ON a truly thrilling final day of competition at the FEI Eventing World Championships in Pratoni del Vivaro, Italy, Germany regained their world title when winning the team gold ahead of the USA in silver and New Zealand in bronze.
Meanwhile, Team Ireland finished fifth and secured their ticket for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games alongside Britain, Sweden and Switzerland.
It was Germany’s third team title in the 15 editions of the FEI Eventing World Championship and the team of Julia Krajewski (Amande de B’Neville), Christoph Wahler (Carjatan S), Sandra Auffarth (Viamant du Matz) and Michael Jung (fischerChipmunk FRH) won on their best ever finishing score of 95.2 to hold off the USA by 5.1 penalties.
Germany first won a world title on home ground in Aachen in 2006 and did it again at Caen in Normandy, France in 2014 with Auffarth and Jung also on that side. The biggest shock of the day was Britain – who hold both the European and Olympic team title – falling off the podium in what was a mixed championship for the dominant eventing nation, however, individual Yasmin Ingham (25) did them proud to claim the individual title on her senior championship debut.
British dressage record
As the dressage phase drew to a close on Friday evening, Britain’s spectacular team total of 69.2 set a new World Championship dressage record and they were well in command heading into the cross-country, with 6.9 to spare of the German team in silver medal position.
Team USA were in the bronze medal position while New Zealand were fourth, just 1.3 penalties behind. Australia France, Japan, Belgium, Switzerland and the host nation of Italy made up the top 10 of the 16 competing teams, while Ireland were well down the leaderboard in 12th place but were always expected to rise in the jumping phases.
Individually, Michael Jung, three times individual European champion, twice Olympic individual champion and hoping to win his second individual World title, ousted Britain’s Laura Collett (19.3) from the top of the individual leaderboard when posting his best ever score of 18.8 with fischerChipmunk FRH.
Saturday’s cross-country competition attracted 22,000 spectators to the stunning venue outside of Rome and the atmosphere was electric as a total of 87 horse-and-rider partnerships tackled the challenging 30-fence track set by course designer, and event director, Guiseppe della Chiesa.
Some 72 of those combinations completed the course and just 11 managed to make the nine minutes 50 seconds time. Another 13 were eliminated and three retired on course.
With four superb cross-country clear rounds, three inside the time, Germany climbed into gold medal position after the influential cross-county, and Michael Jung maintained his gold medal position.
The defending champions from Britain dropped from pole position down to bronze, while Team USA moved up from third to silver medal position.
Among the big upsets was second-placed Laura Collett and London 52 who incurred 20 penalties for a run out at fence 7c, the final skinny fence at the bottom of the famous ‘KEP Italia Slide’. However, Ros Canter (Lordships Graffalo) and Oliver Townend (Ballaghmor Class (ISH)) were both clear inside the time and Tom McEwen (Toledo de Kerser) finished with 4.8 time penalties.
Townend said the cross-county course was “a very fair and cleverly designed test but I don’t think it particularly suits some of the older horses such as London, Ballaghmor Class, Toledo de Kerser who have been around big five-stars like Badminton and Burghley because this is definitely smaller dimensionally and you are up and down the hills and the terrain is tough. They want big open courses that they can attack.”
Jung also voiced his concerns about the track, but was happy with Chipmunk after his clear, saying: “At the end he was so super galloping and felt like he could do it all again! I was staying on the brake most of the way, I tried to keep him relaxed, and it’s fantastic how quickly he can think, he’s a big horse with a big stride and at that 7abc fence he was so super that I could jump the two hedges with a little smile on my face!”
USA added just the 0.8 time faults picked up by Will Coleman and Off the Record (ISH) to their scoreline to overtake the British. Lauren Nicholson and Vermiculus collected 5.6 time faults but both Boyd Martin and Tsetserleg TSF and Tamra Smith and Mai Baum were clear and quick.
That moved Smith up into the individual bronze medal position behind Jung and Yasmin Ingham who moved into second following Collett’s exit from the top of the leaderboard.
The Irish team of Sam Watson (SAP Talisman), Padraig McCarthy (Fallulah), Susie Berry (Monbeg by Design) and Austin O’Connor (Colorado Blue) climbed a huge seven places in the cross-country to fifth place after all four riders came home clear with just time penalties to add.
