As in the two previous World Cup seasons, this year’s competition features a head-to-head battle between the Netherlands’ reigning World Cup Champion Ysbrand Chardon and Germany’s Michael Freund, who had said he was making last year’s World Cup season his farewell tour.
Due to the strange, often criticized qualifying system in the 2006 outdoor season, Freund and his 2006 World Equestrian Games teammate Christoph Sandmann did not qualify for the 2006-07 indoor season. Freund participated as a guest of the organizers with a wild card in the German shows at Hannover, Stuttgart and Leipzig, and at Mechelen in Belgium, winning both Mechelen and Stuttgart.
Freund has won all four World Cup qualifiers held at Leipzig, but this year, Jan. 19-21, it was Chardon’s turn to end Freund’s series of victories. After Leipzig both drivers share the lead in the World Cup standings. With the three best results counting, both Freund and Chardon have 27 points for two victories and one second place.
This year started as 2006 ended–with a meeting of these two outstanding drivers, which are without any doubt the world’s best indoor drivers. They know how to rouse a crowd of 8,000 enthusiastic fans and how to create a unique atmosphere.
In the warm-up class, which determined the starting order of the World Cup qual-ifier, Chardon put his nose in front of the German driver. Both teams drove clear, but Chardon took almost 5 seconds from Freund. Sweden’s Tomas Eriksson finished almost 14 seconds behind, plus an additional 5 seconds for a ball down.
In the FEI World Cup qualifier, these three former World Champions had qualified for the drive-off over Wolfgang Asendorf’s techni-cally demanding course. Eriksson went first in the final round with the third-best result of the eight initial drivers, but he already had 12 seconds more on his account than the leader. He further lost any chance to improve his placing when one of his reins got caught, forcing him to drive an extra circle in one of the marathon obstacles. He lost precious seconds and was not able to improve from his third place (271.49).
Freund entered the sold-out arena with a two-second deficit behind Chardon. The four-time World Cup winner knocked two balls down, giving Chardon, as the final starter, a comfortable two balls in hand.
Chardon started pretty calmly, but his horses still made the second round just half a second slower than Freund–and stayed clear. Finally, Chardon, the 2006 WEG individualsilver medalist, finished with of 238.10 penalties, to Freund’s 249.40.
Said Chardon, “I had knocked down a ball in the first round, but my horses went so fast that I finished ahead of Freund. I knew my horses could do it, so I just had to stay focused and concentrate.”
While the two Swiss drivers, Werner Ulrich and Daniel Wüergler, did not get around well in the warm-up competition, they showed better form in the World Cup class.
Ulrich, who has recovered well from back surgery, drove a nice clear round and was fourth. Currently ranking seventh, Ulrich (11) still has a small chance of qualifying for the World Cup Final at Gothenburg (Sweden) at the CAI-W Amsterdam (the Netherlands). Eriksson, currently sharing third place in the standings with Dutch driver Koos de Ronde (17), also has a chance to earn more World Cup points there.
Six drivers will qualify for Gothenburg’s Final to be held the last weekend of February. Hungary’s Jözsef Dobrovitz (15) stands fifth in the rankings, just ahead of Germany’s Christoph Sandmann (14), who will not participate in another qualifier. Wï¿½rgler also will not show in any more qualifiers. He was unlucky in Geneva, where he turned over the carriage. At Leipzig he pulled out a team of experienced Kladrubers, while he left his young team at home. This decision brought him a clear round and fifth place.
Like Freund, Germany’s Steffen Scholz and Sandmann received wild cards for Leipzig. Sholz, who comes from the Leipzig area, was thrilled to be invited again to compete at Leipzig, and a sixth place was satisfying. Sandmann wasn’t as happy. The runner-up at Hannover and Stuttgart had a clear round until the last obstacle of the initial round, but this one he took from the wrong side and was eliminated.
Though Freund had said farewell in the last World Cup Final at Gothenburg, he will return once more as a competitor. Freund said he will continue to be a presence in the sport as a trainer of his 10-year-old son Marco, as well as of the U.S. drivers Tucker Johnson and Chester Weber and young German drivers.