After an action-packed day in the grounds of the historic Służewiec Racecourse, it was team Austria, fresh from their podium finish at the European Championships, that clinched the top spot to take home the Longines EEF Series Final trophy in Warsaw. Amy Powell reports on the day’s sport.
It was certainly a roller coaster of emotions today for the ten nations coming together for the culmination of the Longines EEF Series 2023, and the tension in the air was palpable. But hot favourites and newly crowned European bronze medallists, Austria held their nerve to deliver a perfect score of zero, with Gerfried Puck, Katharina Rhomberg and Max Kühner all on board their European Championship partners (Equitron Naxcel V, Cuma 5 & Elektric Blue P) each producing double clears, with Alessandra Reich completing the team with Europeans partner, Oeli R, to be crowned the Series champions for the first time.
“I said in Milan [at the European Championships] all I can give is good vibes, they have to ride and they have the training. They are excellent riders.” Chef d’Equire Angelika May said of her team of the hour. “I’m so proud of them all, Max [Kühner] had the best nerves to go last because it all depended on him in the end, but they were all great.” She beamed.
As Austria’s leading show jumper, Max is no longer the lone wolf of the nation and is instead supported by a team of incredible talent who can perform as well as him under pressure when vying for the top step of the podium at competitions of this calibre. “Show jumping is a team sport and if we can all achieve something as a team it’s very motivating. Two weeks ago, when we earned the qualification for the Olympics as a team, and then performing as they have today, this is a big deal,” he said of their recent results. “I’m very grateful that we have some amazing riders coming up the ranks and helping, it gives me great hope for the future.”
Taking second place in today’s final and pushing Austria right down to the last rider for each team, was Chef d’Equipe Fabienne Daigneaux’s Belgian team of Rik Hemeryck on board Navarro van het Eelshof, Gilles Thomas and Luna van het Dennehof, Virginie Thonon riding Just the Way and Wilm Vermier with Joyride S. After round one, the team were a single fence behind the Austrians, with Gilles and Wilom producing two incredible clear rounds over the testing track. But unfortunately, as it can do in a two-round competition, the wheels came off for Virgine and Just the Way who had a difficult second round culminating in a refusal at the final element of the tricky Longines Treble combination at fence 11 (which caught out riders throughout the day), and subsequently retired. Meaning that the double clear from Wilm and Joyride S wasn’t quite enough to carry the team to glory with a total team score of 12.
Holding out for a podium finish, it was Ukraine’s day to celebrate as they took third place ahead of some incredibly strong teams. Chef d’Equipe Tatiana Sheinich was visibly emotional and proud of her team who could have been considered somewhat of the Series underdogs, consisting of Alisa Danilova riding Cossinelle, Mykola Pylypeiko and Karat, Anastasia Bondarieva on Calder and Oleksandr Prodan with Moneymaker van’t Meulenhof. The delighted team posted an incredible first-round score of 4 with two clear rounds from Mykola and Oleksandr, but sadly incurred 17 combined faults in the second round to take third place with a final score of 21, ahead of Switzerland, who finished just three penalty points behind them with 24.
Course designer Gregory Bodo designed a challenging track for today’s teams to get their heads around, and it certainly showed in the results with strong team contenders, France unable to field a finishing score along with Slovakia. But with clever lines and a course that grew in technicality as it went on, he allowed the talent to shine through and provided the packed arena with a spectacle of a Final.
“My philosophy for this course was for it to cater to all of the nations competing. It obviously was a challenging course, but that is normal because this is the Longines EEF Series Final.” Gregory said of his track. “The start of the course was very fluent to build the horse’s confidence and the purpose from fence 6 onwards was to encourage riders to think, and my reason for the plank at the top of the final jump [which caused it’s fair share of upset throughout the two rounds] was to make sure they remaining concentrating until the end – a round isn’t over until the last fence is cleared.”
And, after a season of incredible sport, that is exactly what the Austrian team delivered under the Polish sunshine to become the Longines EEF Series 2023 Champions.