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Three-man-team secures gold for Ireland in thrilling final at Longines FEI European Championships 2017

Saturday, 26 August 2017
European Championships 2017

Photo (c) Jenny Abrahamsson The Irish claimed team gold in Gothenburg: Team manager Rodrigo Pessoa, Shane Sweetnam, Denis Lynch, development team manager Michael Blake, Bertram Allen and Cian O'Connor. Photos (c) Jenny Abrahamsson.

One man down? No problem for the Irish, that claimed team gold at the European Championships in Gothenburg on Friday night with three riders against the other countries’ four. In a competition that went straight down the wire, Shane Sweetnam, Denis Lynch and Cian O’Connor all delivered clear rounds to bring the gold home to the Emerald Isle.

Before the team final kicked off at Ullevi Stadium, Bertram Allen had announced that he would not be competing his stallion Hector van d’Abdijhoeve (Cabrio van de Heffinck x Utrillo van de Heffinck). Allen was eliminated in Thursday's round following a fall that came after a very scary jump on an oxer, and chose not to jump the team final based on “Hector's best interest”. In his statement, Allen wrote: “Luckily, we still have three strong riders on the Irish team for the Europeans, so I believe we can still win a medal.” And, Allen was spot on with his predictions.

Tied with Belgium in third on a penalty score of 12.11, the Irish were vulnerable – with no possibility for a discharge score there was simply no room for error. Sitting just ahead were Switzerland in second on 11.15 and Sweden in the lead on 8.11, meaning a single rail separated the first and third placed teams.

Belgium’s pathfinder Pieter Devos on Espoir (Surcouf de Revel x Laudanum xx) pushed the button on the boiler when going clear as the first for the teams in medal position. Until then, only two riders had jumped clear rounds: Israel’s individual representative Danielle Goldstein on Lizziemary (Cabri d’Elle x Accord II) and Netherland’s Harrie Smolders on Don VHP Z (Diamant de Semilly x Voltaire).

The rest had struggled over course builder Louis Konickx (NED) and his assistant Peter Lundström’s (SWE) fourteen-fence track. Again, extremely cleverly build – it tested the horses and riders at every single jump, separating the very best from the rest. The slightest of errors would prove to cost dearly, an inaccurate moment was not possible today. The innocent vertical at fence three caught out plenty when they tried to set their horses up for the following triple combination, paying the price here was for example France’s Kevin Staut – sitting 5th individually until today. The triple combination had fences falling again and again, an oxer and then two uprights with planks on top would hit the ground over and over – Portugal’s Luciana Diniz faulted here as did Switzerland’s Romain Duguet and Sweden’s Douglas Lindelöw. The last line brought heartbreak for many, the gold upright fell on several occasion – and eventually put Belgium out of the medals when both Niels Bruynseels and Gregory Wathelet had it down. On top, the tight time allowed forced some riders into mistakes, calculated risks had to be taken to keep on the inside today – there was no strolling around to be made at Ullevi. 

Photo (c) Jenny Abrahamsson Cian O'Connor sealed the deal as anchor-rider for Ireland with Good Luck.

In the end, it was all about the top four teams from Thursday’s round: Sweden, Switzerland, Belgium and Ireland.

Following Devos’ clear round, Sweden’s Henrik von Eckermann and Mary Lou 194 (Montendro x Portland) only notched up a time penalty setting the Swedish stadium on fire. In between them, Shane Sweetnam had delivered his third clear of the week for Ireland aboard Chaqui Z (Chacco-Blue x Quinar Z) – eventually improving his individual position to sit third overall. Switzerland on the other hand had no luck, as Nadja Peter Steiner had one down and a time fault on Saura de Fondcombe (Balou du Rouet x Paladin des Ifs).

