Dutch rider Jeroen Dubbeldam has won the individual jumping title in the “Final Four” at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games 2014 in Normandy, putting up four clear rounds on four horses.
In this unique World final, in which four riders start by piloting their own horses and then ride their rivals’ mounts, the tension was high.Riders had only three minutes in which to familiarise themselves with their rivals’ mounts, but they showed a lifetime of experience and wonderful horsemanship as the competition played itself out.
It was the second gold of the Games for Dubbeldam, who won Olympic gold at Sydney 14 years ago. He added Sunday’s individual title to team gold that he won with his three Dutch teammates on Thursday.
“It’s a dream,” said Dubbeldam, 41. “I’ve had a fantastic week here.
“I was already very happy with my Team Gold Medal and I did not think I had a good chance for the Individual as I thought my horse would be too inexperienced to do it the whole week for me, but he did it, he brought me into this Top Four and I’m really, really proud of him,” he said.
“I made a big mistake in the second round at Jerez (ESP) in 2002 with De Sjiem, and I’ve never forgiven myself for that – until now!” Dubbeldam said afterwards, relishing his victory over Frenchman Patrice Delaveau, who took silver and the USA’s Beezie Madden who claimed the bronze. But Delaveau chased Dubbeldam right down to the wire, finishing only a single time fault behind.
The thrilling final took place over a slightly shortened course compared to the earlier rounds this week and with a slightly slower speed (of 375m/min), while the maximum fence height of 1.55m was, again, marginally lower than before.
For Sweden’s Rolf-Goran Bengtsson it was a disappointing day as he missed out on the podium. Faulting with his own horse, Casall ASK, in the first rotation of horses he did it again with both Delaveau’s Orient Express and Dubbeldam’s Zenith. However Madden’s bronze, following silver at Aachen (GER) in 2006, was hard-won when the 50-year-old New Yorker finished just two faults ahead of the Swede after also having a fence down with each of her opponent’s rides.
The gold medal tussle reached a crescendo in the fourth and final round between the crowd’s favourite, French rider Patrice Delaveau, and Dubbeldam. You could hear a proverbial pin drop in Caen’s d’Ornano Stadium once each man started to jump.
But when Dubbeldam went clear on his anchor mount Casall Ask, the title was his, as Delaveau had earlier notched up an expensive one-penalty time fault on the same horse when Casall Ask had stopped the clock less than a second over the 64sec optimum. This extinguished any hope the Frenchman may have had of forcing Dubbeldam into a jump off.
Delaveau was understandably disappointed that he couldn’t deliver the gold on home ground, and the 49-year-old rider who won European bronze at Aachen in 1986 and team silver at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games 2010 in Kentucky said: “that will stay in my head for a very long time. I wasted a bit of time on the approach to the second-last fence and then I added a stride to the last and took too long to get to the finish. I realised what I had done when it was too late,” he said.
Losing out by just a single time fault was a painful experience. “I was beaten by only a fraction of a second and that’s hard to swallow, but it was good for the horses that they didn’t have to jump off, and Jeroen really was the best today,” he said, sportingly paying tribute to the newly crowned champion.
As the realisation dawned on Delaveau that he would have to settle for the silver, in a sporting gesture he became the first rider to congratulate Dubbeldam — with an embrace — as the Dutchman dismounted from Casall Ask.
Course designer Frederic Cottier also complimented Dubbeldam for the skill he showed. “I wanted this championship to be different to the last two at Aachen and Kentucky where it came down to a jump-off,” he said. “I wanted the competition to be more complex. I didn’t want a jump-off and I succeeded in that. The fact that all four horses jumped so well and that even the oldest one, who is 15, was still in great shape today is proof of the success of the courses during the week. And special congratulations to Jeroen, who was under such pressure today, he really is a tremendous champion!”
Dubbeldam admitted that he did indeed feel the tension. “Yes I must say the pressure was pretty high! My own horse put me under this pressure because he jumped a clear round with Patrice, but I must say in that round, with my horse in it, I was really happy he did a clear round, because this horse brought me so much this week and he really deserved to finish this tournament with a clear round. I’m very happy that his last round in this stadium was clear, I’m very proud of him.”
The man whose sparkling career really took off when he won individual gold at the FEI European Young Riders Championship at Millstreet in Ireland in 1994 with a horse called Killarney, has since added individual Olympic gold at the 2000 Olympic Games at Sydney, Australia and team gold at the FEI World Equestrian Games in Aachen, Germany eight years ago. It has taken him some time to find a horse of the calibre of Zenith to take the place that he held in his heart for his Olympic ride De Sjiem.
“I saw him (Zenith) at a show in Germany for seven and eight-year-old horses being ridden by the British showjumper David McPherson,” he said. “I knew the fund in Holland was looking for a horse for me and he was already owned by a Dutch owner so that maybe he might be one for them to buy for me. I proposed it and tried the horse for two weeks. I felt he had a lot of quality and scope although he was quite green and there was a lot of work to do. But we don’t mind hard work and the horse now shows what I felt back then!” said the proud Dutchman.
Zenith is owned by the Dutch syndicate Springpaarden Fonds Nederlands, the brain-child of Dutch photographer Jacob Melissen, which purchases horses for the best Dutch riders. And 25 of Zenith’s 80 owners were in the stadium watching their investment pay off handsomely as the horse helped bring in the gold. The syndicate, whose President is Gerrit-Jan Swinkels, also owned Utascha which competed at a previous FEI World Equestrian Games, so the concept is clearly a very successful one.
Madden said she was happy to come out with a medal. “I’m very happy that my horse was clear every time. I do get a little nervous riding strange horses, I like to work with a horse for a while, but these are all such nice horses and they are well schooled and they have had a good week and are confident going into today so it ended up being fun,” she said.
Gold Medal: Jeroen Dubbeldam (NED)
Silver Medal: Patrice Delaveau (FRA)
Bronze Medal: Beezie Madden (USA)