27.August 2017... The Driving Winner as Dutch claim Double Gold on Final Day of extraordinary Championships... In one of the closest finishes in recent history, the Netherlands narrowly held off a resurgent German trio and a fighting Belgian challenge to claim their fourth successive European team gold after a captivating final day of competition on the final day of the Longines FEI European Championships in Gothenburg (SWE).
Driven on by their irrepressible individual gold medallist IJsbrand Chardon, the Dutch just about maintained their air of invincibility, but they certainly had to work for it.
Spurred on by consultant trainer and world number one Boyd Exell (AUS), the Germans came hard at the men in orange through the cones test, but with both individual bronze medallist Christoph Sandmann and Georg von Stein picking up late time penalties, they fell just short.
With all three Dutch drivers finishing inside the top six individual positions, the Netherlands took team honours with a total of 299.73 to the Germans’ 308.94.
“We fought hard for this, nine points is not a lot. They were very close.”
Team gold medallist Koos de Ronde (NED).
Compatriot Chardon was quick to add: “Boyd is very clever, he certainly made their team better.”
The Belgians showed their emerging strength, claiming team bronze after holding off a spirited last-day challenge from the French team, for whom Anthony Horde went double clear, one of six individual drivers to achieve the feat.
“Team Belgium is ready to challenge now, individual silver medallist Edouard Simonet said after finishing less than two points behind Chardon’s winning score of 150.37. “We will work on our dressage to get even better with Glenn (Geerts) and Dries (Degrieck) and with the marathon we need to get a more consistent performance and then we will be really close to the Dutch and the Germans.”
Geerts, who at 28 years old is the elder statesman of the team, stressed the “huge boost” a first Championship medal will give to the sport in Belgium, after they finished on 320.04, just over 13 penalties clear of the French.
Ultimately, however, no-one could quite steal the limelight from Chardon. Fresh from revelling in the “rock concert crowd” of marathon day, the 55-year-old thrived in front of a full house at the Heden Arena.
“For me it helps. The bigger the pressure the better. The horses were so good it was easy in the end.”
Double Dutch gold medallist IJsbrand Chardon
Indeed the Dutchman was clear enough of the rest of the field to let out a yelp of delight and start his celebrations at the last obstacle, even though he knocked off a ball.
“I was too happy, I’m sorry!” he laughed.
Closest challenger Simonet reflected on a dilemma facing many top young sportsmen.
“It’s good but there’s a little disappointment I did a little mistake yesterday on the marathon. But I’m only 27 and the future is in front of me. I have many Championships to try and get the gold.”
Belgium’s individual silver and team bronze medallist Edouard Simonet
A further point back, Germany’s Sandmann praised the virtues of working with world champion Exell while acknowledging the relationship cannot last.
“Boyd is so professional, so thorough, everything is 1000%. We hope to keep him but next time we have the World Equestrian Games and then we will be fighting each other,” he said ruefully.
As a contented crowd poured out of the Heden Arena, it was left to Exell, the biggest name in the sport, to deliver a final verdict on an extraordinary Longines FEI European Championships.
“Yesterday was a stonking crowd, it was like a rock concert out there and a full house today,” said the Australian. “The nice thing was that driving looked like the most popular of all the equestrian disciplines.”
PR by Luke Norman
26.August 2017... "Unique" Marathon Course delights Gothenburg as Dutch move ominously into position Gothenburg went carriage crazy today as tens of thousands of spectators poured on to the streets and into the city’s Slottsskogen Park to witness a dramatic day of marathon driving at the 2017 Longines FEI European Championships.
Highly experienced Ijsbrand Chardon (NED), who said afterwards that he’d like to drive the city course “every day of his life”, put in a season’s best performance to move into the individual gold medal position, with one more day of competition to come.
“The atmosphere was amazing to drive in, just amazing! We have many nice competitions but not in the city, it’s so beautiful here, people applauded through the city.”
Ijsbrand Chardon (NED) who holds the overnight advantage after the marathon
Chardon and his fellow drivers and horses flew through some of Gothenburg’s busiest streets before being greeted by around 35,000 fans gathered around eight obstacles, featuring deep water, huge trees, modern sculptures and more.
World number one and four-time world champion Boyd Exell (AUS), who is acting as a consultant trainer for the German team this week, predicted on the course that the exuberant Chardon would feed off the crowd’s energy and “feel like a rock star”. He was right. The 56-year-old finished second in the marathon test, enough to put him more than four points clear overall.
