GB GOLDEN BOYS ARE EUROPEAN CHAMPIONS IN HERNING

GB GOLDEN BOYS ARE EUROPEAN CHAMPIONS IN HERNING

Team GBR Showjumpers made history yesterday evening (22 August 2013) at the ECCO FEI European Championships in Herning, Denmark winning the Team Gold medal just one year after taking Team Gold at the London 2012 Olympic Games. This consecutive double has only been achieved once before, some seventeen years ago in 1996 (by Germany) and demonstrates the strength of British Showjumping after their tumultuous win twelve months before.

Holding the lead from the end of day two, the GB riders knew there was still a long way to go if they were to ensure that the gold medal was not to fall from their grasp.

 

Ben Maher with the stunning 11 year-old grey mare Cella, owned by Jane Clark, put in a brilliant opening clear for the team.   Their copy book round followed two clean sheets from the previous rounds of the competition that saw them top the leader board in the speed class on both the opening day of the Championships and the first round of the Team competition.  Their impeccable form leaves Ben on zero penalties and leading the Individual competition heading into the Individual Final, which takes place on Saturday.

Michael Whitaker was the second rider to come forward with his own 11 year-old chestnut gelding Viking V.  Looking set to produce a second clear to match his previous round, Michael was unlucky to roll the top rail of a vertical for four faults.  Stopping the clock just outside the time accrued an additional penalty, giving him a total of 5 faults. However with other medal contending nations also picking up faults, GBR remained in the lead at the halfway stage, ahead of strong challenges from Germany and Sweden.

Will Funnell and his homebred 12 year-old stallion Billy Congo must have felt a tremendous amount of pressure in this, their first Senior European Championships together, particularly having incurred 12 penalties in their previous round. But with Billy Congo having settled into the Championship environment, William gave the ride of his life to put in a well-deserved clear within the time allowed. It was now all down to the fourth and final team riders to decide who would take the medals home.

GBR’s gold medal hopes rested on the shoulders of team anchorman Scott Brash, with Lady Kirkham and Lord & Lady Harris’s bay gelding Hello Sanctos. With all of the other nation’s results in, GBR held the lead with only one fence in hand. A solitary rail fell early on in the course, but a determined Scott lived up to his nickname - ‘Mr Cool’.  Where many might have crumbled Scott held his nerve; the 27 year old recovered to return home with no further faults and claim the gold for Team GBR.

The elation of the team and Chef d’Equipe Rob Hoekstra, was visible for all to see as they erupted into congratulatory cheers on the podium.

The Award Ceremony, was made all the more poignant as it was First Vice President of the FEI, John McEwen who presented the medals; John is Great Britain’s longest serving Team Vet, supporting both the jumping and dressage teams and is the Head of Equine Sports Science and Medicine for the BEF World Class Programme.

Celebrations of the team’s brilliant performance this evening will only be tempered by the need for the riders to keep focussed ahead of Saturday’s individual competition. All eyes will be on GB’s Ben Maher who heads into the final leg of the competition in gold medal position.

Whilst waiting for Scott to jump each of the three riders gave an insight on the competition and the rounds their horses had performed;

Ben Maher on Cella; “She has been unbelievable, I honestly felt it was the best she’s jumped in the three days. The bigger the jumps, the harder she tried.  She’ll get a nice day off tomorrow and I’m looking forward to going into the Individual Final on Saturday with a zero score.  She’s a once in a lifetime horse and here in Denmark she feels better than ever.”

Michael Whitaker on Viking V; “I am so very pleased with the way he jumped. It was a very big course, I tried my best to get the time and I thought I had, but I was just 2/10’s out. Overall I’m really pleased.”

Will Funnell on Billy Congo; “He jumped super; I knew he could, I knew he would and we did it when it mattered.”

Scott commented after his round; “I’m very happy. I was very fortunate today as the other three riders gave me a bit of a cushion. They all did a fantastic job and it’s great that we ended up on top”.

Chef d’Equipe Rob Hoekstra commented; “I’m absolutely delighted, it was a fantastic team performance and all four riders gave good scores. Ben had a tremendous round, Michael was unfortunate to have a pole but Will came in and produced a world class performance. Scott, the youngest of the team, rose to the pressure and put in another great performance. We can only do all this with the support of the whole team behind us, and I’d like to thank all those – the grooms, owners, team staff, and the support we receive from UK Sport Lottery funding, who have contributed to this team result.”