Reigning World Champion Joanne Eccles defended her title to take the Individual Women’s gold medal once more at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games at Caen’s Zenith stadium on Friday night.
Earlier in the day Eccles had won bronze in the Pas De Deux with her sister Hannah, and was faultless in her final freestyle with a monumental score of 9.119, giving her an unbeatable overall championship mark of 8.718.
Joanne, aboard WH Bentley and lunged by father John Eccles, produced yet another stunning routine to the sounds of Les Miserables, showcasing some of her – now signature moves, including her one-handed cartwheel and handstand. With a score of 9,119 awarded for her freestyle, and an overall score of 8,718, Joanne clinched the gold medal – and with it retained the title she first won in Lexington in 2010.
“It’s been an incredible week,” Joanne said, “to come back here after the last WEG with the same team and horse is amazing and to win another gold makes it even more special.”
W H Bentley has now been to four World Equestrian Games.
“We came here with high hopes but you have to do four good rounds to win a medal,” said lunger John, “so we just took it one round at a time and I have been so proud of each performance and we have got the result we wanted, I am delighted with what we have achieved,” he said.
“The pressure was on but the horse was so reliable, I wasn’t not expecting him to do his job. He’s a fantastic horse, he’s been trustworthy, he’s reliable, just been superb as far as vaulting’s concerned, he’s just been a star.
“Vaulting’s just such a fantastic sport, it gives so much pleasure to everyone that’s involved with it and that’s why we like it so much, it’s just a fantastic sport to be involved with,” John said.
Joanne’s motto of the games was just to put on a performance and enjoy herself at these games as she loves the sport so much, “today we just wanted to show what we have been doing in training at home for the last for years and put on a show and we have had a great time doing it,” she said.
After a slow start to the competition back on Tuesday, Italy’s Anna Cavallaro has been climbing back up the ranks to take eventual second place for a silver medal. She performed a beautiful final freestyle to Andreas Bocelli’s Sogno (meaning Dream) to gain a mark of 8.697, giving her a final total of 8.452. “I am really happy with my result, it was my dream to go home with a medal,” Anna said, “the compulsory test was not good for me but the rest of the competition was great as is the result.” Anna’s lunger Nelson Vidoni has trained her for 11 years and is immensely proud of her, “I cannot measure the depth of my happiness,” he said.
The bronze medal went to Switzerland’s Simone Jäiser who has performed consistently all week and was awarded a score of 8.863 in her final freestyle, meaning her final four day mark was just a fraction behind Anna’s, at 8.433. “It feels great to have a medal, it was my goal to have achieved this at the end and I am pleased for my team as well as myself,” she said.
Men’s individual final
The French make it a historic day by taking both the gold and silver medals in the mens’ final, plus the host nation’s first medals of the World Equestrian Games.
Current European Champion Jacques Ferrari gave a masterclass in vaulting to claim his place as the new World Champion. His performance left the crowds reeling with a standing ovation to be awarded the highest score of the competition so far, 9.166, giving him a final championship total of 8.629.
“This is the crowning of a long process of many years, not just for myself but my family, friends and my teammates, and the culmination of the development of a style I have tried to design,” Jacques said. He was ambiguous about his future however, “this is a sign that I have reached the limit and the pinnacle of my career so I don’t know what will follow after this.”
Former world champion Nicolas Andreani claimed the silver medal behind his French compatriot with his ingenious Einstein themed freestyle, giving him a freestyle score of 8.723 for a final score of 8.498.
“I feel a great sense of satisfaction with a silver medal, especially as the last two seasons have been difficult for me so I am very happy,” Nicolas said, “if I could have signed a document six months ago that said I would have won the silver I would have signed it in a wink.”
Germany’s Erik Oese held onto his overnight third place to clinch his bronze medal with a score of 8.835, which was higher than Nicolas’ freestyle score but not quite enough to give him the overall championship total he needed for silver, he lay just a fraction of a penalty behind Nicolas with a total of 8.483. “I am absolutely delighted with my result, every medal is a medal,” Erik said, “this is my first WEG and I found it harder than the two other championships I have attended but it has been fun.”
The noisy French supporters had plenty more to cheer about when the host nation also took the bronze in the Squad final in which Germany claimed the gold and Switzerland took silver.
This was a thriller from start to finish, but Paulina Riedel, Mona Pavetic, Janika Derks, Milena Hieman, Julia Dammer and Johannes Kay, along with their lunger Jessica Schmitz and horse, Delia, were undisputed champions. Scoring a massive 9.058 they completed on a final total of 8.724 when third-last to go.
They followed a mesmerising performance from the French squad who received a standing ovation at the end of their programme. Their grey horse, Watriano R, was beautifully handled by lunger Fabrice Holzberger and their youngest squad member, Robin Krause, literally stole the limelight as he reached extraordinary heights during the pyramid movements. Anthony Presle, Nathalie Bitz, Dlement Taillez, Remy Hombecq and Christell Haennel worked brilliantly together to create a charming programme that earned bronze medal spot on a final total of 8.315.
