Team Germany claimed the Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup™ Jumping 2016 trophy at the Real Club de Polo in Barcelona (ESP) tonight, but not without a fierce fight with the runners-up from Great Britain. On a night to remember, it came down to a breath-taking jump-off between newly-crowned individual Olympic champion Nick Skelton and Germany’s Marcus Ehning to decide the result. And emotions ran high as winning team member, Ludger Beerbaum, said goodbye to this great sport with a trademark foot-perfect performance. You could hardly hear a pin drop during his last-to-go round with Casello which ensured the two-way showdown that would seal victory for his country.
Team USA claimed the third step of the podium when finishing with just four faults on the board, but they were hotly pursued by Italy, Ireland and Switzerland who each finished with five as the time-allowed played its part. The defending champions from Belgium had to settle for sixth place ahead of the Dutch whose form seems to have deserted them in recent months.
Once again course designer Santiago Varela presented a superb track that took a lot of jumping and brought the cream to the top. The majority of mistakes came at the end of the course, with the penultimate triple combination taking a heavy toll, but there were accuracy questions all the way around. The eight teams that qualified from Thursday’s first round all started on level pegging again today so it was a wide-open contest from the start. It quickly became apparent however that the British would be major contenders when Skelton’s opening clear with his Olympic gold-medal-winning ride Big Star was followed by another from Michael Whitaker and Viking.
Under the unique set of rules for the Furusiyya Final each country nominates a total of five riders and it was notable that the top three teams all called up new recruits today for their four-member sides. British Chef d’Equipe, Di Lampard, brought in Jessica Mendoza and Spirit T in place of John Whitaker and Ornellaia, but with 12 faults for the youngest team member it fell to Scott Brash to rescue the situation with a clear from Ursula which saw his side post the first zero score of the competition.
And the only ones to match them would be the Germans, although they also had to wait for their last man to go. World no. 1, Christian Ahlmann set them up with a lovely tour of the track from the ever-reliable Taloubet Z, but they stuttered when Marcus Ehning’s Pret a Tout hit the last element of the triple combination. Janne Friederike Meyer was called up to replace Daniel Deusser and First Class van Eeckelghem and she steadied the German ship with a typically flamboyant clear from the fabulous Goya which meant that if Ludger Beerbaum could follow suit then they could continue to stalk their British rivals.
Tonight’s round by Beerbaum was spine-chilling, so many people around the ring willing the 53-year-old rider around the arena because they really wanted to see this man who has been such a hero of the sport for so many years go out on a good note. He will continue to ride as an individual, but tonight was his curtain-call as a team-member and everyone wanted it to go right. The entire stadium was gripped with tension waiting for him to cross the line, and when he did there was a huge burst of applause and it would take a jump-off now to decide the new Furusiyya champions.
The Americans were already assured of third place, Lauren Hough’s four faults with Ohlala – at the very final oxer – followed by a double-error from Audrey Coulter and Capital Colnardo before 19-year-old Lillie Keenan pulled it back with a fantastic clear from Super Sox. Called in at the last moment when Lucy Davis’ Barron wasn’t quite himself, Keenan really measured up under pressure and when Laura Kraut was also fault-free with Zeremonie then the US total of four faults would drop them in behind the two teams now vying for the title.
Skelton was first into the jump-off and scorched around the new track in 41.82 seconds to set the target. This would ensure a generous share of the €200,000 bonus on offer to riders jumping double-clear over the first round and again today. But Ehning said afterwards that he already knew he could beat the Olympic champion. “I watched him go and I knew I could be faster than him. I was really under pressure – I wanted this win for Ludger as it was his last Nations Cup” he explained. Ehning once said that he will never be the fastest rider on the planet so that is why he uses his turning skills to full effect, and tonight he did just that, cutting corners everywhere and galloping down to the last more than two seconds up on the clock to clinch it.
For all of the German team, tonight’s win was particularly poignant. Janne Friederike Meyer put some perspective on it. “I can still remember my first Nations Cup with Ludger in Rotterdam, he has always been a great idol for my generation and I was so proud to be with him again in his last Nations Cup. I was called in for Daniel and I knew Daniel could have done a clear round so I wanted to do this clear round for Daniel and for Ludger and the whole team. There are some special days and today was one of them – everyone could feel it when Ludger went in and everybody knew this man had to go clear to keep the chance of winning. Every single fence, everybody jumped with him and then he was clear and everyone went crazy!” she said.
For the Germans, this Furusiyya Final has always been about giving Ludger Beerbaum a good send-off from the team. “In the last couple of weeks we were really looking forward to Ludger’s last Nations Cups” said Daniel Deusser tonight. “We really wanted to win a medal in the Olympic Games and to do one big thing again. We have had a lot of very strong teams over the last couple of years and the last couple of months but in the end we were always missing a little bit of luck, one fault too many. At the Olympic Games we were really happy, we had a great fight and finished with the bronze medal which made us extremely happy but somehow the last last big win was still missing. This weekend didn’t start really good with my horse getting sick, but everything turned out perfect at the end. All five of us worked together and the dream really came true, that we won Ludger’s last Nations Cup, it couldn’t be better!”
Beerbaum admitted that tonight’s prizegiving brought back memories of his individual gold medal victory with Classic Touch at the Real Club de Polo during the Barcelona Olympic Games back in 1992. And he was very touched by his team-mate’s tributes. “The way they expressed their thoughts, their feelings, their emotions about our performances in the past months, the good luck, the bad luck, the good moments but also the disappointing moments that says it all. They were really fighting for me today and it’s unbelievable to have this support. For me it couldn’t be a nicer end”, he said.
FEI President, Ingmar de Vos, talked about the input from Furusiyya that has transformed the sport of Nations Cup Jumping in recent years. “Four years ago my predecessor HRH Princess Haya was here at the first press conference for the Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup. Today I got a message from the Saudi Equestrian Fund, from His Highness Prince Faisal – the brain behind the Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup – to really congratulate the German team on this victory. We are very happy with the Furusiyya series. What it has done for the FEI and the sport in general is incredible.
“In 2012 we had discussions about remodelling the Nations Cup, making it a series with qualifiers and a final, and at that time it was a very controversial decision. But I think we have proven together with Furusiyya and the Saudi Equestrian Fund that it’s the way to go. They invested in this product to create a legacy and we are very grateful for that. This partnership is coming to an end as you know, and it is up to us to find a new partner. Thanks to the Saudi Equestrian Fund and HRH Princess Haya we have a sustainable series for the future.”
Photos: Hippo Foto – Dirk Caremans