Cian O’Connor: WEG surpassed all my expectations [H&H VIP]

  • The 2014 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games provided us with great sport and surpassed my expectations of excitement and world class competition.

    It was interesting to watch and study others in a way that is not possible when you’re competing yourself. To walk the courses, observe the riders huddle in tactical and technical team discussions, watch them in the warm-up arena and note those who rise to the top under pressure, was a real revelation.

    What struck me initially was the vast number of competitors who made it here: 153 in all, and 33 teams. It’s a great indicator of how much the sport is growing, but I would think in the future some form of qualification may take place. Even for the die-hard enthusiast, the first two days of jumping were painfully long.

    The opening speed leg caused some disquiet, with some countries complaining that it was far too small. The course-designer Frederic Cottier, who was a successful international French rider, proved to doubters that he knew exactly what he was doing.

    By not building it too high the first day, he encouraged the riders to gallop. This round untypically played a significant role in the final rankings.

    The first round of the Nations Cup was more serious and had a lot of width on the oxers. In fact this round was harder than the final team decider. Unusually, though, this championship wasn’t gut-busting, as was evident in the final rounds of both the team and individual courses, where both treble combinations had verticals coming out with very fair distances.

    In general the water fence and combinations played a minimal role, unlike almost every championship I can remember.

    From the very first day I was in awe of the quality of the rounds produced by Jeroen Dubbeldam. He’s a guy who sets his mark out each year and specifically aims to deliver at the championships. He did it again here, helping the boys in orange take gold and becoming our new world champion.

    His rounds look in perfect control. He was always giving the horse the necessary time to jump the fences clear. Winner of the Sydney Olympics in 2000, he has won numerous medals since and is one of the top riders I really admire, as he knows how to produce results when it matters.

    I thought it was a shame — although I can understand it — that many big names pulled out before the top 30 final. It would be like going to Cheltenham and finding out after the second race that AP McCoy and Ruby Walsh were not going to race further!

    The sport has developed at an extraordinary pace during the past five years. Higher prices for the top horses and huge prize-money on offer has turned the sport into big business, which I would like to think will trickle down the line and help all involved in the industry.

    WEG is seen by some as a lot of jumps for not much pay. Perhaps the top 30 final should become the largest prize-fund in international showjumping? The solution should be debated by the powers-that-be, because a balance must be found between prestige and money.

    You can win all the classes you like, but winning medals and becoming world champion is worth more in so many ways than all the five-star victories put together.

    The Irish lads jumped out of their skin all week with Bertram winning the opening leg to add to his tally of epic performances this season. All focus will now be on winning a medal at next year’s European Championships in Aachen to earn one of the three European team slots for Rio.

    I’m certainly motivated by all I saw in Normandy, but I don’t intend on being a tourist when the Europeans come round!