Asked what it was like to feel the atmosphere and look out on the crowd tonight, 13-year-old Kraus responded “it was incredible, it’s a dream I’ve had since I was four years old!”
The Swiss team horse, Will be Good, was not in top form but the all-girl side of Nadia and Martina Buttiker, Ramona Naf, Tajiana Prassl, Nathalie Bienz and Sally Stuckl stuck to their guns and it paid off with a score of 8.648 and a final total of 8.503 for silver.
“It was difficult for our horse today, but we gave it our best,” said Swiss lunger Monika Winkler Bischofber. “We dreamed of gold, but congratulations to the German team!” she said. Asked if she thought it was unusual to have an all-female squad and if they might like to introduce some men into their selection, Winkler Bishofber replied with a laugh “a Vaulting team has no need for men! Our horse is smaller than the French team’s horse by at least 10 centimetres, so we need to be much lighter”.
German lunger, Jessica Schmitz, talked about her squad’s journey to gold. “We started the season at Doha in Qatar and it is the first season for this horse. We have two new team members so it has been quite difficult for us to put it all together but, right now, we are at our highest level. We have been working for more than a year on this freestyle and we have done a lot of extra training,” she explained.
Like so many of the other vaulters from many nations, Schmitz said that the Zenith Arena has been an amazing venue all week. “I think we must thank the organisers here in Caen for providing us with such a great venue and for providing such a great event” she said.
German squad member Paula Riedl concluded: “We have had a great time here in Caen. It was very important for us to have a good show here but the gold medal is just a bonus. Our success has been working together as a team”.
The New Zealand team finished a credible ninth, after attracting much media interest after making the top 12.
But coach Catarina Strom knew her young charges would star, despite it being the first time New Zealand has had a team at the world champs.
They took their Lorde-inspired freestyle, which they performed again on Friday night, to a whole new level.
“They were absolutely amazing,” she said. “They aced their performance … I am just so happy with these girls. Throughout the champs, they have got better and better. They thrived on the very loud crowd and atmosphere in there.”
The athletes improved on their artistic and technical scores from the previous competition.
They competed aboard Ikarus (owned by Karin Kiontke and Antonia Schubert), from the Pegasus Muhlacker Club in Germany where the New Zealand has been preparing for WEG.
Strom extended a huge thank you to everyone who had support the team, and said the best was yet to come from them.
“We can’t wait to go home, train some more and show New Zealand what these girls are really capable of.”
Pas de Deux
Overnight leaders and reigning European champions Jasmin Lindner and Lukas Wacha from Austria stole the show with a flawless performance to yet another score over nine points with a mark of 9.035, which gave them a total two day score of 9.059 and the gold medal. The pair, who look as equally comfortable in each other’s arms as they do on the back of their horse, Bram, have been a partnership for four years having been on the same squad for three years previously.
The pair felt the pressure coming here as European Champions but lived up to the expectations of everyone and managed to enjoy it at the same time, “It was a great feeling to be in that arena and is amazing for us to be here in Normandy,” Jasmin said, “we are really happy with our performance and our medal but we are also very proud of our horse and our lunger Klaus [Haidacher] as they were both nervous today.”
German pair Pia Engelberty and Torben Jacobs clawed their way up to silver medal position with a foot-perfect freestyle, after their performance on Thursday left them in fifth place overnight. “We weren’t happy with that and we knew we could do better,” Pia said, “and that is what happened today, we worked hard and are very happy about moving up to second.”
Torben showed immense strength and control throughout to lift and hold Pia unsupported, never once looking out of balance, whilst Pia’s arabesque lines were held beautifully at all times, whilst unaided as well as supported by Torben during their numerous lifts.
The bronze medal was won by Joanne and Hannah Eccles, lunged by their father John on their 20 year old horse W H Bentley who they have owned for 15 years. “We are really pleased with our performance, we came here to enjoy it and put on a show,” Joanne said, “so to come away with a medal as a family makes it even better.” The pair’s theme and music was based on Joanne’s favourite Robert Frost Poem, Fire and Ice, “we put it to some music we love and felt we could bring it alive with a performance where we both take on one of the elements,” Joanne said.
Squad: GOLD – Germany 8.724; SILVER – Switzerland 8.504; BRONZE – France 8.315.
Female Individual Final: GOLD – Joanne Eccles GBR 8.718; SILVER – Anna Cavallaro ITA 8.452; BRONZE – Simone Jaiser SUI 8.433.
Male Individual Final: GOLD – Jacques Ferrari FRA 8.629; SILVER – Nicolas Andreani FRA 8.498; BRONZE – Erik Oese GER 8.483.
Pas de Deux Final: GOLD – Jasmin Lindner/Lukas Wacha AUT 9.059; SILVER – Pia Engelberty/Torben Jacobs GER 8.605; BRONZE – Joanne Eccles/Hannah Eccles GBR 8.575.