The waiting game will finally end on Wednesday when Great Britain’s showjumping team embark on an FEI European Championships campaign like no other.
The clock has effectively been ticking since last September’s World Equestrian Games debacle in Normandy, when an 18th-placed finish meant a spectacular case of mission unaccomplished.
The mission in question is Olympics qualification for Rio next summer, and the London 2012 gold medal-winning nation now finds itself with one last chance to ensure they will at least go to Brazil and defend a title won so spectacularly at Greenwich Park three years ago this month.
Ben Maher is the sole survivor from London, being joined in Aachen by his fellow 2013 European team-gold medallist Michael Whitaker, Belgium-based Joe Clee and 19-year-old Jessica Mendoza — the youngest British showjumper chosen for a senior championship since Debbie Johnsey gained Montreal Olympics selection in 1976.
Missing from the Aachen adventure is Britain’s world-number-one showjumper, Scott Brash, whose top two horses Hello Sanctos and Hello M’Lady have not been made available, while an in-form John Whitaker ruled out his premier ride, Argento, some time ago, not wanting to present it in Aachen’s formidable king-sized arena.
Encouragingly, Maher, Whitaker, Clee and Mendoza have previously shown top form together, being reunited in Germany just two months after they delivered a brilliant collective display to win the Rotterdam Nations Cup.
Clee went double clear that day, while his three colleagues also left all fences up in either round one or two. Left trailing behind them were a German team containing Christian Ahlmann, Ludger Beerbaum and Daniel Deusser, a Dutch quartet led by reigning world champion Jeroen Dubbeldam and a French combination featuring 2013 European individual gold medallist Roger-Yves Bost.
Rotterdam was the third Nations Cup triumph of team boss Di Lampard‘s first season in charge, following victories in La Baule and Rome, so there is no doubt that Britain will feature prominently on any current European showjumping form guide, and the feel-good factor has most definitely returned following last year’s crushing WEG disappointment.
Three Olympic places are available in Aachen, with Britain, Ireland, Belgium, Switzerland and Spain leading the hunt.
Maher will ride Diva II, the horse on which he jumped double clear at last month’s Hickstead Nations Cup, Whitaker boards the ever-impressive Cassionato, Mendoza will be with Spirit T, a combination that showed star quality through finishing fourth in the recent Longines King George V Gold Cup, and Clee rides the ultra-consistent Utamaro d’Ecaussines.
Clee said: “I think we’ve got a super team. It is the same team that won at Rotterdam, and a mix of fast horses and big jumpers. You need some luck on the day, but we are all motivated to deliver.”
Wednesday’s opening round is followed by further action on Thursday, after which the top 10 teams will contest Friday’s final, when medals — and Olympic joy or heartache — take centre-stage.