The Netherlands’ IJsbrand Chardon tonight succeeded in doing what all the drivers in the FEI World Cup™ Driving series are aiming to do. The four-time World Champion pipped the so-far-unbeatable Boyd Exell from Australia with two fast and faultless rounds in the electric atmosphere of the Grand Hall at Olympia in London (GBR). Exell, who competed with a wild card, finished second ahead of Koos de Ronde (NED) in third.

It is the third time that Chardon has won the leg in London, having previously been victorious in 2011 and 2013. And he performed very well throughout the three competition days, which included an extra competition on the first day that did not count for the World Cup.

By earning the 10 World Cup points, Chardon is now certain of a starting ticket for the Final in Bordeaux, France along with Exell and de Ronde.
From the largest to the smallest arena

Dutch Level 4 Course Designer Johan Jacobs was responsible for the course last week in the largest arena in Geneva, Switzerland and took up the challenge to design another exciting course in the smallest arena in the FEI World Cup™ Driving series in London Olympia, which worked out very well.

The spectators, who have become very knowledgeable over the past few years, very much enjoyed the performances of the seven drivers, and the atmosphere in the beautiful Olympia Hall was just amazing.

Grow in the competition
IJsbrand Chardon did not use his regular leader horse Aladin as he had a cough on arrival in England earlier this week. He replaced the gelding with the more experienced but tougher-to-drive Lipizzaner horse Inci, who, however had previous experience as part of the team. “I know that Inci has to grow in the competition, he just needs a bit of time. My horses felt super and I haven’t knocked any balls down for three days, which is brilliant” Chardon said tonight.

He analysed both his own rounds and those of Exell on video after the first competition yesterday, and he subsequently decided to take a shorter route, which resulted in the second-fastest time, only one second behind Exell, who had a knock down. Chardon went into the Winning Round over an altered course with almost nine seconds of an advantage, but he still went for it. “I had a very safe feeling but I did drive at full speed. I knew I could have one knock down, and when I went clear the feeling was just great!”, the winning driver said.

With his ticket to the final now in his pocket, and with one more competition to go in Mechelen (BEL) later this month, Chardon will try some alternate set-ups to his team in order to get the good feeling again for Bordeaux.

Not affect Christmas
Boyd Exell won the extra competition and the first competition and was last to go in the first round, where he set the fastest time. He was unfortunately plagued with team set-up problems and had one knock down, which put him into third position. After only a short break, he had to enter the arena again for the Winning Round and had no time to think about his tactics.

His plan to take a different route in one of the marathon type obstacles failed, he lost speed and rhythm and a ball fell, leaving the 2014 Olympia winner in runner-up spot at the end of the day.

“It is good for the sport that somebody else wins,” Exell said afterwards. “I am still pleased with my second place. I can’t expect to win all the time and I am for sure not going to let this ruin Christmas!” he added.

The last time Exell was beaten at an FEI World Cup™ Driving Leg was in Leipzig, Germany earlier this year, where Koos de Ronde was the strongest.

Exciting finish
The Dutch team gold medallist, de Ronde, has had his ups and downs this week. He finished sixth in the first competition after having made several changes in his team of horses. He actually made some changes during the warm-up session today as well, and finally re-found the right feeling.
He went for it in in the first round, knowing that his fellow competitors were all eager to make it to the Winning Round as well. He drove clear in a fast time, and only Chardon managed to beat him in the end. De Ronde was then unlucky again in the Winning Round where he had 20 penalty seconds added to his time after two knockdowns and rebuilding the course.

His unlucky run however wasn’t finished yet. De Ronde caused excitement when his left wheeler horse and left leader horse fell just after passing the finish line. “I passed the finish at high speed when my left horses fell. I got pulled off the carriage but my horses quickly got back on their feet and did not get injured” the Dutchman explained afterwards.

Johan Jacobs stood in their way and grabbed the team quickly, and in the true spirit of this great sport Boyd Exell and some of the other competitors rushed into the arena to also see if they could do anything help. However de Ronde presented his team in the prize-giving ceremony, showing the spectators that everything was fine with his four-legged friends.

Strong competition
The remaining four drivers pushed their teams of horses in a very strong competition, where the level was extremely high, including second wild card driver Dan Naprous from Great Britain.

Hungary’s József Dobrovitz drove a short route from gate 8 to 9, but the risk didn’t pay off when a ball fell. It cost him a place in the Winning Round and dropped him to fourth place in the final analysis.

London Olympia was Dobrovitz’ fourth and last competition of this series, and with just 12 points picked up so far it is very unlikely that he will make it to the Final. The goal of Germany’s Georg von Stein was to drive very fast so he could afford a ball, but he unfortunately came short over one second and had one ball. Von Stein has one more competition to go and is currently in fifth place in the standings.

After finishing third in the first competition, Glenn Geerts from Belgium was determined to equal this performance today, but he unfortunately had three knockdowns and finished sixth. Geerts will compete on home turf in Mechelen (BEL) with a wild card, and then in Leipzig where he will get his last chance to earn enough points to enter the Top Six.

Dan Naprous, who is a stuntman by profession and currently working on the film “Wonder Woman”, put down very good performances with his team of Lipizzaner horses. And although he is always disappointed to finish last, he also accepted that the world-class drivers in London were very hard to beat.

New look and feel
Johan Jacobs and the Organising Committee gave the obstacles on the course a bit of a make-over, which resulted in several obstacles shaped as Christmas gifts.

“We are keen to have our own obstacles with a different look and feel,” Show Director Simon Brooks-Ward said.

The bridge on the course was completely new, and the Olympia jumping obstacles were used as wings at the entrance and exit of the bridge. The standard orange cones were covered with green sleeves to add to the Christmas theme that makes this horse show such a hugely popular event at this time of year.