With the roars of the crowd at Greenwich Park still ringing in their ears, five medallists from the London 2012 Olympic Games will be in action as the last leg of the FEI Nations’ Cup™ 2012 gets underway at the Royal Dublin Society showgrounds in Dublin (IRL) next Friday afternoon. And it promises to be a real battle, because just 3.5 points separate the bottom six teams as the premier eight-leg, eight-nation contest draws to a close.
The defending series champions from Germany hold a strong 10-point lead over France at the head of affairs, but Great Britain, Sweden, Switzerland, The Netherlands, Ireland and Belgium are all bunched closely together, and none of them want to finish up at the bottom of the pile.
The Swiss side boasts the new Olympic individual jumping champion, Steve Guerdat, while Olympic team gold medallist, Nick Skelton, is included in the British selection. Team silver medallists, Jur Vrieling and Marc Houtzager, will be lining out for The Netherlands and the Irish crowd will be celebrating the return of Cian O’Connor who clinched individual Olympic bronze.
It is eight years since the Irish last won their cherished Aga Khan Trophy which is presented to the winning team in the FEI Nations’ Cup™ at Dublin. The host nation finished second in both 2010 and 2011, and it went to a two-way jump-off against the British to decide the result 12 months ago. Nick Skelton’s clear with Carlo clinched it for the visitors that day, and the 54 year old rider will be guaranteed a tumultuous reception when he arrives into the ring again this week because the Irish know a horseman when they see one. The old cross-channel rivalry will be put aside, for a few moments at least, as the crowd show their appreciation for what this exceptional competitor achieved in London last week, and throughout his spectacular career.
Skelton is joined on the British squad by Tina Fletcher, William Funnell, Robert Smith and John Whitaker.
Steve Guerdat’s fabulous individual gold medal winning performance will surely boost Swiss confidence. This country rejoined the top-level series in 2012 following a period in the Promotional League, and there is a real determination to reinforce their status amongst the leading jumping nations in the world. Guerdat’s Olympic ride, Nino des Buissonnets, is taking a break, so the 30 year old rider brings Jalisca Solier amongst his string, and is joined by Pius Schwizer, Jannika Sprunger, Nadja Steiner and Arthur da Silva in the Swiss squad.
After the previous seven legs of the series, the Swiss are in equal-fourth place on the leaderboard along with Sweden whose line-up includes Angelica Augustsson, Jens Fredricson, Lisen Fredricson, Angelie von Essen and Daniel Zetterman.
The Dutch, lying sixth and only two points further in arrears, were just pipped by the British in the battle for Olympic team gold last week so they are likely to come out with all guns blazing. It is a super-competitive Dutch side, with London 2012 silver medallists Houtzager and Vrieling joined by 2000 individual gold and silver Olympians Jeroen Dubbeldam and Albert Voorn along with Hendrik Jan Schuttert, and they could prove hard to beat. The Dutch have only won twice in Dublin even though they have been competing there since 1926, and Vrieling and Houtzager were on the second of those two winning sides back in 2010.
Belgium is lying last on the league table, so there will be plenty of pressure on the four riders selected from Dirk Demeersman, Pieter Devos, Francois Mathy Jr., and father-and-son Ludo and Olivier Philippaerts. And plenty of pressure on the home side too because the Irish are only 0.5 points ahead of the Belgians.
US-based Darragh Kerins and Richie Moloney are on call-up for Ireland along with Clem McMahon, Billy Twomey and Cian O’Connor – the latter bringing out his Olympic individual bronze medal winning ride, Blue Loyd, again this week.
At the other end of the leaderboard the two countries that have been most dominant throughout the ten-year history of the FEI Nations’ Cup™ Top League series are positioned prominently yet again in this year’s closing stages. Germany and France are each four-time champions, but with a ten-point lead going into Friday’s clash it seems that only something very out of ordinary can stop the 2011 title-holders from Germany from making it a remarkable five.
However the four riders chosen by German Chef d’Equipe, Sonke Sonksen from a pool that includes Hans-Dieter Dreher, Johannes Ehning, Jorg Naeve, Carsten-Otto Nagel and Tim Rieskamp-Goedeking, are likely to experience serious opposition from the crack French force selected from Roger Yves Bost, Penelope Leprevost, Kevin Staut, Jerome Hurel and Aymeric de Ponnat.
The action begins at 15.00 local time, and even if you can’t be there you can take a ring-side seat with live coverage on FEI TV as another page of equestrian history unfolds…