Finland snatched the honours at the opening leg of the Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup Jumping Europe Division 2 series at Linz in Austria on Friday.
Drawn neck-and-neck at the halfway stage of the competition, and still battling it out going into the closing stages, it seemed that either the host nation or Australia would claim the top step of the podium. But in the end it was the sheer consistency of the Finnish side, underpinned by the only double-clear of the competition from the anchor partnership of Anna-Julia Kontio and the elegant grey, Fardon, that determined who would earn those coveted maximum points.
Austria had to settle for runner-up spot in the final analysis ahead of Australia in third while Italy finished fourth ahead of Slovakia, Germany and Russia who all divided fifth place.
A total of 12 nations lined up, with eight teams returning in the second round. And it was very much to the credit of the Slovakian side that, with just three team members, they made the cut. Only five countries were chasing points towards the Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup Jumping Final 2014 and they were Austria, Italy, Finland, Poland, Hungary and Russia.
The course presented by Austria’s Franz Madl was fair but testing, and fences fell all around the big all-weather arena.
“We were hoping to finish in the top three so first place was definitely a surprise!” said Kontio afterwards. The 23-year-old rider, who works with Thomas Fuchs in Switzerland, has been riding Fardon for a year now and has been recording some impressive results including strong placings in the Grand Prix at Munich (GER) last year and at Zurich (SUI) in 2014. Asked if she felt pressurised as anchor rider for her team, Kontio replied, “No! I always ask to go as last rider because the pressure suits me!” She enjoyed an excellent day, having already already won a class before the Nations Cup competition got under way.
Team-mate Satu Liukkonen was equally thrilled with the team’s result. “This is my first time in Linz. It is amazing to be here as a first time rider and winning it – I can’t describe it!” she said, while Sebastian Numminen was well-pleased with the performance of his promising young horse.
Maiju Mallat said it was the perfect start for Finland in the 2014 Furusiyya series, and newly-appointed Chef d’Equipe, Herve Godignon, agreed with that. It was quite a debut for the former star of French Jumping.
“You can imagine my feeling, winning my first Nations Cup (as Chef d’Equipe) and I think it is the first one for Finland ever!” Godignon said. “The fact that I have only been working with the team for three months shows that they were ready even before I came! We are going to try to improve the riders and horses to bring them to the level of the World Equestrian Games,” he said.
He says he has big but realistic ambitions for his side. “We plan to have a Finnish team in France (Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games in Normandy) and do our best – we know the level of the WEG is more difficult than that competition, so we aren’t going to get too enthusiastic just yet. We are going to take it show-by-show, keep going and not dream too much,” he pointed out.
But it was clear as today came to a close that Finland can afford to dream pretty big for the months ahead.
1. Finland 11 faults: Armani the Gun CH (Maiu Mallat) 1/0, Cue Channa 42 (Sebastian Numminen) 5/8, Celestine (Satu Liukkonen) 5/5, Fardon (Anna-Julia Kontio) 0/0.
2. Austria 16 faults: Bogegaardens Apollonia (Stefanie Bistan) 0/4, Never des Etisses (Christian Juza) 1/5, Calme P (Nina Brand) 6/5, Lualdi (Stefan Eder) 1/Ret.
3. Australia 18 faults: Colthaga (Jamie Kermond) 13/21, Yirrkala Cortina (William James Passy) 1.0, Bickley Brook Bella (Alison Rowland) 1/4, Vincente (James Paterson-Robinson) 0/12.
4. Italy 24 faults: Neptune Brecourt (Luca Maria Moneta) 4/12, Banca Popolare Bari Cassandra (Francesco Franco) 10/0, Loro Piana Canada (Filippo Moyersoen) 0/8, Zoe ll (Lorenzo de Luca) 0/Elim.
5. Slovakia 25 faults: Badarco (Marian Stangel) 2/5, Cento (Andrej Holly) 5/4, Concano (Bronislav Chudyba) 5/4.
5. Germany 25 faults: Carlson (Katrin Eckermann) 0/4, Celano (Rudiger Renner) 4/0, Quannan-R (Marc Bettinger) Wlim/20, Cornetta (Max Kuhner) 5/12.
5. Russia 25 faults: Kilar (Natalia Simonia) 1/4, Cosimo (Natalia Belova) 4/0, Lascar (Olga Chechina) 2/14, Littlefoot (Vladimir Beletskiy) Ret/Ret.
8. Poland 42 faults: Zarco (Lukasz Appel) 6/25, Osadkowski van Halen (Piotr Morsztyn) 4/4, Abigej (Marek Lewicki) 8/8, Crazy Quick (Jaroslaw Skrzyczynski) 8/12.
9. Cezch Republic 21 faults IN FIRST ROUND: Cento Lano (Ondrej Zvara) 10, Calata (Zdenek Hruska) 6, Bel Canto Hradiste (Kamil Papousek) 5, Zandiro (Ales Opatrny) Ret.
10. Hungary 26 faults IN FIRST ROUND: Lacapo (Emil Orban) 0, Zordon (Balazs Horvath) 17, Dr Oklund (Gyula Szuhal) 14, Landspiel (Sandor Szasz) 12.
11. Lithuania 40 faults IN FIRST ROUND: Aragorn (Andrius Petrovas) 9, Domien (Valdemaras Zukauskas) 10, Barichela (Kristupaas Petraitis) 21.
12. Bulgaria Eliminated IN FIRST ROUND: Mister Big (Ivaylo Bonev) Elim, Cartina (Angel Nyagolov) DNS, Capoccino (Rosen Raitchev) DNS.