There is a saying that goes “lies, damned lies and statistics” – but in Michael Jung‘s case, never could a truer word be written or spoken.
The minute Jung confirmed his entry aboard the brilliant La Biosthetique-Sam for this year’s Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials, there appeared to be a degree of inevitability about how he would fare across what are often four days of total unpredictability.
“Jung not only delivered his first Badminton title, he did so in a fashion that unquestionably confirmed him as the greatest event rider of all time”
Jung was the bookmakers’ favourite, and rightly so, but he not only delivered his first Badminton title three year as after a final showjumping fence knockdown had previously denied him, he did so in a fashion that unquestionably confirmed him as the greatest event rider of all time, aged just 33.
And if anyone seriously has any doubt he could win, then a look at his career record should remove all uncertainty.
Jung was the first eventer to hold Olympic, World and European individual titles at the same time, he has won Badminton, Burghley, Kentucky and Luhmuhlen four-stars, and his unforgettable triumph saw him complete only the sport’s second Rolex Grand Slam achievement for winning consecutive Burghley. Kentucky and Badminton crowns, after Pippa Funnell did so 13 years ago.
“When Jung and whichever of his four-star string are on their game, they are pretty much unstoppable
When Jung left the main arena on Sunday to rapturous applause, he departed having posted the lowest winning score — 34.4 — in Badminton’s 67-year history. He was also the first German winner at Badminton and the first rider to triumph after leading in the dressage phase since Lucinda Fredericks guided Headley Britannia home nine years ago.Watch Michael Jung ride in the dressage phase at Badminton
His nine-point winning margin over runner-up and fellow German Andreas Ostholt also emphatically underlined the gap between Jung and the rest, and that he should have accomplished it just three months out from an Olympic individual title defence in Rio could hardly have served as a bigger statement of intent.
Put simply, when Jung and whichever of his four-star string are on their game, they are pretty much unstoppable.
Germany’s national team trainer — Yorkshireman Chris Bartle — knows Jung better than most, having witnessed his rise to the sport’s pinnacle.
“Michael is such a good person to work with because he is ultra-relaxed and so interested in every detail that you might say to him. He would never ever be arrogant enough to shrug off any suggestion you might make,” Bartle said.
“He is a huge talent. His mental attitude is fantastic, his coolness, his attention to detail and his focus — and an acceptance that every day doesn’t always go fantastically.
“Michael is very good at sticking to his system, which is a very important aspect of his success.”
While Jung rode off into the Badminton Sunday sunset, there were other fascinating observations to make from a brilliant 2016 running, notably the pre-Rio feat of four New Zealanders finishing in the top 10, led by 60-year-old Mark Todd in fourth, and four French riders claiming top 20 results.
There was some good news for Britain, too, led by Gemma Tattersall’s third place aboard Arctic Soul, while Tina Cook (Star Witness) and Izzy Taylor (Allercombe Ellie) were also among the top 10.
Rio selection remains on everyone’s mind, of course, with attention now turning to Chatsworth, before Bramham next month, which is set to be the final event before the British selectors start formulating their Brazil-bound quartet ahead of an early July team announcement.
At the moment, Tattersall, Kitty King, Pippa Funnell and William Fox-Pitt would be the choice of many, but so much can still happen during the next two months, including working out an answer to eventing’s most taxing question — how does anyone stop Michael Jung?
Images of Michae Jung by Kit Houghton, courtesy of the Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials