With the dust barely settled after the thrills and excitement of the FEI European Championships at Aachen (GER) last month, all eyes will be on the Dutch team when the €2.3 million Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup™ Jumping Final 2015 gets underway in Barcelona (ESP) next week. A massive line-up of 19 countries have confirmed participation at the third season-closer to the series that has set the sport of team Jumping alight since the format was revamped and revitalised in 2012.
Team France came out on top at the inaugural Final, but there are few who doubt that the ones to beat this time around are the defending champions from The Netherlands who have been on an incredible victory roll over the past 12 months.
The side, managed by Rob Ehrens, took team and individual gold in the finest of style at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games™ 2014 in Normandy (FRA) last September, before clinching the 2014 Furusiyya title just a few short weeks later with the same quartet. After a summer of mixed fortunes they then marched resolutely to the top step of the team podium in Aachen four weeks ago where Jeroen Dubbeldam added European individual gold to his World Championship individual title.
No matter how much the form-book tells us, however, Nations Cup Jumping tends to turn up plenty of surprises, and every team that lines out in next Thursday’s opening competition at the Real Club de Polo de Barcelona will be hoping for some of that often-elusive element of luck that separates the winners from all the rest.
A total of 19 qualifiers took place around the globe in the lead-up to this event. Under the new format introduced in 2013, the world is divided into six regions for qualification purposes. Nine teams have emerged from Europe Division 1, which will be represented by Belgium, France, Germany, Great Britain, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Sweden and Switzerland, along with the host nation of Spain. The top two teams from Europe Division 2, Czech Republic and Poland, have also made the cut, while Mexico and USA have qualified from the North America, Central America and Caribbean series.
Brazil and Venezuela will represent the South American region, while Qatar will fly the flag for the Middle East, Australia will represent Asia/Australasia and the Egyptian team will be the sole representatives from Africa.
A few countries have earned their spots because other qualified countries were unable to compete, and amongst them is Germany who got the call-up when Japan, and Hong Kong which was reserve from the Asia/Australasia region, could not field a team. In compliance with the rules, this vacant slot was offered to the highest-placed unqualified team in the final Division 1 standings, so Germany was offered the chance to take part and grabbed the opportunity, as did Italy in similar circumstances when Jordan pulled out.
For so long the dominant force in the sport, Germany had not been enjoying significant success at top Nations Cup level in recent times, but they put that to rights when earning silver medal spot at the FEI European Championships on home ground last month and will be sure to put the defending Furusiyya champions under pressure next week with a typically formidable squad that includes Christian Ahlmann, Ludger Beerbaum, Daniel Deusser, Marcus Ehning and Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum.
All guns blazing
The French had a disappointing outing at Aachen, taking the early lead but dropping out of contention in the later stages of competition, so the country that won the inaugural Furusiyya title in 2013 is likely to come out with all guns blazing in an effort to make up for that. Timothee Anciaume, Roger Yves Bost, Nicolas Delmotte, Penelope Leprevost and Kevin Staut will be flying the flag with determination.
The Belgians were impressive winners of the Europe Division 1 qualifying series, and they send out Jos Lansink, Judy Ann Melchior, Gudrun Patteet and Olivier Philippaerts along with Gregory Wathelet whose individual silver medal at the FEI European Championships will have given them a major boost.
The British achieved their aim of Olympic qualification at Aachen, and Di Lampard has chosen the same side of Joe Clee, Ben Maher, Jessica Mendoza and Michael Whitaker along with Laura Renwick to fight for the Furusiyya 2015 title. It won’t be easily won – the Irish are likely to be highly competitive, while both the Swedes and Swiss look strong. The Swiss in particular should be on a high after their brilliant bronze medal finish in Aachen where Romain Duguet was something of a show-stealer. And of course the host nation are in flying form too after Marco Fuste’s side also earned a place at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games when finishing sixth in Aachen where Sergio Alvarez Moya also lined up fifth individually. He can be expected to play a major role with Carlo when the Spanish campaign gets underway next Thursday.
Add to that an all-female American side that just oozes talent, with Beezie Madden and Laura Kraut joined by Lauren Hough, Reed Kessler and Lucy Davis, and a Brazilian team buoyed up by their victory at Spruce Meadows in Calgary (CAN) last weekend, and all the ingredients for a thrilling clash of the giants are in place.
Expansion and development
The Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup™ Jumping series is not all about the big guns however. The reason it has integrated into the very fabric of the sport so quickly since the revised format was put in place is because of its inclusivity, and its capacity to aid expansion and development.
Many new horse-and-rider partnerships took their very first steps on the ladder to success this season. The Furusiyya series offers the opportunity to expose new talent and to train up-and-coming combinations while also providing a challenge to veteran performers. Instead of being restricted to a small number of countries as was the case for many years, it now reaches out right across the globe, inviting new nations to stretch their ambitions, and raising the bar in a way that could hardly have been envisaged a decade ago.
Team sport is always character-forming and character-testing, with highs and lows that must be borne in equal measure, and it is this very element of the Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup™ Jumping series that makes it so appealing to the public who will be following the Final closely next week.
They won’t all be fortunate enough to have a ring-side seat, but they can enjoy every exciting moment online and through social media. So somewhere around the world on Saturday night, 26 September, there will be a massive roar of approval as the newly-crowned Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup™ Jumping 2015 champions step proudly onto the podium at the Real Club de Polo.
Full list of participants here