Jeroen Dubbeldam made it double-gold at the 2014 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games™ in Normandy today when adding the individual title to last Thursday’s team victory for The Netherlands. He made his way into this afternoon’s top-four Jumping final thanks to a horse that he admitted was inexperienced at this level of the sport and which clearly surprised him during the week. But the 10-year-old Dutch-bred Zenith lived up to his name when providing his 41-year-old rider with a title he has wanted for a very long time.
“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 this evening, relishing his victory over Frenchman Patrice Delaveau, who took silver and America’s Beezie Madden who claimed the bronze. But Delaveau chased Dubbeldam right down to the wire, finishing only a single time fault behind.
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.
French course designer, Frederic Cottier, set them an eight-fence test that started out over a vertical, moved on to a 1.48m oxer and then to a 1.50m vertical before a right turn brought them back to an oxer standing 1.52m high. It was the following triple combination, an oxer to a double of verticals, that presented the biggest challenge of the day, and then there was a roll-back to a white oxer at fence six before running left-handed down to the final line. The penultimate vertical stood at 1.55m and the final oxer was 1.50m high and 1.60 wide. First into the ring, however, Dubbeldam threw down a perfect clear with his own horse that put it up to the rest of them.
Bengtsson looked vulnerable from the outset when hitting the middle element of the triple combination with his own stallion, Casall ASK, especially when both Madden and Delaveau followed with clears. And the Swedish rider’s chances took another blow when, partnering Dubbeldam’s Zenith, he repeated the mistake at exactly the same spot and also added two time faults.
Madden and Casall ASK left the final element of the combination on the floor and when the American rider faulted again at the combination with Zenith, it was already turning into a tussle for gold between the French and Dutch men.
Delaveau would live to regret the single time penalty he collected with Bengtsson’s stallion when Dubbeldam once again kept a clean sheet, this time with Madden’s Cortes C. The French rider piled the pressure on his Dutch opponent when bringing Zenith home without incident, but Dubbeldam never flinched, clinching it with a lovely clear from the 15-year-old Casall ASK, who looked like he might be tiring at the start of the day, but who seemed to warm to the novelty of new hands on the reins to finish fresh as a daisy.
Applause of the crowd
One of the memorable moments of these championships will be the sight of Casall ASK looking totally relaxed while Dubbeldam wandered around the arena to take the applause of the crowd. The French supporters really wanted their own man to win, but they didn’t hold back in celebrating with this new, true champion.
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 admitted.
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.
Course designer Frederic Cottier also complimented Dubbeldam for the skill he showed today. “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,” 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 this afternoon 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.
Dubbeldam said he really enjoyed himself today. Riders only had 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.
“With all three horses I had a fantastic feeling, totally different but all felt they wanted to jump the fences clear. Three minutes isn’t long enough to change any horse, so what I did was try to find their strongest points and then bring those forward. Luckily I found the strong points of all three horses and they gave me wonderful clear rounds. I did enjoy it, I really felt three amazing horses under me, it’s great to be world champion but I also enjoyed riding such great horses! It’s been a great day!”
Top-Four Jumping Final: GOLD – Jeroen Dubbeldam (Zenith SFN) NED, 0 faults; SILVER – Patrice Delaveau (Orient Express HDC) FRA, 1; BRONZE – Beezie Madden (Cortes C) USA, 12; 4, Rolf-Goran Bengtsson (Casall ASK) SWE. 14.
Full results and startlists at www.normandy2014.com