THE Belgian show jumping team made history on Friday when winning the gold medal at the FEI European Championships in Rotterdam, The Netherlands.
Belgium had never before won a medal at these championships, and they pinned the seven-time champions from Germany into silver, while also securing their place at next year’s 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games. Di Lampard’s British team did what they said they won when slotting into bronze and also getting their golden ticket for Tokyo.
Sadly, Rodrigo Pessoa’s Irish team of Cian O'Connor (PSG Final), Peter Moloney (Chianti's Champion), Shane Sweetnam (Alejandro) and Darragh Kenny (Balou du Reventon) missed out on Olympic qualification by one place, finishing seventh overall and fourth of the teams seeking the three places.
However, it was an excellent performance from the team today, with clear rounds from O'Connor and Moloney, and just four faults apiece for Kenny and Sweetnam.
France took the third ticket when finishing in fourth place overall.
Moloney qualified for Sunday's individual final in 13th place, as did Kenny in 17th. However, both riders have decided to save their horses for the Nations Cup Final in Barcelona in early October, where there is one final Olympic qualifying place on offer.
Speaking to The Irish Field after the competition, Moloney said: “Unfortunately with the team it wasn’t our week, but everyone came out fighting today and did their best. It’s all focus on Barcelona for the team.
“Together with my owner, HRH Princess Haya, we have decided not to jump on Sunday. Our main goal as part of Team Ireland for this year was to qualify for Tokyo and that continues to be our goal. Our main focus now is on Barcelona, Ireland’s last chance to qualify for the Olympics.”
Belgium at their best
The team of Pieter Devos (Claire Z), Jos Verlooy (Igor), Jerome Guery (Quel Homme de Hus) and Gregory Wathelet (MJT Nevados S) finished on a team total of 12.07, one fence ahead of Germany (16.22).
Competition went down to the wire in what was a brilliantly entertaining final round. Belgium began in pole position and that is exactly where they stayed, with two clear rounds from Verlooy and Wathelet and a single time fault from Guery.
The British team of Ben Maher (Explosion W), Amanda Derbysire (Luibanta BH), Holly Smith (Heart’s Destiny) and Scott Brash (Hello M’Lady) were guaranteed the bronze medal when Frenchman Alexis Deroubaix broke the beam with four faults.
There was just 0.15 of a point separating Germany and Belgium as Daniel Deusser entered the arena with Tobago Z. The second part of the troublesome double at fence 10 fell to give Belgium’s Wathelet a fence in hand.
However, it wasn’t needed as he kept his cool aboard the beautiful grey stallion MJT Nevados S to secure the gold medal.
A delighted Pieter Devos said: “I am very very happy for the Belgian team. This is a medal that we really deserved since many years. Today we proved that we are there – it’s not only our team, but all the people around who did an amazing job the last few years and today, we put the cherry on the cake. It’s a great feeling.”
Jos Verlooy, the youngest member of the team, who sits in second place individually added: “As a team we really deserve this gold medal. Igor is in amazing shape, he’s fresh, everything is going well and I am really looking forward to Sunday as well.”
Part of the British bronze medal-winning team, Ben Maher, who is leading the individual ranks, said: “I am very happy. The priority was the team this week. To secure qualification was a hard job, it has been a difficult year. We have an incredible team. Not everything has gone our way this week but we stuck together.”
Maher leads on a score of 0.62 with Poden Farms’ incredible 10-year-old gelding Explosion W. Verlooy is breathing down his neck on 1.68, while Switzerland’s Martin Fuchs sits third with Clooney (3.46).