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Belgium beats Germany to win historic gold at the Longines FEI European Championships 2019

Friday, 23 August 2019
Longines FEI European Championships 2019

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping. The winning Belgian team: Jos Verlooy, Pieter Devos, Gregory Wathelet and Jerome Guery with Chef d'Equipe Peter Weinberg. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

 

Text © World of Showjumping

 


 

In a real cliffhanger of a competition, it was not over until the last fence was jumped in Friday’s team final at the Longines FEI European Championships 2019 in Rotterdam. The Belgian and German riders made sure to keep spectators either at the tip of their toes, or at the edge of their seats, all the way until the very end when sending two of their best men to battle it out for the gold. It was Belgium who went out victorious, after Gregory Wathelet showed what he’s made of delivering a clear round with MJT Nevados S (Calvados S x Romualdo). “I like the pressure, I don’t mind,” Wathelet said afterwards. “My horse jumped amazing, he really fought with me. I really enjoyed riding that round!”

It might have been a joyride for Wathelet, but for most it was nerve-wracking today. Teams were not only competing for medals, because six nations were also looking to book one of the three tickets available for the Olympic Games in Tokyo: Belgium, Denmark, France, Great Britain, Ireland and Italy. 

Sitting ahead overnight were Sweden in 5th, France in 4th, Great Britain in 3rd, Germany in 2nd and Belgium in the lead with as little as 1.15 penalty points separating the top two teams. However, the competition moved like a ping-pong ball in between the performances – in large thanks to excellent course designing by Louis Konickx and his team. “I think the course builders did an amazing job,” Belgium’s Pieter Devos commented. “We had three completely different courses. Delicate, technical and today a bit bigger but really horse friendly which gave nice, fluid rounds. This was top sport at the highest level, but horse friendly and that is what we like.”

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping The lap of honour for Belgium! Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

Coming into the team final, expectations were high for Sweden. They have had a tremendous season with a string of Nations Cup wins, however the margins were not on their side today. While Henrik von Eckermann posted a brilliant clear with Toveks Mary Lou (Montendro x Portland L) as their pathfinder, Malin Baryard-Johnsson, Fredrik Jönsson and Peder Fredricson all had a rail each – and eventually they remained were they set out, in fifth position. 

France also had their pathfinders Penelope Leprevost and Vancouver de Lanlore (Toulon x Le Tot de Semilly) getting them off to the best possible start, but both Nicolas Delmotte and Kevin Staut had a rail down each so the pressure was on for anchor rider Alexis Deroubaix. However, like many others, Deroubaix and his wonderful Timon d’Aure (Mylord Carthago HN x Drakkar Des Hutins) had a rail coming out of the combination at ten – putting the French team on a score of 25.39. While they lost out on a medal, the French result was still good enough for Olympic qualification – and they can now head to Tokyo to defend their title from Rio. 

For Scott Brash who went in as Great Britain’s anchor rider, that meant that the bronze medal – and Olympic qualification – was already secured. The Brits worst possible score would be 21.41, after Ben Maher and Explosion W (Chacco-Blue x Baloubet du Rouet) had posted yet another clear – keeping their individual lead – followed by four faults each for Holly Smith on Hearts Destiny (Heart Throb x Rabino) and Amanda Derbyshire on Luibanta BH (Luidam x Abantos). So when Brash had two down with Hello M'Lady (Indoctro x Baloubet du Rouet), it made no difference to their final result – the Brits had got what they came for. 

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping The heroes of the day: Gregory Wathelet and MJT Nevados S. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

Following four faults from Simone Blum and DSP Alice (Askari x Landrebell), Germany’s Christian Ahlmann on Clintrexo Z (Clintissimo Z x Rex Z) and Marcus Ehning on Comme Il Faut (Cornet Obolensky x Ramiro) both delivered clears. With a third clear from anchor rider Daniel Deusser on Scuderia 1918 Tobago Z (Tangelo vd Zuuthoeve x Mr Blue), Blum’s four faults could be discharged and the team would put some serious pressure on Belgium for the gold. However, that was not to be – four faults from Deusser put Germany on a total score of 16.22 and Belgium with a rail in hand.

Wathelet could not afford more though. Pieter Devos had recorded five faults with Claire Z (Clearway x Coronado), and while Jos Verlooy and Igor (Emerald van ‘t Ruytershof x Nabab de Reve) delivered their third clear of the championships there was an agonising time fault to be added for Jerome Guery and Quel Homme de Hus (Quidam de Revel x Candillo). While the scores invited to forgive a single error, the time allowed was tight enough so Wathelet could not try to make it too safe around either. No stranger to pressure, Wathelet did not disapoint and delivered when Belgium needed it the most – securing the gold with a clear round. “I have my plan, I keep to my plan and I don’t really hear what happens around except for the last jump,” Wathelet said about the buzz around him as he went in as last to go. “We first focus on our job.”

The Belgian boys were all praising the team effort on their side, not only this week but the long-term work that has been done – resulting in their first team gold in the history of the European Championships and that much needed ticket for Tokyo. “Today, I think it is important to talk about the whole team, all the things that have been done over the last few years and all the people behind it,” Wathelet said. I’m so proud of the whole team, everybody worked together and we all won it together.”

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping Gold to Belgium, silver to Germany and bronze to Great Britain in Rotterdam today. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping

“I’m very, very happy for my team, and for my Belgian team. It is a medal we have deserved,” Pieter Devos said. “We are a young, new generation and we have been working together for a few years now but missed out every time on a championship and today we proved we are there. It’s not only our team, but all the people around us that did an amazing job. Today was the cherry on the cake. I also want to thank all the people beside our team, Olivier Philippaerts – the 5th man here – as well as Niels Bruynseels, they both came here every day to help us. That proves again that we are a strong team together, we are a young team, we think the same way, we are good friends and it made us climb the podium today!” 

Jos Verlooy was singing the same song: “As a team we really deserved this gold medal, Belgium is so strong at the moment and I am so happy it worked out,” the 23-year-old said – smiling from ear to ear after riding himself up to silver position individually. 

“Yesterday I was a little bit disappointed,” Guery explained. “Today I had to do something well for myself, and my team. I am really happy with my horse today. We knew after my round, we would at least have the silver medal but Gregory had to deliver to get the gold – and he did like always. It is a real team victory for us, for all the people around us – without them it would not be possible!”

 

 

 

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