In less than a year Great Britain will take to the arena of the Olympic Equestrian Centre at Deodoro in Rio, Brazil, after a nail-biting climax to the FEI European Championship Jumping Final saw the British team finish in fourth place – and with it, secure a team place for next year’s Olympic Games.
With the qualification of the showjumping team, Great Britain will be represented by all four of its equestrian teams next year, in Jumping, Dressage and Eventing at the Olympics and at the Paralympic Games, Para-Equestrian Dressage.
First to go for the Brits was Ben Maher with Tatiana Korsakova’s Diva II. Putting the faults from yesterday’s final fence behind them, the duo produced a superb clear first round in a time of 86.68 seconds to get the team off to a great start.
“It's an important day for us but Diva was fantastic, she jumped incredibly; we had a slight slip coming into the DHL fence which in the end maybe helped me to the next two fences. We had expectations coming here, we're a strong team and so far so good. Very proud of her, she's come a long way in two years. She wants to try 110% for me; she's still young at this level, it all went well today. She's in incredible form and such a trier, and she fights so hard for it. There was pressure today for qualification and to lead the team. It's a round I will definitely remember."
Next in was nineteen year old Jessica Mendoza with Sarah Mendoza’s talented Spirit T. The combination were unlucky during the first two days of competition to see a couple of fences fall, but went in to the jam-packed arena with clear determination. With just a foot in the water at fence seven, the combination came home with four faults but inside the time.
Jessica commented after her round; “I’m really happy with my horse she jumped amazing, it was my mistake to the water, but really, really happy. I went in trying to have as much confidence as possible and trying to go clear. From the word go I wanted to clear the fences, at the water jump I was so concentrated on going clear I could have focussed a little more on that fence, but really happy. It’s completely different here [Aachen] it wasn’t really suiting my horse on the first few days, then after riding in it for a few days I’ve got used to it.”
Joe Clee was next up with the impressive Utamaro D’Ecaussines, owned by Ludwig Criel. Lying in third place individually heading into the final round, they were unlucky to have a single pole down, for four faults, putting them into eighth place in the overall individual standings.
Team stalwart Michael Whitaker was the final rider into the arena. Aboard Mrs Beverley Widdowson’s Cassionato, the combination had the crowd on the edge of their seats as they made their way round Frank Rothenberger’s course. With two fences falling and a time fault, the combination finished on nine faults.
With three combinations to jump after Michael and Cassi, it was a tense finish. Gold went to The Netherlands, with Silver to the hosts Germany and Bronze going to Switzerland - who finished just 0.76 penalties ahead of Great Britain.
Speaking after Michael’s round Joe commented; “We came here to do a job and that was to qualify for the Olympics but then when you come so close its gutting when you don’t get a medal. The team performed fantastically, I’m really happy for Jess, she pulled it back and she rode a really good round to finish which is great for her. And it was great for the qualification for the Olympics, in the end she helped us qualify for the Olympics.
“All the experience getting me and the horse together is fantastic and obviously it’s given us more and more confidence. He jumped it easy, it felt easy to me, it felt that it could have been a hole higher and he still would have jumped it. The mistake we made was more of a miscommunication than a lack of quality or scope, he can do it and that gives you confidence. I’m really proud, I’m proud to be part of such a good team and have such good team members, the whole team, the grooms, the riders, the support, everything we’ve had this week I’m proud to be a part of.”
Britain’s Michael Whitaker added; “We were less than one fault away from the bronze medal, so it’s really disappointing actually. The main thing was to qualify and we did that but a medal would have been a real bonus. I’m very happy [to help get the team to Rio] I want to stick with this team next year, all these guys have worked really hard and they deserve a chance.
“Next year he’ll be a completely different horse again, he’s learnt so much this year, he’s never been under that kind of pressure or seen those kind of jumps ever, so I’m over the moon. That was the first fence he’s touched, he was only two fences away from another clear. It’s a massive buzz and the main thing was to get qualified and we did.”
After qualification was confirmed, an elated Di Lampard commented; “I’m just delighted to get qualified it was a fantastic team performance. They’ve all worked together, this is why we put this team together because they get on so well, they help each other, they discuss the courses throughout and they’ve supported each other through it. The first day was tremendous pressure because we knew on the speed leg we had got to be in there, we had to finish in the first five to stand any chance. Of course to get the clears in yesterday it was tremendous pressure and today!
“Definitely my biggest achievement, to get the country qualified for the Olympics - for me just to put the riders together, nothing touches this. I think the preparations [to get to Rio] will start this evening.”
Performance Manager Dan Hughes commented; “Right from the start the National Lottery funded Team GBR Jumping squad, under the leadership of Chef d’Equipe Di Lampard, has been on a mission. That mission was to gain Olympic qualification for next year and every one of them has played a key role in achieving it. The riders have been absolutely focused during the build-up and here at Aachen, backed by a professional and driven support team and loyal owners. Our success has been down to character, resilience and teamwork. It has been a brilliant team effort that got us over the line.”
Sunday’s Individual Final promises to be just as exciting as today’s, with the top nine combinations separated only by a single fence. Britain’s Joe Clee and Uta, and Ben Maher with Diva, have both qualified for the final after securing top ten finishes.
Equestrian Team GBR is supported by the World Class Programme; the Programme is indebted to the support received from UK Sport and the National Lottery. The British teams are also very grateful to the support they receive from official Team GBR suppliers Dodson & Horrell, Equiline, Equi-Trek, Land Rover, NAF, NuuMed, Point Two Equine, Tagg Equestrian and Toggi.
Full results from today’s competition can be found at: http://results.aachen2015.de/show/7/event/31/championship/team/standing/