Gold for Australia's Exell in driving champs

October 11, 2010

Australia's Boyd Exell has been on the hunt for a gold medal in four-in-hand driving for many years and at the World Equestrian Games in Kentucky it finally came together for him.


Boyd Exell claimed the World Four-in-Hand Driving title at the World Equestrian Games in Kentucky today. © FEI/Rinaldo de Craen
Boyd Exell interview


Boyd Exell with bronze medalist Tucker Johnson, left, and silver medalist Ijsbrand Chardon.

After a World Record dressage test and third place in the marathon, Exell drove a safe cones course and won his first individual gold medal. Dutch driver IJsbrand Chardon took the silver; with the bronze going to USA's Tucker Johnson. The Dutch team won the gold, ahead of the USA and Germany.

Today was another drama-filled day in the full Driving Stadium as there were problems with the timing system half-way through the competition. Team drivers Ludwig Weinmayr from Germany and USA's Chester Weber had to leave the arena while the repairs were done. Weber was the first driver to go after the enforced break and the 35-year-old multiple US Champion showed his professionalism by driving the first double clear round of the day despite the long wait. His compatriot James Fairclough followed him and did the same to secure team silver for the USA.

After watching Chardon's dressage test, Exell thought he would have to fight for silver at the Kentucky Horse Park, but his horses clicked into gear in dressage in which he set a World Champion record score of 30.08. After the marathon Chardon piled even more pressure on Exell and the difference between the top drivers was only 1.72 penalty points. Chardon made Exell work very hard throughout the week and the professional coachman and horse trainer told himself every day that he had done a bad job in order to sharpen himself for the next day. After Chardon hit one ball in the cones course, Exell decided to drive safely. He crossed the finish line with a few time penalties, knowing that this would not endanger his gold medal.

"IJsbrand and I have been competing neck-and-neck all season and it just depends on who is in best shape on the weekend to decide who wins" Exell said. "It is a great feeling to have won the gold, but I don't really realize it yet. I enjoy working with horses and to be able to put the icing on the cake and win a World Championship is just fantastic."

Exell, 38, won the individual bronze medal at the 2008 Driving World Championships, behind Chardon and Weber. "To get five horses and all the people and your equipment just right for one weekend is a huge task, and we've been trying to do it for 10 years. You get to the point where you can do it regularly, like we have, and then you have to be lucky to win.

"I left Australia at 21 and said I wasn't coming home until I won the World Championship."

Chardon said he was very disappointed when he found out he knocked a ball down. "I had not seen it coming otherwise I could have corrected it. When I passed the finish line, I thought I was clear. I have given everything in dressage and marathon and today, my horses also went very well. It has been a weird Championship for me but I must admit that the best driver, Boyd Exell, has won this Championship."

Tucker Johnson had one ball down, but this did not jeopardise his first ever-individual medal at a World Championship. Johnson was a member of the US pair team that won gold at the 1991 World Pairs Driving Championships in Zwettl and he contributed to the US silver team medal at the World Equestrian Games in Jerez 2002.

Tucker was extremely pleased with his horses and his result and will now have more time for his family and his business. There was a clear 'no' when he was asked if he would not reconsider his decision to retire from combined driving after having won a medal.

"I won't change my decision. We've all three been doing this for a long time, and it's time for me to move on," Johnson said. "This felt good. Not everyone gets a chance to end something on such a high note. It was a grand end to a lot of experiences."

All three team members said that the World Equestrian Games being in Lexington had spurred on the team's performance.

"Our program and our team - along with the program at the US Equestrian Federation - all came together for this medal here," said Fairclough.

"It's been a whole group effort, and you feel like the whole nation is behind you here.

"I have truly enjoyed competing at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games in Kentucky and it is wonderful to win a medal at last," he said. "I loved driving and being on the US team for 23 years and I loved hanging out with my trainer Michael Freund, but it is time to move on. It is good to end something with such a good experience."

Weber believes that the Games will have a lasting effect on driving in the United States. "There's a future of driving in the US because of these games," he said. "Having the WEG here really got us going, and now, with Tucker leaving, Jimmy and I are looking forward to being the foundation of our team in the future."

The Swedish team were in the bronze medal position after dressage and marathon with top drivers Tomas Eriksson and Fredrik Persson finishing second and eighth in the marathon. Persson was first to go and picked up just 0.56 time penalties. Tomas Eriksson was well on his way to secure their bronze medal, but the 1990 and 2000 World Champion took gate 19 from the wrong side, which eliminated him and the Swedish team from the competition. Thanks to the clear round of multiple German Champion Christoph Sandmann, the German team moved up to bronze.

The attendance on the final day of the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games was 38,682. The total 16-day attendance was 507,022.