The British were the dominant force once again when claiming team and individual gold along with individual silver at the 2012 FEI European Eventing Championships for Juniors in Strzegom, Poland yesterday. But it was a close-fought battle for the medals, with the defending champions meeting powerful opposition from the Irish who finished just three points behind in the team competition, and who claimed third and fourth places in the individual rankings.
The British record at these Championships, which were first staged in 1967, is second to none. And, having established the lead after dressage, they held on to win despite the loss of team member Isabella Innes Ker who was eliminated in Saturday’s cross-country phase.
A total of 83 riders from 18 countries - Austria, Belarus, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Great Britain, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Russia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland - vied for the honours, while 15 nations lined out in the team competition.
Into the Lead
Ground Jury members, Christina Klingspoor (SWE), Vanda Robinson (IRL) and Slowomir Pietrzak (POL) put Sophie How and Pebbly Aga Khan into the lead after dressage with a score of 35.00, and this partnership never looked back. Fellow-Briton Alfie Bradstock and Minimee slotted into seventh place with 44.60 while Alexandra Liddle’s 47.50 with Romeo Z was the scratch score for the British contingent in the early stages, when Innes Ker (Carolyn) put 45.60 on the scoreboard to slip into ninth.
The Irish were already threatening however, going into cross-country day just over four points in arrears after Tori Dixon and Shadow Light earned a dressage mark of 42.50 for joint-second spot, Harold Megahey and Chuckleberry slotted into fourth with 43.10 and Lucca Stubington was sixth with Kilminchy Condor (44.00), while Katie Moffatt’s 46.00 with Pick and Mix was the discard.
The French side of Justine Bonnet (Newton d’Hericourt), Robin Boulanger (Orpheo des Sablons), Thais Meheust (Quamilha) and Arthur Goncalves (Navarin de Carolles) were already 13 penalty points adrift, and although they were faultless throughout the remaining two phases, they could never make up the deficit as the two leading nations held firm.
There were plenty of refusals over the early part of the 25-fence cross-country course designed by Britain’s Ronald Alexander, with seven horse-and-rider combinations collecting 20 penalties at the fourth, and 13 more penalised at the two elements of fence seven where Norway’s Stine Hoff and Korall were eliminated for their third stop and Germany’s Julia Funtmann and Cotina went out of contention following a fall.
Innes Ker was almost home when eliminated for parting company with Carolyn at fence 22, but when Liddle’s good clear inside the time was added to similarly foot-perfect performances from both How and Bradstock, the British still had the bit between their teeth going into the final jumping phase. Their lead had dwindled to just 2.50 penalty points however as all four of the Irish returned from their cross-country gallop with flying colours, and it was a tense battle in the closing stages.
Reduced to only a three-strong side, the British were under intense pressure, and although How and Bradstock left all the coloured poles intact, Liddle added three faults to her scoreline. If the best three of the Irish now all went clear they would snatch team gold for only the second time in the 45-year history of these championships, and it was well on the cards when both Megahey and Stubington each returned with a clean sheet.
But a single error from Dixon maintained the status quo in the team ratings and dropped the Irish girl from joint-second to ninth place in the individual standings.
Germany missed out on the team medals by a margin of just over five penalty points to finish fourth ahead of Italy in fifth and Sweden in sixth place, and 14 of the 15 competing nations completed the team event.
Individual competitor, Emily King, finished closest to the gold medal winning score of former British pony team gold medallist and fellow-Briton Sophie How when completing on her dressage mark of 42.50 for individual silver. With just a 0.6 point advantage going into the final day, King held her nerve to pin Ireland’s Megahey into bronze medal spot while Ireland’s Stubington (Kilminchy Condor) finished a close fourth ahead of Germany’s Pauline Knorr (Abke’s Boy) in fifth and Britain’s Bradstock (Minimee) in sixth.
This was the 18th team and 17th individual gold medal winning success for Great Britain since these Championships first took place at Eridge (GBR) in 1967.
The championships have marked an important stepping stone in the careers of many future stars of the sport of eventing, including Britain’s London 2012 Olympic Games team silver medallists William Fox-Pitt who claimed individual silver at Junior level in Pratoni del Vivaro, Italy back in 1987 and Tina Cook (then Gifford) who helped secure team gold that same year.
FEI European Eventing Championships for Juniors 2012 - Individual : GOLD - Pebbly Aga Khan (Sophie How) GBR 35.00; SILVER - Mr Hiho (Emily King) GBR 42.50; BRONZE - Chuckleberry (Harold Megahey) IRL 43.10.
FEI European Eventing Championships for Juniors 2012 - Teams : GOLD - Great Britain 130.10 - Pebbly Aga Khan (Sophie How) 35.00, Minimes (Alfie Bradstock) 44.60, Romeo Z (Alexandra Liddle) 50.50, Carolyn (Isabella Innes Ker) Elim; SILVER - Ireland 133.60 Chuckleberry (Harold Megahey) 43.10, Kilminchy Condor (Lucca Stubington) 44.00, Shadow Light (Tom Dixon) 46.50, Pick and Mix (Katie Moffatt) 50.00; BRONZE - France 142.70 - Newtown d’Hencourt (Justine Bonnet) 45.60, Orpheo des Sablons 9Robin Boulanger) 46.50, Quamilha (Thais Meheust) 50.60, Navarin de Carolles (Arthur Goncalves) 59.20.
Full Results: www.results.strzegom2012.pl