Poland pinned Ukraine into runner-up spot in a cliff-hanger of a competition at the fourth leg of the 2016 Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup series in Linz on Friday. The swings of fortune in this team sport are the stuff of legend, and as so often happens the result rested on the shoulders on the last man into the ring. But although he dropped the bogey fence on the track and also picked up a time fault, Polish anchor Krzysztof Ludwiczak clinched it for his side who have high hopes for the remainder of the Europe Division 2 season.
This 13-team contest was full of drama, and Australia, Hungary, Portugal, Slovakia and Lithuania were already sidelined when only the top eight nations returned in the second round. The Norwegian foursome were lying a close second at the halfway stage but had to settle for third place in the final analysis, ahead of Spain and Japan in joint-fourth spot, the host nation in sixth, a gallant three-member team from Luxembourg in seventh and Russia in eighth place.
There was a great sense of achievement for the winning side tonight. “We always thought it was possible for us to win today, and we’ve done it - we have great team spirit!” said Polish pathfinder, Michal Kazmierczak.
Austrian course designer, Franz Madl, presented a track with a combination of delicate verticals and strong oxers that tested skill and accuracy. The bogey fence of the day was the light blue wavy planks at fence three which fell consistently, but, as Kazmierczak explained this evening, judgement of distance and pace also proved crucial to success. “There were two difficult lines - one before the triple combination where you could go on six or seven (strides) and at the double where you could go on seven, eight or even sometimes nine - there were a lot of mistakes at these fences,” he explained.
Both Austria’s Astrid Kniefel on Royal des Bissons and Slovakia’s Patrik Majher on Caliber were eliminated at the Longines double at fence nine in the first round, while many riders also found the turnback to the wall at fence 11 something of a challenge, and Australian chances took an early hammering when experienced pathfinder, Chris Chugg, had a run-out here with Cera Cassiago.
Counting only a single time fault from Kazmierczak the Polish team was out in front at the halfway stage, but the Norwegians were close behind carrying just two time faults while Ukraine and Japan were next in line with eight faults apiece. Japanese anchor rider, Taizo Sugitani, provided arguably the greatest excitement of the entire day with a spectacular leap from his 17-year-old gelding Avenzio who went into helicopter mode on take-off at the open water, veering sharp left and scrambling to the landing side. After some long deliberations he was eventually awarded just four faults for this error which did not, in any case, affect the final Japanese team total.
It was nip-and-tuck all the way through the second round, Poland and Norway holding fast when each of their first-line riders returned with a five-fault total, and when Ukraine’s Oleksandr Onyschchenko returned with 17 penalties this time out then his side didn’t seem to be making any headway either.
But these three nations became locked in a ding-dong battle for the top three places, Ferenc Szentirmai’s mistake with Zipper at the third adding just four faults to the single error from pathfinder Cassio Rivetti with Fine Fleur du Marais to steady the Ukrainian position.
Norwegian hopes began to fade with eight penalties from Cecilie Hatteland and Alex, and a massive 17 from John Gunvar Knutsen and Zip. Poland looked vulnerable too when second-line rider Sandra Piwowarczyk-Baluk collected 18 faults with Chabenton this time out. But Jaroslaw Skrzyczynski kept Polish hopes alive with the aptly-name Crazy Quick who can always be relied upon to make the time even though he left the first element of the Longines double on the floor.
When Ukrainian anchor Rene Tebbel produced the second part of a double-clear with Cooper he sealed his team’s result at 16 faults and that was now the score to beat, so when Norway’s Nicholai Lindbjerg set off with Coquette he didn’t have a fence in hand if he was keep his country out in front. The last element of the triple combination at fence five hit the floor however, and an additional time fault further increased the Norwegian tally to a final total of 20.
So now the result would be decided by the last man to go, and when Krzysztof Ludwiczak’s Zoweja hit that troublesome wavy planks the crowd held their collective breath. Just six faults separated his side from the Ukrainians so another error was just not an option. But, he held his nerve to add just a single time fault on a day when the 75-seconds time-allowed played a significant role. The final Polish tally of 15 faults would be good enough for victory and maximum points on the Europe Division 2 leaderboard.
“We made a good job of it today and we’re very happy!” said Michal Kazmierczak tonight. Andn his Chef d’Equipe was equally pleased. “I’m very happy with whole team. Everyone jumped well, all the horses and riders - and this is a very good feeling,” added Polish team manager, Maciej Wojciechowski. He also reserved special mention for Jaroslaw Skrzyczynski. “He went clear (in the first round) and then had four penalties in the second round - he held his nerve well” he said of the performance that certainly put today’s Polish triumph back on track.
And now Team Poland are looking forward to the rest of the Furusiyya 2016 season. “Our big goal is to be in the Top League next year,” said Kazmierczak. And that was confirmed by Chef d’Equipe Wojcieckhowski who said “We plan to compete at Odense and Lisbon over the coming weeks and our target - well we hope to be in Barcelona for the Final for sure!”
Source: Press release from FEI written by Louise Parkes // Picture © Thomas Holbecher/FEI.
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