Individual glory for Germany’s Andre Thieme and his lovely mare DSP Chakaria brought the Longines FEI Jumping European Championship 2021 to the perfect close at Riesenbeck (GER) today. On an afternoon of spectacular sport, the 46-year-old rider rose from overnight silver into gold medal position in the first of two final rounds. And, once there, he held on tight, pinning Friday’s team gold medallists, Switzerland’s Martin Fuchs and Leone Jei, into silver while Sweden’s Olympic team gold and individual silver medallist Peder Fredricson and Catch Me Not took bronze.
And the new champion wasn’t holding back. At a press conference filled with joy, relief, reflection and laughter, Thieme said, “I’m just as much in love with that horse as I am with my wife – and she accepts that!”, before turning his attention to Fuchs.
The Swiss rider had teased him by calling Thieme “one of the happy ones!” when he met him yesterday in the aftermath of Friday’s team competition in which the hosts had to settle for silver. But the German rider pointed out that the result had been very close. “And he looked at me and said ‘did you really think you guys could beat us? He really said that!”, Thieme said with a laugh, very pleased that today that he had managed to turn the tables on the 29-year-old defending champion who had to settle for runner-up spot this time around.
It was vintage stuff from start to finish and course designer, Germany’s Frank Rothenberger, played a big part in ensuring drama and excitement all the way.
Fuchs was in the lead as the action began, but there was less than a fence between the first seven and less than two fences between the top 12 in the opening round in which the top-24 started. And when the Swiss rider’s fabulous nine-year-old, Leone Jei, hit the oxer after the water at fence nine, then he opened the door for his German rival whose mare made it look pretty easy as she posted a clear to take the lead.
Only the top 12 returned for the second-round medal-decider, and Fuchs was lying fourth on a score of 5.31 this time out, with the sensational partnership of Ioli Mtillneou and Levis de Muze from Greece in third on 4.64 and Sweden’s Fredricson now in silver medal spot, just over two points behind Thieme.
So when the Swiss star lowered the first element of the triple combination in the final round it seemed his chance was gone. But that fence caused multiple problems and when Mytillneou and her brilliant stallion met it all wrong she decided to retire. At 24 years old, and with relatively little experience compared to those she was competing against, it was a mature decision as Show President Ludger Beerbaum pointed out later in the day.
So that let Fuchs into bronze medal spot, and when Fredricson’s grey gelding hit the second fence Fuchs moved up into silver. Thieme could now afford one fence down but no more, and at the bogey triple combination he used up all his luck. But he kept his nerve to bring it home to the delight of the home crowd who roared their approval.
The new champion talked about the challenge of that second course.
“Walking it you could see that triple combination was going to be very difficult for everybody. The course designer was just very smart.” Andre Thieme (GER)
From fence three to four he gave us a floating forward six strides to a big oxer with bushes underneath, so you arrived with a lot of impulsion and then it was a bit downhill coming into those two tall verticals. So you had to ride it perfect, and even then there was a chance to have it down”, he explained.
“I got there (to the first part of the triple combination) exactly the way I wanted to, and them boom! I hit the front rail and I thought we have a long way to go. So I tried to stay calm, and she stayed calm with me and I don’t know how many times I can say it but I’m very blessed with that horse! It’s something very special. Tokyo (Olympic Games) came too early for us, we thought we could do it and then we paid our price, but she learned something in Tokyo and I learned something in Tokyo and I’m glad it came out this way!”, he added.
Show President, Ludger Beerbaum, paid tribute to Mytilineou whose copybook clear rounds throughout the week put her well in contention until today when things didn’t go right for her. “She showed us how a trusting relationship between a rider and horse can make such difficult courses look easy. And the way her horse jumps, your heart starts smiling by watching it…. I’m absolutely sure we will see this pair again in the top classes, and some day probably on the podium!”, he said.
Fuchs admitted that playing second fiddle doesn’t come easy for him. “For the first few minutes I was disappointed about the result, that it wasn’t good enough for gold, but now I’m really happy with silver! I’ll go home with two medals, one gold (team) one silver (individual). Andre was just better than me today and I hope one day I’ll be better than him!”, said the 2019 champion.
Fredricson blamed himself for the mistake with Catch Me Not made at the second fence, after he changed his original plan on how to ride that line. And, as he said, his time fault was also expensive. “But I think the course designer built in a really clever way, questions all the way around, time just tight enough. Like Martin, at first I was really disappointed with the choice I made….but 45 minutes later I feel happy for my bronze medal”, he said.
Multiple champion Ludger Beerbaum admitted that he took on a huge task when he offered to step in and run this Championship at Riesenbeck after it was cancelled last year. But this evening he was happy and relieved.
“I couldn’t be more happy or grateful for having the opportunity to host such an event. It was a brave decision, and the whole team knows what we had to deal with and it was a tough job, no question. But once we decided to go ahead with it we had a lot of support and positive energy from everyone. You have to be fortunate to get two weeks weather like this and we are thankful. We’ve seen great, great sport, a super podium and an unbelievable winner – and I’m also really pleased with number 4 Christian Kukuk who was really close, I’m delighted and well done to everyone!”, he said.
He wasn’t the only one feeling grateful after an amazing week at his fabulous venue surrounded by the Surenberg Forest.
Speaking on behalf of all the riders who competed at the Longines FEI Jumping European Championship 2021, silver medallist Martin Fuchs said, “Ludger thank you very much for organising this. We have seen many shows that have years and years of putting on a show, you didn’t have that and for all of us riders you are one of the the most inspiring people in the sport. We call you the legend behind your back!
“And now that you start to do even more for our sport and that you hold this European Championship during these difficult times everybody really appreciates it. Everyone has great things to say about the whole organisation and the competition, and I think this deserves a big and warm thank you from all of us!”