The Brits came to the FEI European Championships in Aachen to qualify for the Olympic Games and they were unswerving in their objective; meeting it this evening as the third and final day of the Team competition came to a close.
Finishing in 4th place they picked up one of the three qualifying tickets available as a result of being the second highest placed nation yet to gain their place at Rio. Their performances throughout had seen GB sit in 4th position at the end of Day 2, a position they retained through to this evening when the Team competition came to a close.
It was literally just a fraction of a penalty that kept GB out of the medal placings having finished 0.76 of a penalty behind Switzerland who took the Bronze medal on a score of 18.23. The Gold went to the Netherlands whilst home nation Germany, finished in Silver. France, whom had held the lead overnight crashed and burned with their final team riders which resulted in them sliding down into 5th position having held on to the lead from the start.
Ben Maher and the British Bred chestnut mare Diva II, owned by Tatiana Korsokova, put in an absolutely brilliant clear to get GB off to a flying start. Having added drama to the competition yesterday when Diva took a stride out of the double she seemed to have put this entirely behind her, coming into the arena looking like she couldn’t wait to get stuck in and show the world what she is made of! As we move towards Sunday when the Individual medals will be decided Ben sits in 10th place. Speaking after his round he commented “It’s been a lot of pressure today for different reasons and I definitely felt it. Diva is in the form of her life right now and she’s only 10. She hasn’t jumped too many tracks like this in her life, but I believed in her and she came out and showed that yesterday hadn’t fazed her. We are in a good position individually so we need to make a big decision but it’s the team that is important.”
19 year-old Jess Mendoza with her mother’s British Bred brown mare Spirit T put in the round of her life when she attacked the course head on. Leaving all fences standing, it was just a toe in the water in what was otherwise an absolutely faultless round, that saw them return with 4 penalties. Talking through her round after she had come out of the arena she said “I think I was concentrating so hard on clearing the fences that I let it slip at the water. She jumped really well today; I think the first few days I wasn’t used to the arena and it’s also completely different for her. But today she jumped brilliant and I gave it all I could.
“I’ve gained a lot of experience here this week and I think there is a lot of things I would do differently; I need to be a lot more aggressive from the start. It was my mistake at the water, she jumped amazingly and I’m just really really happy”.
Joe Clee, whom had jumped clear across both the opening and 2nd leg of the competition with Ludwig Criel’s bay stallion Utamaro d’Ecaussines were caught at the last part of the combination, an obstacle that caught so many. A mainstay of the British Nations Cup teams with their consistent clears, it was not only uncharacteristic but also heart-wrenching bearing in mind how strongly they had made their presence felt from the start. Joe now sits in 8th position as an Individual going into Sunday when the Individual medals will be decided. Talking afterwards he said “We came here to qualify for the Olympics and we’ve done that. We all had the same purpose here and it was about qualifying for Rio. The team spirit has been great and I really think the team spirit carries you through. I am so confident in my horse, he has the most tremendous amount of scope and he has shown he can do it. It was a miscommunication that caused the error on the course not a lack of scope and I am so proud of him.”
Anchorman Michael Whitaker with Beverley Widdowson’s talented and eye-catching grey Cassionato were unlucky to lower two fences on the course just outside the time allowed to incur 9 penalties. This brilliant ten year-old produced an outstanding clear yesterday to position GB in the 4th place finish that they retained. Commenting afterwards “The main thing we wanted to do was qualify for Rio and I’m very happy that we have done it. Everyone on the team has worked really hard to get here and Cassionato has learnt so much here this week. He has never seen fences like these and has been under such pressure. He is just going to come back better and stronger next year, he is a tremendous horse and I’m so pleased with him.”
It was an elated Di Lampard, World Class Showjumping Performance Manager, that spoke to the press about securing GB a place at Rio to defend their Team Gold medal saying “I am just delighted to come away with Olympic qualification. It was a tremendous team performance and they have been fantastic. They have worked so well together, they get help and support each other tremendously, it’s why we have done so well.
“There was a lot at stake for the sport. It was imperative that we qualified for Rio and the pressure has been immense. Nothing compares to the pressure we have felt here, you carry that weight of your nation on your shoulders. There really isn’t anything that touches this moment and I’m just so proud of each and every one of the team riders, owners, horses and support crew - all of whom have given so much of themselves for us to be able to enjoy this moment.”
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