The Swiss team won through in an edge-of-the-seat battle with Australia at the third leg of the Furusiyaa FEI Nations Cup Jumping 2013 series in Linz, Austria, on Friday afternoon.
Germany finished a close third ahead of the host nation in fourth, and the Polish team had to settle for seventh behind Denmark and Ireland when, despite threatening the leaders with a superb performance in the early part of the competition, their chances suddenly slipped away during the dramatic closing stages.
From a starting field of 11 nations, just eight returned to the second round. And although they didn’t manage to make the cut, the team from Belarus collected some of the precious qualifying points on offer in the tussle for a place at the final which will take place in Barcelona, Spain in September.
Just four nations were in line for points at this fixture, and Austria collected 75 while Denmark picked up 66 and Belarus 59. But a last-place finish for Russia left them on a zero score.
The first-round track designed by Austria’s Franz Madl was perfectly pitched for CSIO 3* standard. Winning team member, Christina Liebherr, described it as “not so big, but very technical. The ground was up and down so you could easily make mistakes with your distances, and some horses jumped a bit flat here and there – but there were mistakes everywhere on the course so it was definitely very fair,” the Swiss rider said.
And she recognised that the Swiss victory wasn’t easily earned. “The Australian horses jumped really well and the Polish team might have won it too – it was a very exciting competition right to the very end.”
There were just two double-clear performances on the day, and the first of these was recorded by the impressive 25-year-old Polish pathfinder Lukasz Koza with the athletic El Camp.
A battle raged between the Australians and Swiss. Australian opener Alison Rowland made her only mistake of the day when the busy little Bickley Brook Bella put a foot in the water second time out, but William James Passy followed his opening one-time-fault effort with Yirrkala Corina with two poles down and when Philip Lever became one of the very many to lower the first fence, but the only rider of the day to dislodge a brick from the narrow wall at fence six, then the Swiss began to sneak ahead.
And with just two riders to go it hung in the balance. Both Switzerland and Australia were on 21 faults, so it was up to their anchor partnerships to decide the result. A clear from Claudia Gisler and Touchable would pile the pressure on the final Australian duo by reducing the Swiss total to just 13, and it looked like they were about to do just that until the very last fence hit the floor to bring the final tally to 17 faults.
The Australians could finish on 13 if they could drop one eight-fault result and if their last rider could keep a clean sheet. It was a big ask, but with the atmosphere at boiling point Rory Hovell and Yalambi’s Val d’Isere VDL made it all the way to the final element of the triple combination before that fell, and when the following oxer also bit the dust then it was all over. Their 21-fault finishing score would relegate the Australians to runner-up spot behind the considerably more experienced Swiss side. Germany was just one fault further behind with 22 faults while Austria finished a very creditable fourth on a total of 24.
The Irish rallied strongly in round two to finish fifth, and the astonishing potential of 17-year-old Bertram Allen, who was making his senior team debut, was further underlined by his double-clear with Romanov which, when added to a second-round clear from Anthony Condon (Special Lux) and a much-improved four-fault effort from anchorman Capt Michael Kelly (Annestown) seriously bolstered the Irish position. Denmark finished with 28 faults on the board, Poland completed with 32, and Italy with 40.
Ireland’s Allen said: “Finishing with a double clear was an unbelievable feeling, hard to describe. I’ve only been with Romanov between six to eight weeks, but we seemed to click very quickly. He won the Grand Prix at Magna Racino (ITA) for me two weeks ago, and was very good here yesterday. I’m delighted with today’s result.”
Team Ireland’s show jumping manager Robert Splaine added: “We finished two fences off the winners, Switzerland, at the end, and that was a huge improvement over our disappointing first round position of eighth place. I was delighted to have the younger riders get back into the ring for a second round, as it’s invaluable experience for them at this level.
“Bertram’s Allen’s double clear was an exceptional achievement for such a young man, and Anthony Condon’s second round clear was superb. Michael Kelly having the last fence down on his second round was most unfortunate but once again he showed a remarkable recovery from his first round score.
