Germany’s Michael Freund could not have dreamed of a better ending to his active driving career than winning the FEI World Cup Driving Final. But his dream came true in Gothenburg, Sweden, on Feb. 25.
After a thrilling drive-off, Freund passed the finish line just 0.6 seconds ahead of title defender Ysbrand Char-don and was crowned FEI World Cup Driving champion for the fifth time in his career.
Freund, Christoph Sandmann and Chardon had qualified for the drive-off. The 8,000 spectators in the Scandinavium arena closely followed their performances. Swedish course designer Dan Henriksson had built a challenging course with technical and speedy aspects.
Chardon was first to go and gave everything he had to put pressure on the two German drivers. Sandmann was next to go and looked to be on his way to the win, but he knocked a ball off the last gate and dropped to third place.
Freund knew he had two choices either drive safely and stay clear, or risk everything. “I risked everything the last two years in Gothenburg, so I decided to go for the first option,” explained a smiling Freund. “The results of my fellow competitors were so close together that I realized that I could not make any mistakes.”
Freund drove a perfect clear round but was so focused that he did not notice that the clock was ticking away. Only when he passed the finish and looked on the scoreboard did he realize how close it was.
Neither Freund nor Sandmann had qualified for the World Cup Driving series during the outdoor season, but both were awarded wild cards to compete. Freund’s wild card granted him competition slots in German World Cup Driving shows only, since he’s the most popular driver in Germany. Freund announced his retirement from competition after the 2006 World Equestrian Games, but emerged for a farewell tour in the World Cup series.
Freund won his first World Cup start, in Stuttgart, Germany, in November, which qualified him to compete in Mechelen, Belgium, in January, where he promptly won again. The two wins confirmed his place in the starting order for the Final.
Dutch driver Koos de Ronde had a good World Cup series, winning in Stockholm, Sweden, in February. But he just missed a ticket for the drive-off in the Final when he knocked one ball down in the first round. “My horses went well and I am very pleased with my new lead horse. My leaders are so fast now that my wheelers cannot follow. I will consider using my outdoor horses in the wheel if I qualify for the FEI World Cup Driving again next season,” said de Ronde.
Swedish driver Tomas Eriksson made a small mistake in the first round but was nevertheless pleased with his fifth place.
“In this close competition, no mistakes are allowed. I totally blame myself because my horses went well,” explained Eriksson.