Britain’s riders performed brilliantly again today (20 August) to remain in the hunt for medals — and crucially, for a Rio 2016 Olympic qualification — at the FEI European Showjumping Championships in Aachen, Germany.
Having been third after yesterday’s speed leg, the team now hold fourth place. They are just 2.59 penalties behind the Germans in bronze position and within one fence of the Dutch, who are lying second before tomorrow’s final team contest.
Joe Clee was one of Britain’s star performers again today in the Mercedes-Benz-sponsored class and his clear with Ludwig Criel’s Utamaro D’Ecaussines means he retains third individually.
“I was more relaxed than yesterday,” said Joe. “My horse jumped great — he was a bit too good in the beginning [jumping too big] but he settled down after fence four.”
The pressure was on Britain’s final two riders, Joe and Michael Whitaker, after mixed fortunes for the first two.
Pathfinder Ben Maher was having a superb round until the last combination, which was meant to be taken on two strides. But Ben’s ride, Tatiana Korsakova’s Diva II, took off after one stride, landing in the middle of the final oxer in a scatter of breaking poles. Ben did a fantastic job just to stay on the 10-year-old chestnut mare.
“She felt perfect the whole way and I purposefully took a longer line to the last double, to create a lot of pressure for her [to jump this double of big oxers],” said Ben.
“I put pressure on her at the first — and she took off a stride early. It became a survival moment — four faults wasn’t a bad round today, but if I’d been on the floor it would have all been over.
“She’s still inexperienced and young. I don’t think I could have got it any better if I did it again. But she jumped as good as any horse and that’s the way it goes. It’s still a solid round for the team and hopefully it gives the others confidence.”
Individually, the error pushed Ben from seventh last night to 22nd, but Michael Whitaker said he deserved a medal just for staying on the mare.
Jessica Mendoza was next in and was unable to improve on her two fences down yesterday, with Sarah Mendoza’s Spirit T knocking down the last two parts of the treble at fence five, plus the silver Mercedes upright at 12.
With 12 faults on the board, it was clear that to remain competitive the British would need to drop Jessica’s score. Joe rose to the occasion — and then anchorman Michael Whitaker did the same, putting in a clear with Beverly Widdowson’s grey stallion Cassionato.
Afterwards, Michael was clearly emotional.
“I said when I came out of the ring I’ve never felt pressure like that — if I’d gone in and cocked it all up that would have been it, we wouldn’t have been going to the Olympics,” said Michael.
And he was right — had the team had to count Jessica’s 12 faults, they would have missed the cut for tomorrow’s final team competition, as only the top 10 teams go through, and it would all have been over for Britain’s Rio hopes.
Michael is now 22nd individually. The top 25 contest Sunday’s individual final.
Ireland also made it through to tomorrow, with a clear from Cian O’Connor (Good Luck) helping the team to ninth.
The Irish are also looking for Rio 2016 qualification, which goes to the top three nations here excluding those already qualified. The teams still in the mix for those crucial Olympic places are Great Britain (currently fourth), Switzerland (sixth), Spain (seventh), Denmark (eighth) and Ireland (ninth).
France take control
Germany dropped from first overnight to team bronze today, having to count one four fault round alongside two clears. Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum’s grey Fibonacci 17 had a toe in the water, while Christian Ahlmann and Taloubet Z took the back bar off the Turkish Airlines oxer at fence six.
But clears from Ludger Beerbaum (Chiara 222) — who retains second individually — and Daniel Deusser (Cornet D’Amour) kept the team in the medals.
“I wasn’t fully aware of all the other results, but I knew we needed a clear to stay in the game,” said Daniel.
France recorded three faultless rounds today, with Penelope Leprovost keeping her individual lead with Flora De Mariposa. She was backed up by Simon Delestre (Ryan Des Hayettes) and Kevin Staut (Reveur Du Hurtebsie HDC). They moved up to take the gold position overnight.
The Netherlands also added nothing to their score from yesterday and so bounced up the leaderboard from fifth to second.