April 23, 2008

Germany won the 2007 Samsung Super League final. Team member Marco Kutscher, riding Cornet Obolensky, is pictured at the final in Barcelona.

When the sixth Samsung Super League with FEI season gets under way in three weeks' time it will mark an important moment in the history of international team show jumping.

Together with the world governing body for equestrian sport, the Korean multi-national has helped create something very remarkable indeed - a prestigious and gripping series that captures the imagination, commitment and enthusiasm of both competitors and spectators alike.

It is the sense of personal involvement that holds the attention when it comes to this unique sporting challenge.

Eight elite nations, and eight super-competitive clashes at eight world-class venues combine to create a heady mix of pride, emotion, engagement and curiosity. Each season the under-dogs have to call on their every last reserve to survive because the team finishing at the bottom of the leaderboard is forced into relegation. And each season the stronger nations make it their business to ensure that they keep their place amongst the best of the best because it is important to maintain their supremacy. However even the supreme leaders sometimes stumble along the way, and it is the drama and unpredictability of nations' cup jumping that carries national teams and their multitude of supporters through the five-month roller-coaster ride.

As always, it is the gracious French seaside town of La Baule that plays host to the opening leg of the 2008 series on 9 May and then the action moves on to the Italian capital of Rome two weeks later. St Gallen in Switzerland, venue for many historic equestrian tussles over the years, hosts the third leg on 30 May with the Dutch port of Rotterdam next in line on 20 June.

By the time the series visits Aachen in Germany on 3 July the story will be unfolding at a rapid rate, and after a visit to the great Derby showgrounds at Hickstead in England on 25 July only Dublin, Ireland stands in the way on 8 August before the final in Barcelona, Spain on 21 September.

After a year on the side-lines Ireland makes a welcome return to the Samsung Super League with FEI family this season and the team in green will be determined to retain their place amongst the "Super Eight" this time around. The Irish love their show jumping and take particular pride in the performances of their nations' cup sides, so when hit with relegation at the end of the 2006 season they were devastated. However in typical fashion they just dusted themselves off and set about a relentless campaign in the second-division nations' cup series in 2007 and, much to their delight, it paid off as they finished top of the table and subsequently earned their spot back amongst their peers.

However now that they are back they must face the stiffest of opposition once again. Sweden struggled hard to stay in the series in 2007 but won out in a fierce battle which saw the French fall by the wayside. This was a shocking turn of events since France had been so dominant in the early years of the series, winning outright in 2003 and 2004 but somehow the firm grip loosened over the following three years. Few doubt however that it will be long before the French find their feet once again.

Ireland and Sweden will be joined by Great Britain, Switzerland, the USA and Belgium while the two power-houses of international show jumping - Germany and The Netherlands - are likely to flex their muscles with attitude.

The Samsung Super League with FEI series has come to represent all that is good in international sport - a fierce pride in representing one's country and a fierce passion to do one's best against all odds. In a world where the desires and needs of the individual so often outstrip the collective good it is refreshing and inspirational, and the sixth annual clash of the eight best show jumping nations in the world is guaranteed to provide some of the greatest sporting moments of 2008.