Sam Watson was the Irish pathfinder and second out on course with SAP Talisman (ISH). He said: “I really enjoyed that even though it was hard work. If it’s not hard work if we all go clear in the time and then today doesn’t matter so much.
“This is high performance sport and I think you have to be a genius now to push us out of our comfort zone and make it horse friendly to jump around. The course designer for me has done his job. It’s a very safe track to jump but it’s a hard track to ride, congratulations Guiseppe!”
No one could quite predict the drama on the final day over Uliano Vezzani’s 13-fence jumping track which would have a significant influence when only 12 of the 68 starters returned without penalties.
It seemed that individual gold was destined to land with Jung for the second time in this career. But he had to settle for fifth in the end when knocking the first element of the bogey double at fence 11 along with the final planks, with Britain’s newest star Yasmin Ingham claiming the gold at her first time of trying.
Jung’s finishing score of 26.8 would still count towards the German winning total of 95.2 however when both reigning individual Olympic champion Julia Krajewski and Christoph Wahler jumped clear, discarding the 12 faults collected by 2014 world champion Sandra Auffarth.
As the day began Team USA’s Tamra Smith (Mai Baum), Boyd Martin (Tsetserleg TSF), William Coleman (Off the Record) and Lauren Nicholson (Vermiculus) were already lying in silver-medal spot after a great cross-country run while the dressage leaders from Great Britain were in bronze.
When Olivier Townend entered the arena in fourth place individually with the Noel Hickey-bred Ballaghmor Class (Courage II), a clear round would have secured the gold medal for Britain, however it unravelled early on and he finished with four fences down which meant Britain dropped off the podium and Townend dropped to 16th place.
A brilliant clear from Will Coleman and the Irish Sport Horse Off The Record helped the USA hold on to silver. The Americans haven’t been on the world championship team podium since posting their second victory in the history of the event in 2002.
In the end, it was New Zealand who took the bronze medal, flanked by two brilliant final day clear from the husband-and-wife duo of Tim and Jonelle Price (Falco and McClaren). Monica Spencer (Artist) made the incredibly long trip from the southern hemisphere well worthwhile when joining Clarke Johnstone (Menlo Park) on the third step of the podium.
Susie Berry was the only of the Irish to manage a clear over the coloured poles and she did so with class aboard Helen Caton’s 10-year-old Irish Sport Horse Monbeg by Design (Pacino x Puissance) who was bred by Fiona Molloy. The pair had a shaky start in the dressage arena but rose throughout to eventually finish 27th with a score of 46.4 on their championship debut.
Best of the Irish was Austin O’Connor in 18th place with the lovely grey gelding Colorado Blue (Jaguar Mail x Rock Kind), bred by Kate Jarvey. Just one second over the time allowed on Saturday, they had an uncharacteristic two fences down towards the end of Sunday’s track.
Commenting on their Olympic qualification, acting High Performance director Dag Albert said: “We are all delighted, we can relax a bit now with Olympic qualification assured. They all performed brilliantly especially in Saturday’s cross-country. We all walked the course together and made a plan. They all stuck to it and rode brilliant – everyone played their part.”
Michael Jung: “To lose and win at the same time is a strange feeling to be honest! But I’m very happy, it was a great day, my horse jumped amazing, he was in super form, all of us were in good form and I just want to thank all our team behind us who help us come here and have a good performance all week and to win the gold medal with the whole team is amazing.”
Boyd Martin: “For us to have five clear rounds in the cross-country was awesome. I’ve been on many of these championship teams and it was so close over and over again today so it’s a massive sigh of relief.”
Susie Berry: “It was causing carnage everywhere but god he is such a good jumper. He fills you with confidence after the first few fences. He felt class. I’d say it’s the best he has ever jumped at a three-day; I think the big of atmosphere brings him alight. He felt incredible, I am thrilled.”
Austin O’Connor: “It was quite a different ride to any I have had on him with the terrain and the smaller dimensions of fences, it was a bit of a new experience, but he was very strong and maybe enjoying a little bit too much.”