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June 20, 2006

Chardon Clinches An Eighth Victory At Aachen

Going into the cones, Ysbrand Chardon could have one ball down and still win the Aachen CAIO (Germany). But the reigning World Cup
champion did not even use this margin as he drove to his eighth Aachen victory with a clear obstacle round on May 21.

"I guess the ratio is almost one to two. I have competed at Aachen 18 or 19 times, and I have won eight times. I really like to come to Aachen," said Chardon with a laugh.

Even more important for him than a victory in the CAIO will be victory in the World Equestrian Games at Aachen in August. With three individual world titles he holds the record, but he would like add a fourth.

"There are more drivers who have won the title two times. They could catch up with me if one of them were to win this year," he said.

These drivers include Michael Freund, but for the two-time World Champion things did not go as well as hoped at Aachen, where he won in 1994 and 2004 before claiming the World Champion title. The circumstances around his doping case, especially the protest launched by Felix Brasseur and Zoltan Lazar against the FEI's verdict of not guilty, have cost him a lot of strength. He finished eighth.

"After I was informed about the protest by my driver colleagues, I wanted to give up the sport," he said. "Only my family and good friends convinced me to continue through the WEG at Aachen. I cannot understand the behavior of these drivers. They should be happy that one of them has fought this through, because it could happen to any of them."

In the dressage Chardon secured the lead (41.47). In the marathon a third place was sufficient for him to stay in the lead with a margin of more than 3 points over the marathon winner Werner Ulrich of Switzerland. He finally took the victory with a score of 114.18.

Ulrich, the 1998 individual World Champion, won the marathon last year. After a fifth place in dressage and a clear obstacle round he finished second (117.23) with his mainly Swiss-bred 8- to 13-year-old team.

"I have the best team since I won the World Championship in 1998. They are very steady," he said. "I guess I have good chances for this year's World Championships."

Due to heavy rain the ground in the marathon became extremely deep. The course in the Aachen forest, which attracted 24,000 spectators in spite of the bad weather, had been built with only seven instead of eight hazards this year. On Saturday morning hazard 7 was taken out. Nevertheless, at the end of the starting list drivers were at a disadvantage.

The dressage started well for the U.S. team. Though Chester Weber had to compete under extremely bad weather conditions--heavy rain and stormy wind, which made parts of the decorations fly around and forced officials to forbid use of the temporary, covered stands--he finished with a score of 46.08, sharing fifth place with Ulrich.

Tucker Johnson had an even better performance, coming in second (44.67), while Jim Richards finished 17th (57.73). Johnson and Weber, members of the 2002 WEG silver-medal team, both could have scored higher with a better walk, but the American team was in the lead ahead of Belgium and Germany after dressage.

In the marathon Weber needed the second-longest time of the 25 teams in obstacle 1, but he had the fastest time in obstacle 5. The reigning U.S. champion finished the marathon in 12th position (76.06) and was fifth in the intermediate standings.

Johnson, who had the disadvantage of going as the fourth-to-last competitor, took a safe drive, finishing 22nd (88.35). He had the 11th-best time in hazard 4, which was considered the most difficult one but the slowest time in hazard 5, where he got stuck after element F.

Richards (97.78) came out of the marathon one place behind Johnson. After the second leg Johnson had slipped down to 13th position and the U.S. team to fifth place.

In the cones Richards was eliminated. Johnson had a ball down at the last obstacle but stayed in the time in this tough course to place 12th (136.02). Weber had balls down at obstacle 10C, the zig-zag, and at 15 in the 20- obstacle course, plus 0.76 time penalties, which cost him two places in the combined competition finishing seventh (128.9).

The Nations Cup was won by the Belgian team (250.32) ahead of Hungary (251.96) and Switzerland (252.72), which were all lying very close together. The United States finished sixth, behind Germany and the Netherlands.

"I was very, very pleased with my dressage test and my second place," said Johnson. "It still had a few mistakes, I guess, which I can fix over the summer. It was the best dressage I had in the last two years, since I started driving these young horses. With the marathon I feel very lucky that my horses came off sound. It was so deep that I was really thinking about withdrawing. When I decided to go, my first aim was to get through it without harming my horses. In the cones it was my mistake to have a fault at the last obstacle."
 
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