Just over three weeks after the applause has faded at the end of the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games™ in Normandy, France, the excitement has returned to fever pitch ahead of another tremendous clash of champions at the Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup™ Jumping Final 2014 in Barcelona, Spain next week. A total of 15 countries have selected teams to fight for the title at the Real Club de Polo, where last year’s inaugural Final kept spectators on the edges of their seats and where the French came out on top.
The concept of the Furusiyya series was still in its infancy throughout 2013, but by the time the inaugural Final was over it was widely-acclaimed as one of the greatest success stories in the history of the sport. Previously FEI Nations Cup™ Jumping was contested by a relatively limited number of countries, but thanks to the sponsorship of the Saudi Equestrian Fund and the enthusiasm of HRH Prince Faisal, who had long wanted to expand the series’ horizons, the doors have been opened and a whole new day has dawned, with many more nations taking part.
The four-year, €16 million Saudi sponsorship package, and the commitment of the FEI’s Top Partner, the Swiss watchmakers Longines who are Official Timekeepers for the series, have broken new ground and big prize money, top-class course design and a venue of championship status await the best of the best when the Final gets underway on Thursday 9 October.
The Real Club de Polo in Barcelona has witnessed many major sporting moments, including the Jumping Finals for the 1992 Olympic Games, and once again the all-weather surface will provide perfect footing for the horses.
A total of 40 nations competed in 20 qualifiers around the globe in the lead-up to this event. For qualification purposes the world was divided into four regions and the top six teams have emerged from Europe Division 1, which will be represented by Belgium, France, Germany, Great Britain, Netherlands and Sweden, along with the host nation of Spain. The top two teams from Europe Division 2, Italy and Norway, will also line out in Barcelona, while Canada and USA have qualified from the North America, Central America and Caribbean series.
For some countries it was less of a battle to earn their place because, if the region was not in a position to stage a relevant CSIO, then the qualifying spots were determined by positions on the Longines Rankings. As a result, South America’s Brazil and Venezuela have made the cut, while the Australians will be the sole representatives from Asia/Australasia due to the withdrawal of Japan. Egypt has declined the invitation to compete and, following Saudi Arabia’s recent withdrawal, the team from Qatar will be the sole representatives from the Middle East.
After their fabulous team gold at the Asian Games in Incheon, Korea last Sunday the Qataris are bound to be in positive mood. Sheikh Ali Bin Khalid Al Thani is listed with Vienna Olympic, the lovely mare which he steered into individual 14th at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games™ in Normandy. And he will be joined by two other members of the winning Asian Games side, Khalid Mohammed Al Emadi and Bassem Hassan Mohammed, along with Faleh Suwead and Hamad Ali Al Attiyah.
There will be a number of teams arriving in Barcelona with something to prove, including the reigning Olympic champions from Great Britain, who didn’t have a good run in Normandy. Neither world number one Scott Brash nor number seven Ben Maher make the trip, but Joe Clee and Spencer Roe have been called up alongside three of the Whitaker family, Michael and his nephews Robert and William. And any squad filled with members of that legendary British jumping clan is never one to be taken lightly.
Meanwhile German Chef d’Equipe Otto Becker has taken no chances when selecting all of his top-guns, Christian Ahlmann, Ludger Beerbaum, Daniel Deusser, Marcus Ehning and Marco Kutscher. Germany missed out on a podium finish at the world championships by the most slender of margins and they won’t be intending to let that happen again. The Canadians also had a disappointing time in France when finishing eighth in the team championship, but they bounced back with a win at Spruce Meadows on their return home, so that will have recharged their batteries.
The gold, silver and bronze medallists from the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games™ won’t be easily defeated however. There will be three of the bronze-medal-winning team in the US side, McLain Ward, Kent Farrington and individual bronze medallist Beezie Madden, and joining them will be Lauren Hough and Margie Goldstein-Engle.
The French took team silver and they are unlikely to give up the Furusiyya title they claimed last year without a fight. Headed up by the man who was just pipped for individual gold in Normandy, Patrice Delaveau, who has continued to blaze a trail of success in the intervening period, the French side also includes Simon Delestre, Jerome Hurel, Penelope Leprevost and Kevin Staut, and they look a fairly formidable force.
Brazil finished second to the French at last year’s inaugural Furusiyya Final and they won’t be easily dismissed either, having secured fifth place in Caen just a few short weeks ago. The Brazilians have Doda de Miranda, Rodrigo Pessoa, Pedro Veniss, Marlon Zanotelli and Karina Johannpeter all on call-up for next week’s Final.
But the ones they may all have to beat are the triumphant Dutch, who claimed both the team and individual honours in Caen. Chef d’Equipe Rob Ehrens said at the time that he would field exactly the same side in Barcelona because he rated the Furusiyya Final so highly, and he has lived up to his promise, with newly-crowned individual world champion Jeroen Dubbeldam leading Maikel van der Vleuten, Gerco Schröder, Jur Vrieling and Frank Schuttert into the fray.
Strong teams from Belgium, Sweden and Venezuela cannot be discounted, while the Norwegians who finished second in Europe Division 2 have the extra pressure of trying to finish within the top eight at Barcelona in order to gain promotion in 2015. The Italians are on a high after their victory at Arezzo, the last round of the Europe Division 2 league which has guaranteed their place in the super-competitive Europe Division 1 series next season and they should be coming out with their tails up.
Spain’s Eduardo Alvarez Aznar, Sergio Moya, Paola Amilibia, Manuel Anon and Pilar Cordon will also be expected to put their best feet forward on home ground.
Apart from the honour and glory, there is plenty of financial incentive next week with a total of €2,363,000 up for grabs. There is no prize money in Thursday’s opening competition, but it is a critical class as the top eight teams will qualify for Saturday night’s finale in which there is €1,500,000 on offer along with a €200,000 bonus to be split between riders jumping clear in the first competition and again in the first round of the Final itself. The remaining seven countries will battle it out for €300,000 in Friday’s Challenge Cup in which there is a similar bonus of €50,000 to be shared amongst the double clears.
The Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup™ series and Final have breathed new life into this sport that celebrates its 105th season this year. It has proven flexible enough to survive and thrive for over a century, and the Furusiyya format has modernised and rejuvenated the competition so often described by FEI President, HRH Princess Haya, as “the jewel in the crown of the FEI”.
The Netherland’s Jeroen Dubbeldam said last year that the Furusiyya concept is “fantastic, and interesting in so many ways. Like any other sport we can’t stay the same, we have to have these kind of Finals with big money and then everyone begins to talk about it and it grows.”
That is exactly what has happened, and that is why we can look forward to plenty more fun and games, horsemanship, sportsmanship and great camaraderie as teams from all around the world fight it out for the Furusiyya 2014 title with passion and pride.
For further information on the Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup™ Jumping 2014 Final at Real Club de Polo in Barcelona, Spain (9-12 October 2104), please visit www.csiobarcelona.com
FACTS AND FIGURES:
- 15 nations will battle it out for the title of Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup™ Jumping 2014 champions.
- A total of 40 nations competed in 20 qualifiers around the world ahead of this year’s Final.
- Team France will defend the title they won at the inaugural Final staged at the same venue last year.
- Three qualified teams have withdrawn from the Final - Egypt, Japan and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
- Course designer for the Final is Spain’s Santiago Varela.
- The Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup™ Jumping series is sponsored by Saudi Equestrian through a four-year €16 million package that was put in place in December 2012.
- The FEI’s top partner, Swiss watchmakers Longines, are Official Timekeepers for the series.
- Nations Cup Jumping celebrates its 105th season in 2014.