“Billy Twomey was on the team as senior rider and I sent him out as pathfinder so that he could give the less experienced riders guidance, a role in which he proved excellent.”
Liebherr was delighted with the result which paves the way for her return to top-level FEI Nations Cup jumping at the Europe Division 1 Furusiyya fixture in Rome (ITA) later this month.
She took some time out of the top level of the sport to develop horses through 3* and 2* competition in recent years, “but I’m trying to move up again now,” she said. “I have some great new horses. My father is also my sponsor and he is very motivated for me to be back at top level again. I have three or four nine-year-olds coming along slowly this year with good results,” she said.
Liebherr spent some time training with Germany’s Ludger Beerbaum, “and I’ve taken a lot from that time” she said. “Ludger is fantastic, he doesn’t try to change the horse or the rider, but he gives you small tips that make a big difference, I learned so much from him,” said the unassuming Swiss Olympian.
This leg of the Furusiyaa FEI Nations Cup Jumping series at Linz was part of Europe Division 2. The next leg of this series takes place on Friday 10 May in Drammen, Norway.
1. Switzerland 17 faults: LB Callas Sitte Z (Christina Liebherr) 0/4, Leszek (Theo Muff) 4/4, Milor Landais (Pascal Bettschen) 1/8, Touchable (Claudia Gisler) 4/4.
2. Australia 21 faults: Bickley Brook Bella (Alison Rowland) 0/4, Yirrkala Cortina (William James Passy) 1/8, Da Vinci’s Pride (Phillip Lever) 0/8, Yalambi’s Val d’Isere VDL (Rory Hovell) 4/8.
3. Germany 22 faults: Little Pezi (Mario Stevens) 0/4, Aquarell PW (Joachem Heyer) Elim/19, Cassydy (Markus Renzel) 6/0, Queen Mary (Jan Wemke) 4/8.
4. Austria 24 faults: Glock’s Prince de Vaus (Dieter Kofler) 4/8, Duc de Revel (Astrid Kneifel) 8/4, Sterrehof’s Ushi (Julia Kayser) 8/0, Concordija (Stefan Eder) 0/8.
5. Ireland 25 faults: Je T’Aime Flamenco (Billy Twomey) 8/12, Special Lux (Anthony Condon) 13/0, Romanov (Bertram Allen) 0/0, Annestown (Capt Michael Kelly) 16/4.
6. Denmark 28 faults: Allerdings (Andreas Schou) 8/8, Kamila (Kim Kristensen) 4/4, Charly (Lars Bak Andersen) 8/4, Cartani (Charlotte von Roenne) 4/4.
7. Poland 32 faults: El Camp (Lukasz Koza) 0/0, Centino du Ry (Igor Kawiak) 8/4, Ponita (Ewa Mazurowska) 4/20, Osadkowski van Halen (Piotr Morsztyn) 4/Elim.
8. Italy 40 faults: Neptune Brecourt (Luca Maria Moneta) 0/4, Villeneuve D (Eleonora Zorzetto) 8/12, Chico Z (Riccardo Pisani) 4/12, New Zealand Delle Roane (Fabio Brotto) 8/12.
The following teams did not jump in the second round:
9. Great Britain 23 faults: Goodman Accobado (Jo Pay) 4, Winner (Louise Saywell) 4, Quentin Tarantino (Timothy Page) 16, Fandango (William Whitaker) 15.
10. Belarus 31 faults: Wacantos (Yahor Morotski) 17, Lodonkor (Vasil Ivanou) 12, Clooney (Ibragim) 6, Unique Cheval (Maxim Kryna) 13.
11. Russia 32 faults: Like You (Sergey Khomashko) 16, Wilandra (Vadim Konovalov) 12, Kilar (Natalia Simonia) 8, Rocketman (Vladimir Beletskiy) 12.