By Lulu Kyriacou
By the time the show jumping team final began this afternoon at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games 2014 in Normandy, the competition had already claimed some notable scalps. Conspicuous by their absence were the teams from Switzerland, Italy and Spain, all of whom were amongst the 21 national teams who did not make it in the cut. The biggest shock was that the current Olympic champions were not included in the top 10. Reduced to a three-man team after the late injury to Ben Maher's ride, Celia, the team from Great Britain only got Scott Brash into the top fifty individually and he elected not to compete further.
At first it seemed as if course designer Frederic Cottier had been a little too kind when 4 of the first 12 riders cleared their rounds. These included Austrian sensation Stephanie Bistan, Moroccan Abdelkebir Ouaddar and South African Olivier Lazarus. Salvaging a modicum of pride after their stop on the first day, Olympic champion Steve Guerdat was also clean, but the earlier antics of Nino des Buissonets left Steve well adrift of the medal places. Only the top 30 would go through to the individual final which is why these riders with no further interest in the team contest were jumping, to establish the individual classification. There was some Arab interest despite the team from Qatar narrowly missing qualification for the Final, as Qatar’s Sheikh Ali bin Khalid Al Thani made the top 50 riders. His round was marred by an early rail at fence 3, an oxer over water, which put his chances of making the top 30 in jeopardy, but it was an excellent effort from a rider who has spared no effort to reach the top of the sport.
There was barely a single fence between the top 5 teams as their riders began the fight for the medals. The 13 fence course was big but rode better than it walked and the lack of open water probably gave the competitors some respite after the opening individual rounds. The time was potentially the biggest influence on the first round as hurrying to make it within the time of 80 seconds caused several mistakes. In addition to the medals and the glory these 10 teams were also battling for the 5 qualifying places for Rio 2016.
It was inevitable that the first completely clear round in the team contest went to Germany. Christian Ahlmann and Codex One put pressure on the teams above them by making nothing of either the fences or the tight time. It immediately put pressure on the two teams lying above them when both the Dutch and the American riders had rails down. The Land Rover sponsored over at fence 2 was proving to be a surprising bogey fence. By midway through a succession of 4-fault-rounds had elevated the German team to first place. The chances of the Columbians and the Ukrainian teams were gone. A brilliant clear from Denis Lynch elevated the Irish closer to both medals and Olympic qualification, particularly after Ian "Captain Canada" Millar had two down. But the French really turned the screws after both Penny Leprevost (Flora de Maripo) and Kevin Staut (Reveur de Hurtebise) were both clear and Germany's Daniel Duesser (Corner D'Amour) had one down. The first 3 riders for the USA all had a rail, which effectively dropped them into fourth place with one rider to go. But despite rails from Maikel Van de Vleuten and Jerome Dubbeldam, the Dutch were kept right at the head of affairs when Jur Vrieling and VDL Bubalu jumped the round of their lives to just maintain their tiny advantage over the French. The championships were all going to hang on the last riders.
Canada was trailing after their earlier rounds and when Eric Lamaze also failed to keep a clean sheet, their medal hopes were over and Olympic qualification hung in the balance. The Brazilians already qualified for Rio as the home side left it to Rodrigo Pessoa and Status to keep their medal hopes alive and he did not let the team down. The former World Champion maintained both the team placing and sights on another individual title. Then into the arena trotted Partrice Delaveaux and Orient Express trotted in for France. A clear round would hand the title to France but the third fence went down. Next for Germany, Ludger Beerbaum and Chiara.......the second fence fell, the French still led. Beezie Madden rode in for the USA, knowing a clear could not win but might give her team a medal. Cortez C made light of every jump to keep them sure of silver or bronze behind France at least.
Only Gerco Schroder and Glock London could stop a home victory but the overnight leaders had a fence in hand which went at the fifth......Could it really be a dream finish for the French? Sadly for them, Gerco and his chestnut stallion have jumped a few rounds under pressure, not least of which was when winning the silver medal at the 2012 Olympics and their one mistake was the only one they made to hand Holland the World Championship by less than 2 penalties. France won the silver and the USA the bronze. Defending champions Germany held fourth place by .1 of a penalty. Brazil was fifth and Sweden was sixth.
The show jumpers get a day off tomorrow and then the top 30 individual riders jump for solo glory on Saturday. Sheikh Ali Al Thani has qualified for this in fifteenth place with Vienna Olympic to keep Arab hopes alive.
Click HERE to see the course design.
Click HERE for full team results.
Click HERE for full individual results.