Triumphing on home ground, Germany has been handed its 11th European team title on a plate when other nations failed to keep pace with the might of established German horsepower.
France, world champions and leaders of the Super League Nations Cup series, began to lose their grip in the second round and widened the gap to silver, while the Swiss pulled out all the stops to overcome a shaky start and take bronze, which has qualified them for the Olympics.
Ireland, the defending champions, who were within a sniff of bronze, dropped to fifth and have also qualified, while the sixth-placed Italians rode for their life to thrash Britain to the final slot.
The British team finished ninth, so the only chance of Olympic representation now lies with gaining individual slots through the FEI rankings on May 1, 2004. Currently, Robert Smith and Michael Whitaker would get the two places afforded to unqualified Northern European nations.
“Sickening,” was how the outgoing performance director Matt Straker described Britain’s result. “I really thought this was a team that would do something.”
In truth, the British horses looked good and jumped well, but there was an insidious accruing of faults and when the Italians, who are, ironically, at the bottom of the Super League, produced two fantastic clears, the writing was on the wall.
Nick Skelton, who jumped Britain’s only clear round today on Arko is the only British rider in the top 25 – in lowly 24th place, which is hardly worth the bother.
Germany’s Marcus Ehning is deservedly in first place in the individual standings, which will be decided on Sunday. A Swiss 21-one-year-old, Steve Guerdat, whose father Philippe had a distinguished record, is in second, ahead of compatriot Beat Mandli. Kevin Babington, who has now jumped three wonderful clear rounds for Ireland, is fourth.
Team results: 1, Germany, 15,15 faults; 2, France, 25.30; 3, Switzerland, 28,86; 4, Belgium, 34,14; 5, Ireland, 34,79; 6, Italy, 39,14; 7, Sweden, 41,88; 8, Netherlands, 50,85, 9, Great Britain, 55,08; 10, Austria, 67.23.
Individual standings: 1, Marcus Ehning/For Pleasure (GER), 4, 01; 2, Steve Guerdat/Tepic La Silla (SUI), 4,54; 3, Beat Mandli/Pozitano (SUI), 5,48; 4, Kevin Babington/Carling King (IRL), 5,87; 5, Michel Robert/Galet d’Auzay (FRA) 6,42; 6, Samantha McIntosh/Hildon Fleche Roughe (BUL), 7,14.
Full results on www.chi-donaueschingen.de