour from home, so many family and friends and supporters came to see me which was a lot of fun!”
In an exciting new initiative, FEI Director of Driving, Reining and Vaulting, Bettina de Rham, presented Top Athletes Awards for Vaulting for the very first time, based on the annual rankings list for this discipline. The first recipient was World No 1, reigning European champion and newly-crowned FEI World Cup™ Vaulting 2015/2016 Female series winner Simone Jäiser, while Drewell was presented with the Top Male Athlete Award as World No. 1 in the Male category.
These awards will be decided on a yearly basis, in this case from January to December 2015, so the Pas-de-Deux award goes to reigning European champions Lukas Wacha and Jasmin Lindner who held the World No. 1 slot at year-end.
Looking back on a fantastic weekend of top sport, Bettina de Rham said today, “we want to thank the Organising Committee at Dortmund for putting on such a great show. The spectators and the atmosphere were amazing, and everyone including the vaulters, the horses and the officials were all very happy. I hope we can come back here again next year!”
Results FEI World Cup™ Vaulting Final 2015/2016:
1, Simone Jäiser (SUI) 8.651
2, Kristina Boe (GER) 8.490
3, Isabel Fiala (AUT) 8.032.
1, Daniel Kaiser (GER) 8.757
2, Jannis Drewell (GER) 8.617
3, Vincent Haennel (FRA) 8.402.
1, Pia Engelberty/Torben Jacobs (GER) 8.990
2, Erika Di Forti/Lorenzo Lupacchini (ITA) 8.147
3, Kimberley Palmer/Cassidy Palmer (USA) 7.812.
Detailed results here