The European Championships kick off the 14th of September in the wonderful city of Madrid. There are many good teams and riders fighting for the medals, and at the same time there’s a hard battle going on to qualify for the Olympics. Four countries are already qualified - Germany, France, Belgium and Great Britain – as well as Ukraine. The rest of the teams have to finish in the top three of the not qualified nations, to get a ticket for next year’s Games in London.
Switzerland and Sweden have done well in the Promotional League and have strong teams in Madrid. Switzerland are also the reining European Champions from Windsor in 2009, and their team is almost the same this year with Clarissa Crotta, Steve Guerdat and Pius Schwizer, while Beat Mändli is replacing Daniel Etter.
Sweden has the experienced Rolf-Göran Bengtsson and Malin Baryard-Johnsson on the team, together with the young talent Angelica Augustsson who won the World Cup in Gothenburg in February, and Henrik von Eckermann who has had several good shows recently and will ride Ludger Beerbaum’s stallion Coupe de Couer. On paper this might be one of their strongest teams ever.
Germany has really shown their strength during the last year. They won the Nations Cup in Falsterbo, Hickstead and Rotterdam – which made them the overall winners. They are also reining World Champions from Kentucky, and their team represents the best of what they have got with Ludger Beerbaum, Marco Kutscher, Carsten-Otto Nagel and Janne-Friedrike Meyer. AT the last minute Philipp Weishaupt will travel as their reserve, as Marcus Ehning’s horse has suffered a minor injury. The title “European Champions” has belonged to Germany six times before, and in total the Germans have thirteen team-medals. Their last win came in 2005 in San Patrignano, and they got the bronze medal at Windsor in 2009.
The Netherlands has been good most of the season, but lost the overall win in the Nations Cup on the finish-line. Rob Ehrens has picked a very strong team with Jeroen Dubbeldam, Eric van der Vleuten, Gerco Schröder, Maikel van der Vleuten and reserve Jur Vrieling. The first four have more or less performed perfectly the entire season. As the Dutch team need to qualify for the Olympics there’s no doubt that they’ll give their all in Madrid. Their team doesn’t have the strongest record when it comes to championships though, but they have been European Champions three times before – their last gold medal came in Mannheim in 2007.
Great Britain was the third team that nearly took the overall win in the 2011-Top League. They have many riders with plenty of routine, but unfortunately two of their best horses – Talan and GIG Amai – have recently been injured and will not compete. Their team will consist of John Whitaker, Scott Brash, Ben Maher, Nick Skelton and Guy Williams. As the host nation of the Olympic Games they are already qualified for the Olympics so in that matter they don’t have the same pressure as some of the other teams. Great Britain has won eleven former medals as a team, but the last gold came back in 1989. Their recent best is a bronze from 2007.
France has been one of the best nations the recent years, but 2011 has brought some difficulties. Luckily they are already qualified for London with their silver medal from Kentucky. They have never won team gold, but they have the reining individual champion on their team – Kevin Staut. Together with him he has a strong crew with Penelope Leprevost, Michel Robert, Olivier Guillon and reserve Simon Delestre. The same team came third in Rotterdam and all riders had two good rounds. Could Henk Nooren have the team back in form just in time for the championship?
Ireland has lost some horses and riders this year, and on paper their team looks weaker than it did before last years World Championship. A supposedly better team last year didn’t help much though, and they still need to qualify for the Olympics. They ended fourth in the Nations Cup and have two riders within top ten on the world ranking - Denis Lynch and Billy Twomey. The team will also consist of Shane Sweetnam –who has been very consistent for Ireland this year – together with the young and talented Nicola Fitzgibbon as well as Niall Talbot who both have been good and shown great development over the season. Ireland has one team gold from 2001 and a bronze from 1979, which means there should be room for some more medals.
Belgium did well in Kentucky and is already qualified for London. The team had a good start in the Nations Cup season, but have been struggling to avoid relegation over the last legs. A good second round in Rotterdam saved them, and they do have two World Champions on their team; Jos Lansink and Philippe Le Jeune. Their team is the same as won the bronze in Kentucky with Dirk Demeersman and Judy-Ann Melchior. This time Gregory Wathelet is travelling as their reserve.
When it comes to the individual medals, it is even more difficult to make any predictions. At Windsor in 2009 Kevin Staut took a surprising gold medal aboard Kraque Boom Bois Margot; the horse actually refused to jump in the warm-up. The Master of Championships Carsten-Otto Nagel with Corradina claimed silver, while Albert Zoer and Oki Doki where third.
Albert Zoer won’t be a part of the Dutch team this year, while Kevin has had some problems over the last months. Now his horse Silvana de Hus has shown better form than in a long time so we are looking forward to see what the reining Champion can do in Madrid. Once again a favourite for the medals should be Carsten and Corradina – they seem to know which buttons to push when the pressure is on. We made an interview with Carsten-Otto earlier this year where he told us a little about how he prepares Corradina for the Championships. You can read the interview here.
Silver-medallist from the Olympics in 2008 Rolf-Göran Bengtsson is hungry for a medal, and is riding the experienced Ninja la Silla. The gelding looks better than ever and it’s a fair chance they’ll end up top three. We had a talk about the Europenas with Rolf-Göran in Rotterdam. You can read the full interview here.
Ludger Beerbaum didn’t take Gotha to Kentucky last year as he thought the mare was a bit too young and inexperienced at the time. This year Gotha has really stepped and has shown strong rounds all season. Ludger has been European Champion twice before and is by far one of the most experienced riders to compete in Madrid.
Jeroen Dubbeldam and BMC van Grunsveen Simon were third in the final in Leipzig and have more or less been in form ever since with great Grand Prix results from Rome and recently Rotterdam. Jeroen has an Olympic gold from Sidney and is for sure capable of delivering more than one clear round at a time.
Sergio Alvares Moya is a brilliant rider and will compete on home soil. He had to make some last minute changes as his stallion Action-Breaker got a minor injury during the team preparations for the Championship, and will ride Wisconsin instead. The gelding has shown good form lately though, and has been on the money list with Sergio countless times. Fingers crossed for him to succeed so we’ll get the best possible atmosphere in Madrid! You can read our recent interview with Sergio here.
Can Denis Lynch finally take home a medal? Lynch is always a strong competitor and currently number six on the world ranking, but the Irish rider has not yet succeeded in a championship. Ben Maher’s home bred horse Tripple X jumped absolutely amazing in Rotterdam both in the Nations Cup and the Grand Prix, and could be an outsider. Olivier Guillon and Lord du Theize also performed well in Rotterdam and were good in Aachen too; look out for them.
The female challenger could absolutely be Janne-Friedrike Meyer. She is a strong candidate for a medal; she won both the Best of Champions class and the famous Grand Prix in Aachen in July. She also did well in Kentucky last year, and has shown that she’s got what it takes to make it.
Out of the younger riders, Maikel van der Vleuten is a strong candidate. His season has been amazing, and his horse VDL Groep Verdi has all the scope and capacity to make it. In Rotterdam they delivered a clear round under a lot of pressure in the Nations Cup, and they did it again in the Grand Prix. Their results have been persistently good the entire season and they are absolutely able to give the more experienced riders a fight in Madrid. When we had a talk with Maikel in Falsterbo in July, he didn't think he would be able to go to Madrid at all. Read the full interview here.
Almost every championship has one surprise - who will it be this year?
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