Rotterdam, NED – Aug. 23, 2019 – Belgium rose to the top of the leaderboard in Rotterdam on Thursday, and held tight Friday to win their first-ever team medals in the 62-year history of the FEI European Jumping Championships – and they just so happened to be gold. The icing on the cake for the Belgian athletes was a ticket to the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. They earned one of the three qualification spots on offer to teams not already qualified thanks to superb performance from Pieter Devos, Jos Verlooy, Jerome Guery and Gregory Wathelet.
The German team was firm favorites to take the title of European Champions for the eighth time, but in the end they had to settle for silver ahead of Great Britain, whose bronze medal also earned them an Olympic slot. The third and final Olympic qualification offered in Rotterdam was earned by the French who finished in fourth.
It was edge-of-the-seat action to the very end, as Wathelet was aware that he could afford a fence down or a time fault when he was last man into the ring, but not both if his country was going to top the podium.
Belgium, Germany and Great Britain were already in gold, silver and bronze medal positions as the final day began. Ben Maher and Explosion W led the way for the British team with a clear round, followed by both Holly Smith aboard Hearts Destiny and Amanda Derbyshire with Luibanta BH leaving just a single fence on the floor. Scott Brash and Hello M’Lady finished with an eight-fault discard to leave the team on a total of eight faults.
Germany added four faults when pathfinders Simone Blum on DSP Alice and anchorman Daniel Deusser, riding Scuderia 1918 Tobago Z, each had a fence down but both Christian Ahlmann with Clintrexo Z and Marcus Ehning aboard Comme Il Faut jumped spectacular clears.
When Devos and his mare Claire Z were first out for Belgium and collected five faults when hitting the penultimate vertical in addition to going over the time-allowed of 78 seconds, their lead began to look a little shaky. But Verlooy and Igor kept a clean sheet and when Guery and Quel Homme de Hus collected just a single time fault, they began to look much more secure.
As Wathelet set off history was hanging in the balance, but he wasn’t going to let that get to him. “I like pressure!” he said after galloping through the timers with the scoreboard showing a perfect zero. In the final analysis his country grabbed the gold with a total of 12.07, Germany took silver medal spot on 16.22 and Great Britain finished in bronze with 21.41.
Victorious Chef d’Equipe, Peter Weinberg, said “It’s unbelievable and I’m very, very proud of my team – four top riders with brilliant horses. They did a fantastic job and I’m very, very happy!” Asked why it has taken so long for Belgium to get on the European team podium he replied with a laugh, “Maybe it’s because they didn’t have me as a trainer!”
All the Belgian team paid tribute to their back-up crew and the other Belgian riders, including Olivier Philippaerts and Niels Bruynseels, who have supported them every inch of the way this week.
Devos said, “We’ve been working together for a couple of years now, and today we put everything together. We all think the same way and we are all good friends, and this is why we got the gold.”
Guery added, “Yesterday I was a little disappointed with my result – I had to be better today for my horse, and also for my team. We knew after my ride the we would get the silver but then Greg rode a clear and it was gold!” And like many riders, he also complimented the fantastic courses being presented by The Netherlands’ Louis Konickx for the championship week.
“We’ve had three really different classes – the first day was a typical speed class, yesterday was a more delicate round and today was much bigger. It’s been a really good job from the course design team,” Guery pointed out.
Silver medallist Daniel Deusser reflected on how this team competition played itself out. “We started strong on the first day but lost it a little bit yesterday…it was a very exciting class today and the teams were close. In the end we are very happy with silver”.
All four Belgian team members have made the cut into Sunday’s top-25 individual final, and Verlooy is lying a very close second to Britain’s Maher at the head of affairs when the action gets underway after Saturday’s rest day.
For Friday’s full results, click here.