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Longines FEI European Championships 2017: "It is always better to be the underdogs"

Saturday, 26 August 2017
European Championships 2017

Photo (c) Cian O'Connor for World of Showjumping But, first lets take a selfie! Gold medalist Cian O'Connor takes this picture for World of Showjumping after a fantastic night in Gothenburg. Photo (c) Cian O'Connor for World of Showjumping.

After a nail-biting team final at the Longines FEI European Championships in Gothenburg, Sweden Team Ireland took home the gold medal under the flood lights while the home team secured silver and the Swiss the bronze. After an extraordinary night of competition, there were some mixed emotions when the top three teams met the press after the medal ceremony.

Ireland’s Shane Sweetnam, who now sits third in the individual rankings with 2.10 penalty points, admitted the gold did not come easy: “It has been a very stressful week,” he said. “It did not go perfectly each day for us. Last night we had a good dinner together, and went through our plan. I think it is always better to be the underdogs and we proved it again today,” he continued. To the fact that Ireland now is back in the medals at a major championship, Sweetnam commented: “I hope this is the start to something really special.”

Denis Lynch was short on words: “We are here to deliver and I take yesterday’s mistake on my cap,” he said.

Bertram Allen, who chose not to compete on Friday, was impressed with his team mates: “It was not my week. This is not the nicest way to win a medal, but the lads were absolutely brilliant and pulling out three clears under the flood lights is fantastic!”

Cian O’Connor said that it might have been just those flood lights that helped the Irish reach their goal. “We spoke about it last night, and we thought that the lights might help us,” he revealed. “We figured that some horses might get spooky, and on the other hand we knew our horses are brave and scopey – they will not have a problem under the lights,” he went on to explain. “The lads told me what to do, and Good Luck is such an extraordinary animal – life is so much easier when you sit on a horse like that. The round itself was a bit of a blur –  I cannot remember much of it,” Cian smiled.

Irish team manager Rodrigo Pessoa was very happy to be going home with the team gold. “This is something really special. We had this goal all along, but the road has been bumpy. Everyone has been sticking together and they have showed determination and strength – I am really proud of them for doing this.”

When asked how exactly has he managed to build such great team spirit among such strong personalities, Pessoa explained: “I think this is an individual sport, but from time to time we compete as a team. I have tried to recreate what I have done before with the Brazilians; we work together in an honest and transparent way.  But I try to keep it light – we spend time together, we have our moments of relaxation. I think it is important not to take yourself too serious all the time,” he explained. “The riders have all accepted the way I want to do things, and they have all tried and from now on it will be easier, I think.” When it comes to handling pressure as a Chef d’Equipe instead of a rider, Pessoa said: “It is tough being on the side lines – you cannot do anything. Once they go in the ring, it is up to them. All you can do is to put them on the gate!”

Irish development team manager Michael Blake, who has contributed to the Irish success story, was extremely happy: “This is the night of my life!”, he said. “It is unbelievable to get to this level, we have come along through the ranks. These are an unbelievable bunch of guys; I am so proud of them. Rodrigo is such a genius, he is so easy to work with – he has no ego at all, he is a really nice guy!”

Course designer Louis Konickx admitted that the night had been exciting for him, too: “We created the course of 14 fences with a thought that it is not too long, but with this massive quality (of horses and riders) you have to do something,” he said. “So we discussed five minutes about the time allowed, and we discussed between 84 and 85 seconds. That was the question of the night… It was exciting for me too, to watch it all unfold.”

Sweden’s Peder Fredricson, who still leads the way individually with a clean sheet, was a happy man: “I am very happy about the medal, it has been the goal for the whole year and it is really a great thing!”,

Douglas Lindelöw praised his team mates: “We are a very strong team and I think we won the silver today!” he said.

Having retired, Malin Baryard-Johnsson gave credit to her colleagues: “I am lucky to have these team mates. My horse has been brilliant until today. I am happy about the medal,” she said.

Henrik von Eckermann, who has done a great recovery from his first day’s struggle, praised his horse: “Mary Lou jumped fantastic today. I thought it was safer to do five strides to the last fence, and that is why I had another time fault – but I still thought it was the safer thing to do for the team.”

Swedish Chef d’Equipe Henrik Ankarcrona was relieved: “We were in the pole position but at the end it feels like we won the silver medal,” he smiled.

Team Switzerland’s Martin Fuchs was happy with his horse Clooney: “I had a good day, my horse jumped amazing,” he said. “All my friends did some good rounds during the days and I am happy that we are here on the podium. Clooney was great today!”

Romain Duguet was not totally happy with his performance: “My day was really bad. I am really happy about the medal, but it was difficult for me today. My horse tried her best and when you have such super riders in your team, life is easier!” he concluded.

Nadja Peter Steiner, who did her first senior championship, was grateful for the experience: “For me it was a fantastic day,” she smiled. “It is a fantastic feeling to go home with a bronze medal.”

Steve Guerdat was being very hard on himself after one unlucky rail down with Bianca: “I am very happy with the medal, but I cannot be happy with my rounds,” he said. “I think my mare has been jumping amazing and if I rode better, I should have been double clear. I think I did not do my job right.

Swiss Chef d’Equipe Andy Kistler was regardless proud of his squad: “I am very, very happy and proud of my team and I also want to thank our technical coach Thomas Fuchs for his contributions to the team!” 


Text and picture © World of Showjumping (of course with extra credit to Cian O'Connor as contributing photographer)

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