The Netherlands' Adelinde Cornelissen and Jerich Parzival won gold in the Grand Prix Special at the FEI European Dressage Championships 2011 in Rotterdam. This was a back-to-back victory for the Dutch partnership who also took the title at Windsor in 2009. © FEI/Peter Nixon
But Cornelissen's class showed through with a superb recovery. "I knew I had to ride double-well afterwards!" she explained, and that was exactly what she did, producing a run of late scores that not only rescued her from disaster but provided her with the ultimate accolade once again.
British riders took silver and bronze, Carl Hester and Uthopia once again displaying their massive potential, and Laura Bechtolsheimer and Mistral Hojris producing a much-improved performance to that shown in Thursday's Team Championship in which she and her team-mates reigned supreme.
The biggest surprise of the day was the uncertain performance of Germany's Matthias Alexander Rath and Totilas. In the team event 48 hours earlier it seemed the stallion and his relatively new rider were at last cementing their partnership, but from the outset yesterday they were hesitant and sometimes at odds with one another. Despite that, they finished just outside a medal position in fourth place.
Sweden's Tinne Vilhelmson-Silfven and Favourit established the early lead when best of the first group of 10 riders with a mark of 71.771, but Germany's Helen Langehanenberg posted a score of 75.283 with Damon Hill NRW to go well out in front as the second group progressed. That remained the target-mark until team-mate Isabell Werth produced a very nice test for 76.533 with El Santo NRW, but the 2007 Grand Prix Special champion was the one who began the sequence of mistake-ridden performances that dogged all but the man who followed her into the arena when her one-tempis didn't go to plan.
Silver medalists Carl Hester and Uthopia. © FEI/Peter Nixon
There was a hush around the arena as Cornelissen and Parzival set off, quickly achieving average marks of 8.2 for half-pass, 8.8 for extended trot and 8.3 for piaffe, but then there was a huge intake of breath when the judge's bell arrested their performance - they had executed the two-tempis in place of half-pass as the eighth movement and had to pull up and go back to get it right. But, showing the character and professionalism that makes a true champion, Cornelissen stayed cool as a cucumber, and not only did she calmly take it up and carry on, she rode with renewed determination and really pulled it off with 9.1 for the one-tempis and another for piaffe before the scoreboard showed 82.113 for her remarkable effort.
Britain's new star, Charlotte Dujardin, produced another truly charming ride with Valegro, but several horses seemed to be tiring including this nine-year-old who broke into canter as she attempted to execute half-pass. Their score of 76.533 precisely matched that of Werth and El Santo.
Bechtolsheimer racked up good scores from the outset with Mistral Hojris, who seemed much more positive, but the 16-year-old gelding faded as the test progressed. "In the first part he felt perfect - right on the button - but when I picked up piaffe he realised he was a bit tired and began to lose impulsion," she said. "When a big horse like that loses the impulsion it's hard to keep everything together and the errors creep in," Bechtolsheimer said. "He got away from me in the grand prix test on Thursday; maybe I warmed him up just a bit too much to be sure the same wouldn't happen again today."
Mistral Hojris's first mistake came with a wrong lead in the first canter, but the early marks were sufficient to ensure temporary silver medal position with 79.256.
But Hester and Uthopia altered that, and there was a buzz of excitement as this relatively inexperienced stallion flashed yet another of his fabulous extended trots for an average mark of 9.8 when second-last to go. .
The pair danced their way through a sparkling test, again producing spectacular extended trot and passage work but an unfortunate slip-up in the one time changes caused a third Brit to drop vital points. "I was completely focussed trying to ride my extensions for 10s and the passage as high as I could get them. It felt amazing until he tripped in the canter work, I got out of timing and we just lost our rhythm," said Hester, who still earned a PB of 81.682%.
Surely, it seemed, this would challenge Cornelissen's leading score. More good marks followed for passage and half-pass, but where Cornelissen had lost it in the one-tempis it was the two-tempis that went all wrong for the British duo whose mark of 3.4 knocked them right back, and with a final total of 81.862 they couldn't challenge for the lead.
