Sunday, 28 August 2011

All In An Afternoon's Work | HSBC European Eventing Championships

William Fox-Pitt | Glued To Cool Mountain
Eventing at championship level is a challenge of the tallest order, just ask William Fox-Pitt who somehow managed to glue himself to the saddle not once, but twice during the cross country phase, see my photo sequence of his unfortunate stumble through the water. To top it all he finished clear, and inside the time, to keep Team GBR in the silver medal position, when horses and riders were falling like dominos throughout the day. If we gave a rosette for ‘man of the match’ he’d win hands down, and this really was 'save of the century'.

If you’ve been reading my earlier posts, you’ll know my own championship trip has been something of challenge in itself. I eventually arrived at about one thirty, and promptly on arrival, the rain subsided from the torrential downpour that had turned Luhmuhlen in late summer, to something more reminiscent of Badminton in May or Glastonbury in June – a sea of fine, sloshy mud. A lot of this was eased throughout the day by a constant stream of wood chippings laid down in the main thoroughfares by Event Director, Julia Otto's team. Sadly the sun failed to make an appearance until the crowds started to drift slowly away, and this must have been the largest crowd Luhmuhlen has ever seen, particularly impressive given the weather, just take a look at how deep the spectators were around the lake fence, and it was this busy at other significant complexes.

William Fox-Pitt

With so much rain over night and during the morning these conditions were bound to contribute to many a blotted score card, and you could see the deteriorating ground conditions was having an influence on rider’s intended routes. William Fox-Pitt had opted to take the alternative drop into the water at fence 14, which didn’t really ride anywhere near as smoothly as the fast route, but that fast route had suffered a heavily chewed up take off, albeit managed by the fence team after every horse through. Sam Watson also tried this route which prompted a refusal, followed swiftly by a clear through the faster route. The 7 fallers were almost all what you'd consider seasoned professionals, capable of winning medals, including Mary King, Karin Donkers and Andreas Dibowski.

The event's management team were hard at it from the previous day onwards making the going as rideable as possible, that it certainly was, as the results bear out, even with so many errors on course. Watching the re-run I notice a few horses that that took the same route as William through the water at 14 seemed to stumble a stride after landing, so I wonder if there was some uneven ground under the water.

Michael Jung | Sailed Round
On my short list of riders to watch was the current world champion Michael Jung. It's fascinating to watch all the different styles of cross country riding, whether it's Pippa Funnel's exuberant style, William's sit sill and look cool, or the 'running on all cylinders' Andrew Nicholson. Watching Michael Jung was truly inspirational. He makes it all look like pure and straightforward technique, from leaving the start box through to the water complex halfway round, you would be forgiven for thinking that every stride was ridden to a plan, and foot perfect. Nothing over ridden, nothing noticeably corrected, a joy to watch.

The Germans dominated from the beginning, and whilst there were probably a few secretly wishing they would unravel during the cross country, they held their own and now have a very serious chance of keeping all the medals in Germany. Team GER HQ in Musterland must have been busy fine tuning things since WEG, which means Chris Bartle's German must be coming on a treat!

With the demise of Team GBR's fortunes on the cross country, following a run out for Laura Collect, and a fall for Mary King, William is the closest to the medals, but needs at least 3 riders ahead of him to drop two rails. It's possible, but given the time was achievable in these testing conditions, it may be asking too much. I feel sorry for Laura as it would have been a real feather in her cap to walk away with an individual medal and put her squarely in contention for a slot on the London 2012 team.

Nicholas Touzaint
France too, has little chance at an individual medal this year, but is certain to walk away with a team medal. I was surprised to see Nicholas Touzaint gain any time time faults, as he was riding very forward as he passed through the water at 14, but this young guy already has a championship title or two under his belt, and it would be hard to imagine he won't make it on the team for the Olympics.

This leaves Sweden's Sara Algotsson-Ostholt as the fly in the German's ointment, currently lying in 3rd, and with no room for error tomorrow, there's still plenty to play for. I'll be back then with more photos.......

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