The Dutch make history in a nail-biting finish.
“Some day it had to happen,” said German team rider Isabell Werth. “Two years ago at the European Championships at Hagen in Germany it almost happened.”
And at the European Dressage Championships near Torino, Italy, Aug. 30-Sept. 2, it finally did, as the Dutch defeated the Germans.
Werth put a positive spin on it for the Germans: “We have won silver and did not lose gold,” she said.
At the championship site in the nature park La Mandria at Druento, about 15 kilometers from Torino, Germany failed to win the team title for the first time in the history of the European Championships, which began in 1965. The last time that a German dressage team was beaten in international championships was in the 1972 Olympics at Munich (Germany), where the Soviet Union’s team won.
For the Dutch, it was the first team title ever. Anky van Grunsven said, “I have won all possible titles as an individual rider, but this is my first team gold medal, and this is of special value for me.”
The margin—1.29 percent—was pretty close and could largely be attributed to two judges. Dutch judge Wim Ernes had placed van Grunsven and Keltec Salinero first with 79.58 percent, while he had Werth and Satchmo 78 in fourth place with 75.20 percent. Two of the other judges had Werth in first place, and the other two judges had her second, behind van Grunsven, the 2004 Olympic champion.
And U.S. judge Gary Rockwell placed the 2002 World Champion Nadine Capellmann of Germany far below his four colleagues, with a score of 68.54 percent for 16th place. The other judges marked her between 72.70 and 74.16 percent.
Capellmann and Elvis VA finished fifth in the Grand Prix (72.41%). She had an obvious error in the one-tempi changes, and the piaffes were not settled. But the fact that Elvis received some 7s—along with 8s and 9s—in his top movement passage, was hard to understand for the rider and for the German team coach Holger Schmezer.
“After the announcement of Isabell’s result there was no frustration in our team. But if you analyze the result in detail, it is disappointing. Our riders have not been worse than the Dutch riders. Two judges have decided about gold and silver,” he said.
Werth looked at the situation philosophically: “If Germany does not win once, it might be good for our sport, as many people stated. It makes it more interesting, but, I hope, next year in the Olympics it will be our turn to win again.”
The Dutch championship newcomer, Hans-Peter Minderhoud, 33, and the 12-year-old Exquis Nadine took the lead with 70.45 percent as the first starter for the Dutch team and the second rider of the competition. He did not give away the lead till the end of the first quater of riders.
The first German competitor, Monica Theodorescu, Olympic team gold medalist in 1988, 1992 and 1996 as well as two-time World Cup Champion, made her return to the German team after 11 years. The event was sadly overshadowed by the sudden death of her father the week before the Europeans. She found her 9-year-old ride Whisper 128 as a 4-year-old through her long-time friend and 1988 Olympic gold team colleague, Ann Kathrin Linsenhoff.
The Europeans were just the 10th Grand Prix tournament for the Baden-Wuerttemberg gelding. The elegant horse, whom she had trained with her late father, showed cool nerves in the ring and did not react to a jetfighter over his head. He was relaxed and supple and in good elevation. Two major mistakes—when he started cantering instead of going into passage out of the collected walk and had a fault in the one tempis—kept his percentage below 70 percent. She finished with 69.70 percent, in 12th.
Dutch rider Laurens van Lieren and Hexagon’s Ollright, who received 8s and even one 9 for their extended trot, scored 68.54 percent, for 15th. In the extended walk the horse was not stretching its neck forward searching the bit, and he also had faults in the one-tempis and a poor transition to the last piaffe.
The Pressure Is On
Germany took over the lead after the first day following the ride of senior championships debutants Ellen Schulten-Baumer and Donatha S. The combination showed a smooth, powerful and flawless performance scoring 71.66 percent, which meant the lead after the first day and sixth place.
“The score does not show it, but this was probably the best Grand Prix performance we have ever done,“ said Schulten-Baumer.
On the second day of competition, the pressure on the German team intensified when van Grunsven and Salinero achieved their high score with a faultless test, although not without tension.
The Dutch team took another step toward the gold medal with the ride of Imke Schllekens-Bartels, 30, and her Hanoverian mare Hunter Douglas Sunrise. The combination showed a polished ride with highlights in the one tempis and the extended walk. With 74.16 percent, they finished in fourth.
Finally it was Werth’s turn to save the German gold medal. Her minimum score to achieve that aim was 77.99 percent—still a possibility. But when Satchmo started cantering before the trot half-passes to the left at the beginning of the test, normally one of his highlights, it was clear that there was nearly no chance to rescue gold for Germany.
With 76.75 percent, the Hanoverian gelding stayed about 1 percent below the “gold mark” and had to be satisfied for the first time this year with the runner-up position.
“That Satchmo started cantering before the half-passes was my fault. I had risked too much and used my left leg too strongly,“ said Werth.
With third place, Sweden secured its qualification for the 2008 Olympic Games. For the first time for several years it was not Jan Brink and the Swedish stallion Bjorsells Briar 899 delivering the team’s highest score.
“This is quite unusual for me, but I had worked Briar too long before going into the ring. But I am more happy that the team was able to win the bronze medal and the Olympic qualification,” said Brink.
