Olympic fever returns to the FEI European Championships in Aachen (GER) this week with three berths at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games up for grabs in Jumping. And with European Driving and Vaulting medals also on offer it’s going to be a hectic schedule right up to the closing ceremony next Sunday evening.
The Jumping horses had their first tour of the Soers arena in this afternoon’s training session and the competition proper gets underway tomorrow, 19 August, with the first qualifying competition for individuals and teams which begins at 14.30 local time.
Following the withdrawal of Dimitri Natsis (GRE), a total of 94 horse-and-rider combinations from 28 nations will compete, and 23 countries will battle it out for the team medals. Only The Netherlands, France, Germany and Sweden have already achieved Olympic Jumping qualification, so the race for those last remaining Rio spots will be run between the rest. The British return as defending team champions, while individual title-holder, Roger Yves Bost, will be flying the French flag once again.
British Chef d’Equipe, Di Lampard, has the weight of Olympic qualification on her shoulders this week as well as the defence of the European team title, but she’s optimistic about her side’s chances. “We’ve had a great season and the actual team we have here this week is the winning Nations Cup team from Rotterdam”, she said today. “The spirit in this team is second to none and we are well-prepared and looking forward to it.”
The host nation hasn’t enjoyed the same level of recent success in team events, but Germany’s Otto Becker is reckoning on the “home advantage”, and that extra element could count for a lot.
The first round of the Jumping team competition and second individual qualifier takes place on Thursday, with the top 10 teams going through to Friday’s team medal decider. And then, following a rest day on Saturday, the top 25 will go through to Sunday’s individual final which is always guaranteed to be a thriller.
When it comes to edge-of-the-seat action, the Four-in-Hand Driving Championships has plenty to offer.
The more demure Dressage takes place on Wednesday and Thursday followed by the Cones phase on Friday, testing accuracy and control. But then the handbrakes come off for Saturday’s Marathon, which is always hugely popular with the spectators as the drivers steer their teams through a series of cross-country obstacles at tremendous speed. It is no easy feat and is always guaranteed to provide plenty of drama.
A record number of 14 nations will be represented by 36 drivers and 12 teams. And the Dutch will be going for a hat-trick of team titles led by defending individual champion IJsbrand Chardon.
When it comes to numbers, the Vaulters have the most, with 130 athletes from 15 nations demonstrating their strength, power and immense athleticism in the battle for individual, pas-de-deux and squad medals when the action gets underway on Thursday.
The popularity of this equestrian sport continues to grow at an incredible rate, and there will be plenty of home support for the German team as they come out to defend their title in the squads. But in the absence of Britain’s Joanne Eccles, and French stars Jacques Ferrari and Nicolas Andreani who are all now retired, new individual champions will be crowned, while Austria’s Jasmin Lindner and Lukas Wacha, the current world and European champions, are expected to dominate the Pas-de-Deux.
The Pas-de-Deux and male individual medals will be awarded on Saturday, with the prize-giving for individual female and squads on Sunday.