Sparkling line-up of Jumping super-stars for Rolex Final
By Louise Parkes
With just days to go to the opening of the Rolex FEI World Cup™ Jumping 2012/2013 Final at the Scandinavium Arena in Gothenburg, Sweden, there is already a sizzle of excitement. This most treasured series will end its 35th season in the place where it all began when Austria’s Hugo Simon was crowned the very first champion back in 1979 on Gladstone. And this year’s Final line-up is a spectacular one, including London 2012 individual Olympic gold medalist Steve Guerdat from Switzerland amongst a host of other stars.
A total of 39 riders from 17 countries will be chasing the crown of crowns that is the Rolex title, and they all start out on equal terms on the opening day. They have emerged from 16 qualifying leagues around the globe and represent a myriad of continents and cultures, but they all have one thing in common – their horsemanship has secured their place amongst the elite of the sport, providing them with a unique opportunity to demonstrate their talent on the greatest indoor stage on the world circuit.
All eyes will be on the exceptionally powerful US squad this time around. And the biggest question will be whether the extraordinary stallion Flexible, now 17 years young, can retain the crown he claimed in style last year at ‘s-Hertogenbosch (NED) for Rich Fellers.
Repeat wins are nothing new to this prestigious annual tournament. America’s Conrad Homfeld was the first to achieve the distinction when, following his victory with Balbuco in 1980, he secured it again five years later riding Abdullah, while the legendary Canadian, Ian Millar, quickly followed with back-to-back titles in 1988 and 1989 partnering the wonderful Big Ben.
Everything in the history of the FEI World Cup™ Jumping series has a vintage quality. The roll of honour reads like a “who’s who” of the sport down the years, and victory is worn like a badge of pride by each successive generation. Who wouldn’t want to have their name engraved alongside those of back-to-back double champions John Whitaker and Milton from Great Britain, or the three-time winners Rodrigo Pessoa from Brazil, Germany’s Marcus Ehning and Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum, and Hugo Simon who added two further titles to the one he clinched in that very first season. Pessoa holds a unique record, as his hat-trick was achieved over three consecutive years with the same super-stallion, Baloubet du Rouet.
In the early years, the series was dominated by Americans, who won seven times between 1979 and 1987. It took 25 years for Fellers to haul the trophy back to the USA, thanks in no small way to the courage and tenacity of his stallion who was written off more than once during his career but who always clawed his way back. Now that the drought has come to an end, the US squad will be loathe to loosen their grip, and they are coming out next week with a formidable 11-strong crew that includes double Olympic team gold medalists McLain Ward and Beezie Madden, and their new shining star, 18-year-old Reed Kessler, who made history last year as the youngest rider ever to compete for the USA equestrian team at an Olympic Games, and is now on the crest of a wave having finished second at the Saut Hermes CSI5* in Paris last weekend.
Germany holds the record for most wins in the series, with nine in total. However, last year’s win for Fellers brought the US tally to eight, so there is plenty of pressure on the German contingent to keep their noses out in front. With Marcus Ehning, Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum, 2011 Rolex FEI World Cup™ Jumping champion Christian Ahlmann and Hans-Dieter Dreher, the German effort won’t be lacking in experience or horse-power.
With Kevin Staut, Penelope Leprevost and Roger-Yves Bost lining out for France, Denis Lynch and Shane Sweetnam flying the Irish flag, and Marc Houtzager and Ludo Philippaerts competing for The Netherlands, the class of the field is in no doubt. Olympic champion, Guerdat, is accompanied by fellow-Swiss Pius Schwizer, whose impressive record over recent Rolex FEI World Cup™ Jumping seasons includes equal-second in 2010 and third place at the 2012 Finals, while Spain’s sole representative, Sergio Alvarez Moya, is a man to be reckoned with. He won the hotly-contested Western European League after a superb indoor season.
Latvia’s Kristaps Neretnieks, Poland’s Jaroslaw Skrzyczynski and Russia’s Anna Gromzina represent Central Europe, while the Arab League contenders are Qatar’s Ali bin Khalid Al Thani and Bassem Hassan Mohammed. Egypt’s Nayel Nasser qualified as winner of the North American series, while Santiago Medina will compete for Colombia. Raena Leung will compete for Hong Kong, and along with Portugal’s Luciana Diniz and Australia’s Edwina Tops-Alexander, brings the number of female contenders to 12 this year. Just four lady riders have won the FEI World Cup™ Jumping title, and three of those – Melanie Smith (1982), Leslie Burr Lenehan (1986) and Katharine Burdsall (1987) – flew the flag for the USA. The fourth lady champion and three-time winner, Germany’s Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum, also has a significant link with the US as she was born in Los Angeles, California.
But if it is time for another lady to take the spoils, then perhaps the moment has arrived for Malin Baryard-Johnsson. The 38-year-old sweetheart of the Swedish sporting public is always highly competitive and, on home turf, will be battling harder than ever. Team silver medalist at the Athens 2004 Olympic Games, she missed out on London 2012 due to a late injury to her horse, but she has been continually placed throughout the Rolex FEI World Cup™ Jumping 2012/2013 Western European League series and is hungrier than ever for success.
The rest of the Swedish contingent are also an impressive bunch, including the consistent Jens Fredricson, Henrik von Eckermann, who has been showing superb form with the mare Gotha, and reigning FEI European champion Rolf-Goran Bengtsson.
Sweden has never taken the FEI World Cup™ Jumping title. This could be the moment, and the story will unfurl as the Final gets underway next Thursday evening with the opening speed class, followed by Friday’s two-rounder and Sunday’s thrilling decider.
Don’t miss a hoofbeat – watch all the excitement on www.feitv.org:
Competition 1: Thursday, 25 April 18.25 CEST
Competition 2: Friday, 26 April 18.25 CEST
The Final: Sunday, 28 April 13.30 CEST
Facts and Figures
This is the 35th season of FEI World Cup™ Jumping, and the Final takes place in Gothenburg, Sweden for the 13th time.
Rolex took up title sponsorship of the FEI World Cup™ Jumping series in 2007.
A total of 479 riders from 50 nations have competed at the FEI World Cup™ Jumping Finals since the series started back in 1978.
The USA holds the record for the greatest number of competitors over the years, with 107 in total. Next in line is Germany with a relatively modest 47.
Great Britain’s Michael Whitaker holds the record for most participations at FEI World Cup™ Jumping Finals having competed on 22 occasions.
39 athletes from 17 countries will be in action.
Seven qualifying leagues will be represented – Western Europe, South America North, North America East, North America West, Chinese League, Central European League and Arab League. Riders from 16 leagues around the globe competed in the qualifying rounds.
Four riders have won the Rolex FEI World Cup™ Jumping title on three occasions: Germany’s Marcus Ehning (2003, 2006, 2010), Germany’s Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum (2005, 2008, 2009), Austria’s Hugo Simon (1979, 1996, 1997) and Brazil’s Rodrigo Pessoa (1998, 1999, 2000).
Only four lady riders have ever clinched the title, and three of those – Melanie Smith (1982), Leslie Burr Lenehan (1986) and Katharine Burdsall (1987) flew the flag for the USA.
The fourth lady champion and three-time winner, Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum, competes for Germany but originally hails from Los Angeles in California, USA.
For further information on the Rolex FEI World Cup™ Jumping Final 2012/2013 in Gothenburg, Sweden (24-28 April), check out www.gothenburghorseshow.com
Rolex FEI World Cup™ Jumping 2012/2013 Press Kit
Download the Rolex FEI World Cup™ Jumping 2012/2013 Final press kit here
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