Mistral Hojris and Laura Bechtolsheimer won bronze. © FEI/Peter Nixon
"My horse was in top shape, but I tried to mess it up!" laughed Cornelissen afterwards. "I love it that he won and I'm so proud of him. I kicked myself afterwards but we had a good score, even though it could have been better," she said.
Hester admitted that he was very focused on doing well in the Special, "so I squeezed him out and he got a little tired. We got it wrong in the one-tempis but his passage and extended trot were just wonderful!" he said of the horse who now looks a major contender for next summer's Olympic Games.
"I either had to steal one or win one to make my career complete," Hester joked. "I've come here with a young horse and he's produced the best work he's capable of at this time. Our focus was the grand prix and the team medal but I just enjoy riding the special so much, to win silver is amazing."
Earlier in the day Britain's fourth rider Emile Faurie and the 12-year-old Dutch bred gelding Elmegardens Marquis posted a respectable score of 68.542% to finish in eventual 21st place.
"Should've, would've, could've," quipped Bechtolsheimer afterwards. "I'm still really happy with bronze and especially to get two British riders on the podium is just fantastic! I'm so proud!"
Looking forward to the Freestyle to Music, the riders were asked if they were worried about their horse's energy levels, but, perhaps ominously, Cornelissen was clear she doesn't have any lack of horse-power to contend with, while Bechtolsheimer pointed out - "the music and the atmosphere will give them all a lift. I'll just do a bit less in the warm-up and adapt to how he (Mistral Hojris) feels. He can have a long rest afterwards. We'll be giving it a shot!".
30 riders competed in the Grand Prix Special, having qualified with the highest scores from the Team Championship.
The Netherlands' Adelinde Cornelissen and Jerich Parzival were defending the title they won in the Grand Prix Special at the Alltech FEI European Dressage Championships in 2009 at Windsor, Great Britain. They set a new world record that day when scoring 84.042% and pipping Dutch team-mates Edward Gal and Totilas.
The oldest horse in the Grand Prix Special was the 17-year-old gelding Moedwill, ridden by The Netherlands' Sander Marijnissen.
The youngest horses in the Grand Prix Special were both nine-year-olds - the bay mare Dorina, ridden by Norway's Siril Helliesen, and the bay gelding Valegro ridden by Great Britain's Charlotte Dujardin.
Adelinde Cornelissen with her gold medal. © FEI/Peter Nixon
In 1993 at Lipica, Slovenia, the dual individual medal format was first introduced and German riders won both - Nicole Uphoff and Grand Gilbert topping the Freestyle to Music and Isabell Werth and Gigolo winning the Grand Prix Special.
The format was restored again at La Mandria, Italy in 2007, but the tide of supremacy was already beginning to turn and although Werth once again claimed the Grand Prix Special title, this time with Satchmo, it was The Netherlands' Anky van Grunsven and Salinero who took Freestyle gold. Then at Windsor (GBR) in 2009, where they also took the team title, it was a double-Dutch success for Edward Gal (Moorlands Totilas) and Adelinde Cornelissen (Jerich Parzival).
The rising influence of the new generation of Dressage champions was in evidence yesterday. The last four riders to compete included two 26-year-olds - Great Britain's Charlotte Dujardin and Laura Bechtolsheimer - and 27-year-old Matthias Alexander Rath from Germany.
The Ground Jury consisted of: At K, Mr Jean-Michel Roudier (FRA); At E, Mr Ghilsain Fouarge (NED); At H, Mrs Maribel Alonso (MEX); At C, Mrs Mary Seefried (AUS); At M, Dr Wotjek Markowski (POL); At B, Dr Evi Eisenhardt (GER); At F, Mr Stephen Clarke (GBR).
Result: Grand Prix Special
GOLD: Jerich Parzival (Adelinde Cornelissen) NED 82.113;
SILVER: Uthopia (Carl Hester) GBR 81.682;
BRONZE: Mistral Hojris (Laura Bechtolsheimer) GBR 79.256.