The 2014 FEI Balkan Endurance Championships took place on September 20th in Meljak in the Barajevo municipality of the Serbian capital Belgrade. Seven National Federations were represented with Croatia stealing the show and scooping two of the three individual medals as well as team gold.
The Championship was run over an 80km course made up of four loops consisting of 28km, 20km, 16km and a final 16km. The area of Meljak lies south of the city of Belgrade and is nestled between the two major mountains of the region: the Avala Mountain found to the south east of Belgrade and the Kosmaj Mountain to the south west. The beautiful backdrop of rolling, rural hills provided a technical and testing course for this relatively new FEI Endurance event.
In line with the ever-increasing popularity of the Endurance discipline, this Championship has seen a huge growth in numbers since its inception in 2008. The first official FEI Balkan Endurance Championships took place in Sancrai (ROU) and had a total of 19 entrants, from which 10 successfully completed the 60km course. 2011 saw the event move to Koprivstitsa (BUL) with a similar starting field but a higher completion rate across the 90km course. Finally this year the starting field grew by 50% with 30 starters representing Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, Montenegro, Romania, Turkey and, of course, the home nation of Serbia. Alongside a higher number of entrants, this year also saw the event’s highest ever completion rate of nearly 65% indicating the much more advanced level of competition now seen in this part of Europe.
The individual competition was tightly fought with the top three finishing within just three minutes of one another. Right from the first vet gate all three of the final medallists were within grasp of taking the top spot. In the end it was the consistent presentation times of the eye-catching 10 year old chestnut mare, 130 Sally, that gave Croatian Milan Palcic a six minute lead heading out onto the final loop of 16km. Despite the very best efforts of his compatriot Stefano Osip aboard the striking and talented 848 Wolf and home rider Ariana Ilic partnering her eight year old gelding Natalos, Palcic crossed the finish line with a two minute advantage securing the individual gold.
Individual silver went to the home nation as well. Ilic (SRB) completed the final loop in one hour and three minutes, some two minutes faster than 16-year old Osip pushing him into individual bronze medal position.
The final line up was certainly a mix of old and new. The top combination were competing in their fourth FEI event whereas the event was an FEI debut for Ariana Ilic aboard Natalos. Finally, the talented 17-year old 848 Wolf, one of the oldest horses in the event, is no stranger to this championship having completed in fifth position in 2011 with Petra Sebelic (CRO).
Croatia were also dominant in the team competition finishing more than two hours ahead of silver medal placed team Bulgaria. Turkey claimed the bronze a further 30 minutes behind. All five of Croatia’s entrants crossed the finish line in the top six but unfortunately one of horses, Sonik, ridden by Karla Sebalj was spun at the final vetting resulting in them taking first, third, fourth and fifth individual positions and securing the top team podium place with a rider to spare.
Second placed Bulgaria came home with a clean sheet, five finishers from five starters. Their top rider was Katina Lyutova with her grey Shagya Arab Shraf, both of whom were competing in their first FEI event. Just nine minutes later Lyutova’s team mates Vanya Lazarova and Zhanina Ivanova crossed the finish line aboard Tahira and Zezana respectively, securing team silver.
The final podium position was taken by Turkey who put in an extremely respectable performance securing their first ever FEI medal in this discipline. All four of the remaining Turkish riders crossed the finish line together. Kadir Bustug riding Palmiye, Bekir Dilari riding Fedakarhan, Ercan Bahadir riding Alsarli and Tevfik Poyraz Arda riding Yigit Emre filled individual positions from 11th through to 14th.
Gold: Milan Palcic (CRO) with 130 Sally (05:40:00 / 14.12kph)
Silver: Ariana Ilic (SRB) with Natalos (05:42:00 / 14.04kph)
Bronze: Stefano Osip (CRO) with 848 Wolf (05:43:00 / 13.99kph)
Team (Top three scores to count)
Gold: Croatia – 17:11:08 (Milan Palcic with 130 Sally – 05:40:00 / Sefano Osip with 848 Wolf – 05:43:00 / Marin Samardzic with Havas – 05:48:08 / Olesja Wirnsberger with Ruza – 05:50:10)
Silver: Bulgaria – 19:22:53 (Katina Lyutova with Shraf – 06:21:31 / Vanya Lazarova with Tahira – 06:30:39 / Zhanina Ivanova with Zezana – 06:30:43 / Rosen Minkovski with Mazalat – 06:56:25 / Nikolai Uzenov with Harmattan Quirakquo – 06:57:52)
Bronze: Turkey – 19:53:42 (Kadir Bustug with Palmiye – 06:37:48 / Bekir Dilari with Fedakarhan – 06:37:50 / Ercan Bahadir with Alsarli – 06:38:03 / Tevfik Poyraz Arda with Yigit Emre – 06:38:04)