The second line-up of riders would make it extremely exciting: Niels Bruynseels produced yet another beautiful round on Cas de Liberte (Cracky Z x Chellano Z), and was extremely unlucky to have the upright at fence 13 down – but it kind of equalled out towards Ireland that had no one in the ring at this stage with Bertram watching from the side-line. So, when Switzerland’s Romain Duguet and Twentytwo des Biches (Mylord Carthago x Kalor du Bocage) had both planks down out of the triple combination – spectators were brought to the edge of their seats. The tension did not end there, next in the ring was Malin Baryard-Johnsson for Sweden who started the end of her campaign at 4b, before a rail on the wide oxers at 5 and 6 fell and when H&M Cue Channa (Cardento x Robin Z) continued to struggle at the oxer at 7b Malin called it a day and retired.

After the second line-up of riders, it was tight on top. Sweden sitting on 9.21 as their best score overall, Belgium and Ireland following at 12.11 and Switzerland on 16.16 meant the heat was on and not to escape.

Jerome Guery and Grand Cru van de Rozenberg (Malito de Reve x Heartbreaker) were third in the line for Belgium, but could not keep the fences up hitting the upright at 7a and also recording a time fault – meaning Belgium could finish on a best possible score of 17.11. 

Photo (c) Jenny Abrahamsson Silver went to the host team, Sweden with Malin Baryard-Johnsson, Henrik von Eckermann, Douglas Lindelöw and Peder Fredricson on the team together with Chef d'Equipe Henrik Ankarcrona.

Ireland on the other hand, kept their head above the water when Denis Lynch and All Star 5 (Argentinus x Alme) nailed it with a clear to keep the hopes of a medal very much alive despite not having Allen on the team. A score of 12.11 was on the board for Ireland, but whatever anchor rider Cian O’Connor would come up with was going to count.

So, when Martin Fuchs delivered yet another masterful clear round on Clooney 51 (Cornet Obolensky x Ferragamo) pushing himself up to 2nd overall individually it was a tiny gap of 4.04 penalties between Switzerland and Ireland ahead of the anchor riders.

Sweden could still be all the way up there though, what they needed to stay on their 9.21 penalty score was a clear round from Douglas Lindelöw and Zacramento (Cardento x Cortus). Easier said than done, first the plank at 4c fell then a rail on the oxer at 8 – with a time fault added it was nine penalties for the Swedish rider and their best possible score would be 18.21.

Ireland was now in the best – and worst situation – they had the least amount of penalties at 12.11, but O’Connor’s score would count. With a rail down and a time penalty – a very realistic scenario over today’s course – they would drop behind Switzerland should their last rider Steve Guerdat be clear, and any more mistakes on the Irish side could prove to be costly towards Belgium in 17.11 and Sweden in 18.21 as the last riders got ready to go. 

Photo (c) Jenny Abrahamsson The Swiss repeated their bronze medal from Aachen in 2015 with Martin Fuchs, Nadja Peter Steiner, Romain Duguet and Steve Guerdat on the team next to their Chef d'Equipe Andy Kistler.

Reigning European Vice Champion Gregory Wathelet and Coree (Cornet Obolensky x Libert Life) got to work for Belgium, and you could hear a pin drop as they got underway. It looked very good indeed, but a gasp went through the crowds when the top rail on the gold vertical at fence 13 fell to the ground and Belgium finished on a score of 21.11.

Next to go was Cian O’Connor and the aptly named Good Luck (Canturo x Furioso II). A clear would secure Ireland the victory, and O’Connor was well aware. On form throughout the entire summer season, the two stuck to their routine of going clear with O’Connor keeping his cool – again crossing the finish line on a clean sheet celebrating the first European team gold for Ireland since 2001.

The Swiss could now best finish with the silver medal, but instead they would end up repeating their bronze from Aachen two years ago as Steve Guerdat and Bianca (Balou du Rouet x Cardento) had the front pole on the oxer at 11 down to set the final score of their team at 20.15.

Because, even though the Swedes did not have a day that went quite according to a gold-medal-winning plan it ended with a much respectable silver. Saving the day was individual leader Peder Fredricson and his little fighter H&M All In (Kashmir van Schuttershof x Andiamo Z) who delivered their third ice-cool clear of the week to put the Swedes on a score of 18.21 and causing Ullevi Stadium to erupt in a celebration that showed the colour of the medal was indifferent – Swedish success was secured and the hopes of a host gold medal is still very much alive when Sunday comes with its individual final. 


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