“It was unique, the city was the competition and everybody was part of it, it was fantastic,” said Bram Chardon (NED), who acted as back stepper on his father’s carriage.
The 27-year-old Edouard Simonet (BEL) kept his cool amid all the excitement, with a smooth driving display propelling him into silver medal position in the individual event.
“I had only one tactic as usual, go as fast as possible and don’t take risks. You have to attack. Even when you make a mistake you must keep your head up and try to fight harder.”
Overnight second Edouard Simonet (BEL)
Both men however, had to bow their heads to Switzerland’s Jérôme Voutaz, who flew through the course to take the marathon honours on the day and move up the individual rankings from 20th after dressage to ninth. The 38-year-old, who runs a garage by day, puts his skill with horses down to a great sense of perspective.
“My whole day is with cars and driving is how I relax, I am on holiday now.”
Switzerland’s marathon winner Jérôme Voutaz
The form man of marathon driving, Christoph Sandmann (GER), who won the most recent FEI World Cup™ test in Aachen last month, produced another strong display, finishing third on the day, which saw him leap up from fifth into third overall to challenge for the medals.
His form helped Germany close the gap on the Netherlands in the team competition. The 2015 European Team Championship silver medallists are now less than seven points behind the men in orange.
The Dutch did show their enviable strength in depth however, with Koos de Ronde (NED) stepping up to finish seventh in the marathon, making up for a surprisingly uncharacteristic display from the leader after the opening dressage stage, Theo Timmerman (NED), who has dropped out of the individual medal positions and will start tomorrow’s cones in fourth place.
Belgium remain clear favourites for the team bronze and their leading light neatly summed up the drivers’ thoughts as eyes turned from one of the sport’s great marathon days towards what is set to be a tension-filled final cones test.
“A good night of sleep first, let the horses recover as well as possible and then go fast, go clear tomorrow. After today, I think the public really enjoyed it and tomorrow the arena will be fully packed.”
PR by Luke Norman
25.August 2017...All Eyes turn ‘once-lifetime-marathon’ after enthralling first day driving The stage is set for a titanic weekend battle with driving’s biggest names nestled together on a tightly-packed leaderboard after day one of the Longines FEI European Championships 2017 in Gothenburg (SWE).
It will be the orange men of the Netherlands who move on from the dressage to the marathon test in the best spirits, after claiming the top two individual spots and finishing more than seven points clear in the team competition on a score of 85.83.
But Germany, under the temporary tutelage of world number one Boyd Exell (AUS), showed a marked overall improvement in dressage, getting all three of their team into the top seven individual positions. They currently lie second in the team standings.
Meanwhile, rising star Edouard Simonet (BEL) laid down a strong marker as he moved into individual third to steer Team Belgium into a temporary hold on bronze, a slender 2.54 penalties adrift of the Germans.
It is Theo Timmerman (NED) though who tops the individual placings after producing a flawless dressage display in front of the biggest crowd of the week at the Heden Arena. “The feeling was good, I did every figure, every transition perfectly,” he said.
The 52-year-old’s score of 41.82 placed him just ahead of compatriot Ijsbrand Chardon (NED), who revealed he’d been forced to change his best two horses following July’s FEI World Cup™ competition in Aachen (GER).
An exuberant Timmerman shared an interesting take on just why the Dutch have dominated the team aspect of this event for the past decade.
“It sounds stupid as we are a team, but we don’t work together. We all do our own thing, we know each other, we do the course walk together, but training-wise and driving-wise Koos (de Ronde) does his thing, Ijsbrand (Chardon) does his thing and I do my thing and we don’t bother each other.”
Overnight leader Theo Timmerman (NED)
Photo: Charlotte Widell | hippoevent.at
The Germans, who take a different attitude to team building, spent the early part of the week in a training camp at the farm of team member Mareike Harm under the watchful eye of Exell. It too seems to be working.
“The 2012 World Championships was the last time I was under 50,” said Georg von Stein, who is running two of Exell’s horses in his team. “I was calmer with the support of Boyd (Exell), all his experience and the training we did. It felt easier with his horses.”
Von Stein starts the marathon course seventh overall, three places behind teammate Harm. With specialist marathon driver Christoph Sandmann (GER) lying fifth, the 2015 European Championship silver medallists will fancy going one better here.
Photo: Charlotte Widell | hippoevent.at
The young guns from Belgium will no doubt have something to say about that though. Simonet led the charge in the morning, finishing with his best dressage score for two years.
