The only 22-year-old Niklas Krieg took a sensational win in the Longines FEI World Cup Western European League in Leipzig on Sunday afternoon. It was the young German rider’s biggest victory to date, in his very first World Cup start – and it came on his medalist horse from the 2014 and 2015 European Championships for young riders, Carella 5 (Clearway x Concerto II).
Outclassing a strong field of 39 other competitors was no easy task, as world-class riders with far more experience than Krieg had taken the trip to Leipzig to fight for World Cup points and a chance to compete in the final in Gothenburg in late March.
In the end a group of fourteen riders managed to produce clear rounds over the first round track set by Frank Rothenberger and Christian Wiegand. Several had the middle element of the triple combination down – a wide oxer – while some faulted in the oxer-oxer combination set on a line with a vertical in and a vertical out. It was the final upright – the Longines plank – that proved to be the real joker of the competition though and quite a few had to bite the dust here such as Denis Nielsen and Alexander Hinz, as well as Emanuele Gaudiano, who all left the rest up until jumping the last fence.
Among the fourteen reaching the jump-off were a mix of young and upcoming riders and far more experienced ones. The three first to set clears were Great Britain’s Jessica Mendoza, 19 years of age, on her Olympia Longines Christmas Cracker-winner Spirit T (Tornado x Carnaval Drum). Then followed Guido Klatte, 20 years-old, aboard Qinghai (Quidam de Revel x Cordalme) before Krieg set the third clear.
Switzerland’s Paul Estermann, a senior with far more game time than the three first riders, was the next one to leave all the fences intact on the experienced Castlefield Eclips (Obos Quality x Furisto), and then followed Philipp Weishaupt – who with a little luck on the last line set the third clear round for Germany. Ireland’s Bertram Allen again rode one of his trademark light and clear rounds on Molly Malone V (Kannan x Cavalier) – although, he was a bit lucky when the grey mare rattled the last plank. Belgium’s Gregory Wathelet – winner of Friday’s qualifier – made it all look like a walk in the park to go clear, and was followed by strong names like Kevin Staut, Simon Delestre, Harrie Smolders, Denis Lynch, Pius Schwizer, Olivier Philippaerts and Sergio Alvarez Moya for the jump-off.
As pathfinder, Jessica Mendoza had little choice but to go for it – unfortunately the effort and risks she took brought with it two poles down and the door was open for those to come. Klatte attempted a diagonal angle to the third oxer to save time, but unfortunately Quinghai did not completely follow the plan and jumped through the top poles leaving the German rider – a 2015 medalist in the under-21 European Championships – on four faults.
Where Klatte got it wrong, Krieg got it completely right. Just like his compatriot, Niklas went for the diagonal angle in his approach to the red and white Sparkasse oxer and with a fine-tuned Carella 5 paying complete attention to her rider the two cleared it to gasps from the crowds. A tight turn to the following oxer kept the pressure on, then the two cleared the combination before Krieg again made the tightest of turns to the penultimate vertical and when the final oxer stayed up – the German talent could celebrate taking the lead to standing ovations from the crowd.
For Krieg, it must almost have been surreal to watch how the rest of the jump-off unfolded. Estermann and Weishaupt followed, but both had early rails leaving them out of the contest. Allen was next, and as one of the fastest names in the class the expectations were high. And it looked so good when Allen matched Krieg’s angle at the oxer, but then the front pole on the next oxer fell in stead and then one more – and the Irish rider was out.
Wathelet, Delestre and Staut – all accomplished medalists and some of the biggest names in the industry – went for the same angle too, but the Sparkasse oxer would cost them as they all had to see a pole fall to the ground in their attempt to catch Krieg. Wathelet could have done it, his time was the fastest of the day on Eldorado van het Vijverhof (Thunder Van De Zuuthoeve x Omar) – but in the end it was only good enough for fourth.
Harrie Smolders went for a tactical, and slow clear round aboard Don VHP Z (Diamant de Semilly x Voltaire) stopping the clock almost nine seconds behind Krieg. Still, it paid off – as the Dutch rider slotted into second place. Smolders was quickly overtaken by Ireland’s Denis Lynch though, who went in between Krieg and Smolders with a time three seconds slower than that of the leader after going around to the oxer at three approaching it on a straight line instead.
With three to go, it must have been nerve wracking for Krieg to watch. When Swiss rider Pius Schwizer had three rails down it meant a place on the podium for Krieg, but it would turn out there were even better things to come. Olivier Philippaerts nailed the turn to the oxer at three, the heart breaker of the jump-off, on H&M Legend of Love (Landzauber x Corgraf) and it looked like the Belgium rider would take it home but the back pole of the final oxer hit the dust and a frustrated Olivier had to leave the ring on four faults and eventually settle for fifth place.
Spain’s Sergio Alvarez Moya and the veteran Carlo 273 (Contender x Cascavelle) were the only ones who could threaten Krieg’s chance of winning. Setting off, Moya looked determined to give the win a go but out of the combination the back pole fell and the German crowds emotionally erupted into applause for Krieg’s win – by far the most surprising one so far this World Cup season.
Text © World of Showjumping // Picture © Jenny Abrahamsson
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