Tinne Wilhelmsson-Silf-ven posted the top score of the Swedish team, 71.04 percent aboard her expressive Solos Carex. The highlights of the test were the one- and two-tempis.
Per Sandgaard, who formerly competed for Denmark, made his debut on the Swedish team with the 11-year-old, KWPN gelding Orient.
Sharing Individual Honors
In a repeat of the 2006 World Equestrian Games, Werth and Satchmo won the individual title in the Grand Prix Special, and the next day van Grunsven and Salinero won the title in freestyle. In each class the other rider won the silver medal. Both bronze medals went to Schellekens-Bartels and Sunrise, their first individual medals.
Going into the ring in the Special as third-to-last of 30 competitors, Werth scored 78.36 percent for her excellent ride, but she still wasn’t guaranteed the victory until van Grunsven came out of the arena with a 77.48 percent. Only the Dutch judge Ernes had Werth in second place behind van Grunsven, but in that case just by .2 percent. The Swiss judge Beatrice Bürchler-Keller had both combinations in first place with exactly 77 percent.
Werth admitted, “The pressure was much higher for me this year than last year in the World Equestrian Games. When I was riding into the Special with Satchmo at Aachen, nobody, including myself, expected me to win the title. But since I became Special World Champion I am not the hunter anymore, I am now the one being hunted. I am back on the same level with Anky van Grunsven.”
For the lawyer, who now concentrates on training horses in her own riding center at Rheinberg, the Special medal was her fifth individual title at European Championships after 1991, 1993, 1995 and 1997 (all with her famous ride Gigolo) and the 12th gold medal at European Championships overall. But it was the first individual gold medal since 1997, when she had beaten her rival van Grunsven aboard Bonfire. At that time the scores from the three classes had been added together.
In the 1998 WEG, Werth won ahead of van Grunsven, but in the last meeting between the two legendary combinations in the 2000 Olympics, van Grunsven turned the page and won aboard Bonfire. While van Grunsven returned victoriously aboard Salinero in the 2004 Olympics, Werth had not made her comeback yet.
Two individual titles were awarded in the 1991 and 1993 European Championships as well as in the 1994 World Championships, but in all of those championships the riders had to decide before the Grand Prix for which Final they wanted to qualify. In both of her European titles, Werth won aboard Gigolo in the Special.
“In the Grand Prix Special all riders have to perform the same movement in the same spot,” she said. “Therefore the value of the performance can be judged more easily than in the freestyle. The kur has compulsory movements, but through the artistic mark and the possibility to hide with a skillful choreography the weak points of one’s horse, the performance can be judged less objectively.”
She added, “For the less competent audience the freestyle test is certainly more attractive. Certainly no rider minds having two sets of individual medals.“
Van Grunsven has a different take on the freestyle: “It is true that I might be able to hide weaker points of a horse through the choreography a bit, but to perform a correct freestyle test appears to me even more difficult than to ride a Grand Prix or a Grand Prix Special, since I have to concentrate to be exactly on the spot with my freestyle test to make it synchronize with the music.”
Werth had scored 83.20 percent in the freestyle, but as the last rider, van Grunsven topped Werth’s result with 85.80 percent. Once again, the music had been perfectly adjusted to the choreography, and the performance was of highest artistic value.
Both individual bronze medals were won by Schellekens-Bartels with Sunrise, performing nearly faultless rides with expression.
But the pictures of the rides would be even better if the mare would not twist her tail throughout the competition.
A Bright Future
Though she was participating in her third senior European Championships—in addition to the 2004 Olympic Games and the 2006 World Equestrian Games—Victoria Max-Theurer, 21, was the youngest rider in Torino. The Austrian competed her Oldenburg gelding Falcao.
The Europeans marked the first time that Max-Theurer, the daughter of the 1979 individual and 1980 Olympic champion, Elisabeth Max-Theurer, made it into the freestyle final in an international championship. Since the active career of her mother ended after the 1994 WEG, it was also the first time an Austrian dressage rider had made it into a final at international championships. With 71.35 percent she placed 12th.
Considering the number of top Grand Prix horses, she has in her barn, mostly self-trained to top level by the help of her father, Victoria Max-Theurer will have a good chance to stand on the podium herself one day.
Denmark’s Princess Nathalie zu Sayn-Wittgenstein had some bad luck at the European Championships.
She had finished her freestyle with a score above 72 percent, when her gelding Rigoletto neighed just as the applause started. He jumped out of the ring and lost his rider who dismounted, though in an elegant manner, and mounted again.
She rode back into the ring and left in the correct spot, but she was still disqualified for leaving the ring in an incorrect manner. Since the Danish riders will have to qualify individually for the Olympics it is an especially hard turn of events for her to lose this result for the FEI World Rankings.
Only five European nations can qualify for the 10 team places in the 2008 Olympics, in which there will be just three riders per team. Germany and the Netherlands had qualified through their placings in the 2006 World Equestrian Games, along with the U.S. team as the bronze medalists.
In the Europeans, Sweden earned its qualification, along with Switzerland and Great Britain as fourth- and fifth-placed teams.
Denmark, the sixth-placed team, still has a chance, if the teams from South America or Asia/Pacific do not meet the certifications of capability. Additionally, if three Danish riders qualify by their placings in the world rankings, they could also form a team for Hong Kong.