“To be at or near my best at a Championship is good! I was up at 5.30am and in the practice arena at 6.30am. It was worth it!
Edouard Simonet (BEL), in third after dressage
Exell, the 27-year-old’s coach and mentor, noted that the next two days are a “big opportunity” for his charge, who scored 45.42.
As soon as each driver stepped off his or her carriage, thoughts turned to tomorrow’s marathon test. Event leader Timmerman neatly summed up the drivers’ thoughts as they contemplated flying through Gothenburg’s city centre and into the Slottsskogen Park for the obstacles test.
“This is something special, once or twice in your life you have something like this. They had it in Stockholm in ‘88, it was great, and they do it again in Sweden. You don’t find it anywhere else where they do it like this. I can’t wait to see how many people will be there.”
Theo Timmerman (NED) on why the Slottsskogen marathon will be so special
Wheels start rolling for the marathon at 10.15
PR by Luke Norman
24 August 2017...Rivalries brewing Driving stars ready put show horsepower city setting With 21 four-horse carriages going head-to-head during three days of high-octane action in the heart of Gothenburg (SWE), the watching world is in for a treat as the Longines FEI European Driving Championships 2017 get underway tomorrow morning.
From a blisteringly strong Dutch team, featuring the 2016 World Championship individual silver and bronze medallists and who are chasing a record fourth successive European team crown, to rising star Edouard Simonet (BEL), who finished just 13 points behind the sport’s four-time world champion Boyd Exell (AUS) at last month’s FEI World Cup™ event in Aachen, the great and the good are ready to put on a show.
The city setting has already drawn plenty of praise with Theo Timmerman (NED), 2014 FEI World Equestrian Games™ bronze medallist, marvelling at the “selfies and movies” being taken of him as he drove his team of horses through the traffic to the dressage arena.
“This is my focus point, the whole season has been aimed to here. Not one show I’ve driven in have I had the same horses, it was just to select them for this moment.”
Theo Timmerman, member of the gold medal Dutch team at both the 2014 WEG and 2016 World Championship
He is in no mood to let that dominance slip.
“The strongest point for our team is that all three of us are all-rounders, we are good in dressage, the cones and marathon. Most of the teams have maybe one all-rounder and two good in the marathon or dressage,” he said.
With Koos de Ronde, the 2017 FEI World Cup™ Final bronze medallist, and ljsbrand Chardon, the 2016 World Championship silver medallist, completing the Dutch trio, they will certainly be tough to beat for both team and individual honours.
As in all sports, however, Timmerman made the point to “never underestimate the Germans”. Dressage kicks proceedings off in the Heden Arena tomorrow and the Germans have a not-so-secret weapon.
“We did a training camp on my farm on Monday and Tuesday with Boyd Exell. We did a lot of dressage training. It was pretty cool to get tips off him. At the last World Cup he won dressage, marathon and cones, which is unbelievable.”
German team member Mareike Harm
Exell’s assistance has spread further even than that. Georg Von Stein (GER), ranked sixth in the current FEI World Cup™ standings, has drafted two of the Australian’s horses into his team.
“We tried it out two or three times and straight away they worked well together, hopefully it helps,” said the world number one.
The man’s protégé, 27-year-old Simonet, is many people’s favourite for individual gold. The Belgian went to work for Exell as a groom seven years ago.
“He has taught me a lot, I am still learning every day. Now the Germans have him as a trainer probably they will perform better in dressage, but maybe it gives them a bit of extra pressure. The Dutch are always strong but everyone is coming closer behind. We are young and strong and we want to move forward.”
Belgian rising star Edouard Simonet
Photo: Charlotte Widell | hippoevent.at
The Belgians certainly do have youth on their side, often a rare commodity in a sport that demands experience. Glenn Geerts, 28, and 22-year-old Dries Degrieck join Simonet.
“We are all mates together,” Degreick said. “The (team) gold will be difficult but if everything falls the right way it may be possible.”
Others to watch out for include Hungary’s József Dobrovitz, whose son joins him in the team, and Jérôme Voutaz (SUI), the car mechanic who finished second in the FEI World Cup™ Final in February.
With Saturday’s marathon thundering through the city streets and into Slottsskogen, the Central Park of Gothenburg, and the cones wrapping things up on Sunday it is, as Timmerman said, “going to be special”.
PR by Luke Norman