Charlotte Dujardin added another major championship gold medal to her stunning collection on Sunday — but only after being pushed all the way in a gripping European dressage freestyle final.
Germany’s Kristina Broring-Sprehe went within less than 0.3% of inflicting a first major championship defeat on Dujardin since 2011, but the British star — as she has done so many times in the past — came up trumps on Valegro amid intense pressure to edge home on 89.054%.
Broring-Sprehe’s freestyle personal best on Desperados FRH of 88.804%, though, gave Dujardin plenty of food for thought just 12 months out from the Rio Olympics.
“I knew what was going to come,” said Dujardin, who was drawn last to go immediately after Sprehe’s electric performance created an incredible buzz in Aachen’s main stadium. “Being in Aachen with Kristina being with her home crowd, I was expecting it, just like I had in London three years ago. Following Kristina, you could feel how much the crowd were behind her.
“When I walked in, there was a huge atmosphere and they were applauding her score. There was a lot to deal with at the very beginning, but overall, I am thrilled.
“I was really happy with the start of the test, then there was a mistake in my one-time changes. I knew it was going to be a tough call here, but I am not going to moan. I am going away with two gold medals and a silver, and I am really happy with that.”
Spanish rider Beatriz Ferrer-Salat took the bronze medal on Delgado, scoring 82.714%, with Carl Hester and Nip Tuck finishing eighth. Fiona Bigwood, an integral part of Britain’s team silver medal success on Thursday, withdrew Atterupgaards Orthilia before the freestyle because of a reaction in its back following the grand prix special 24 hours earlier.
Reflecting on a dramatic conclusion to the European dressage schedule, Dujardin’s mentor Hester said: “He (Valegro) was a little bit tired today and a little bit empty, and I felt it would be difficult to get the ones.
“They (Broring-Sprehe and Desperados) have gone within a minute percentage today of actually being able to beat Valegro. Desperados is not an old horse either, so it looks like Valegro suddenly has a new rival.
“Valegro set the standard a while ago of high percentage scores, and people are creeping closer. It is five years now that he has been winning gold medals, and this has been a great week again.”
The British quartet of Dujardin, Hester, Bigwood and Michael Eilberg will head home from Germany after finishing just 1.4% away from team gold, with Dujardin now a double-double European champion, in addition to holding Olympic and World gold, plus the sport’s three world records.
Attention in Aachen now turns to the FEI European Showjumping Championships, which begin on Wednesday, with the British team of Ben Maher, Michael Whitaker, Joe Clee and Jessica Mendoza, not only defending the title won in Denmark two years ago, but also striving for one of three Olympic qualification places on offer alongside rivals like Ireland, Switzerland, Belgium and Spain.
Image: Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro by Hippo Foto – Dirk Caremans, courtesy of the FEI