"I never expected to be in the top four final, let alone become World Champion," Jeroen Dubbeldam says to World of Showjumping four days after returning home from the World Equestrian Games in Normandy. "I knew we had a good chance with the team. We had three experienced combinations, that all were on the silver medal team in London. Then it was me and Zenith SFN. He is an inexperienced horse compared to the rest on the team, but I knew he was in good form. When we won the team gold, I considered that my job was more or less done – what happened after Thursday was a total surprise," Dubbeldam continues.
Dubbeldam is well known for being a rider for the big occasions though. The Dutch rider won individual Olympic gold in Sydney in 2000, team gold at the World Equestrian Games in Aachen in 2006 – and also has two European team medals, one gold (2007) and one bronze (1999). Now he has added two gold medals from the World Equestrian Games 2014 to his collection returning from Normandy, and will for the four next years be reigning World Champion.
Looking at his championship record, hitting the nail on the head for these important events seems to be Dubbeldam's thing. To World of Showjumping, the 41 year old rider explains how he matched Zenith SFM towards Normandy; "After the winter season, and his results indoors, I knew Zenith SFN was ready for something bigger. What I wanted to find out though, was how he would handle considerable tasks under pressure. This is why I took him to the Dutch Championship to jump. Of course you cannot compare a national championship to a World Championship, but the format is in many ways the same with several days of jumping, and also starting up with a speed competition. In Mierlo, Zenith gave me the results I hoped for and took the silver medal."
After the Dutch Championship, the next step was to see how Zenith SFN coped with being on a team. "It is different to put a pair as a part of a team, the pressure competing for your country in a Nations Cup is not to compare to competing as an individual. I wanted to see how Zenith would cope under pressure such as this, and jumped him on the team in Rome and Rotterdam. He jumped fantastic in both," Jeroen comments.
After their rounds in Rome and Rotterdam, Jeroen's next step to convince the selectors was Aachen. "I knew that to deserve a spot on the team I would have to do well in Aachen. In my opinion jumping in Aachen is the perfect preparation for a championship, then you really see what you have. I wanted to show Rob that we were good enough," the Dutch rider says. And so he did, with a clear first round in both the Nations Cup and the Grand Prix.
"That was enough to convince the selectors to be on the team. After the selection, I decided to take it easy and I only jumped Zenith at the three star show in Ommen. In the time between his last show and the World Championship, I did pretty much the same as I did before the Dutch Championship – in the end it's quite the same game although it of course was bigger and tougher in Normandy," Jeroen notes.
As to the format of the World Championship with the top four final, Dubbeldam explains that he was quite relaxed towards the entire affair. "My hardest part was on Saturday, pulling up those two clear rounds. After that I was quite at ease. I did not prepare too much for Sunday, I have seen all the horses compete a lot – and in the end it is all about your feeling on that particular horse in that particular moment."
Two gold medals should cause some big celebrations, one would think – but for Dubbeldam that has not really been the case. "We celebrated a little in Caen with the Dutch fans and with Zenith's owners from Springpaarden Fonds Nederland, but then it was time for us to drive back home," Jeroen says. Returning to his home in Weerselo, the double World Champion has been busy with media attention and a big celebration will have to wait for another two weeks. "We will celebrate with a party, but this week has been filled up. The sport is big in the Netherlands, but usually it does not receive that much media attention. This year it was different though, and our biggest national TV channel broadcasted everything live so there has been a lot of interest in the two gold medals after I came home. And more interest in the sport is of course great," Dubbeldam says.
With the European Championships coming up next year in Aachen, Dubbeldam should stand a fair chance of adding that last individual title to his tally. With such a possible scenario, Dubbeldam could more or less retire having done it all. "No," he says. "I ride as long as I like riding. For me it's not about the next success."
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